Already a winner in 2006 and 2012 in Australia’s top stage race, Gerrans, 33, clinched the six-day Santos Tour Down Under for a third time by just one second over fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team), whilst Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) claimed third, five seconds back.
And just like in 2006, Gerrans had captured the lead on day one – this time when he upped the pace on Menglers HIll, the final climb of the stage from Nuriootpa to Angaston, and then outpowered the sprinters for his first victory.
His National Road-Race victory earlier this month indicated Gerrans was in strong form, but former Tour de France winner Evans made it plain he was not going to give his fellow-Australian an easy run when he took off late on stage three to Campeltown. Winning by 15 seconds on a pack of 12 riders, Evans clinched his first stage in the Santos Tour Down Under since 2002 – and the lead to boot.
However, on Saturday at the race’s one summit finish at Willunga Hill, whilst Richie Porte (Team Sky) secured Australia’s third stage victory, Gerrans zipped away to re-take the overall by the bare minimum – one second. Not much, but just enough to keep Evans at bay on Sunday’s city centre stage in Adelaide, and for Gerrans to claim the outright victory and the UCI WorldTour lead as well.
Describing the last day, a triumphant Gerrans recognised that Sunday had been a “very nervous stage, the race could still be won by a number of different riders so we had to make sure we stayed at the front and out of trouble. I’m really thrilled to get through it unscathed.” “I’ve got my third Tour Down Under win thanks to an outstanding team,” added the 33-year-old. “This is an Australian team, on Australia Day, in a WorldTour event, what else could I ask for?”
In the UCI WorldTour rankings, Gerrans opens up his 2014 account with 114 points over fellow-Australian Evans, who has 88, whilst Ulissi is just five points further off the pace, with 83.
Australia’s impressive all-round showing in their home race also gives the nations lead in the UCI WorldTour by a huge margin: 334 points, almost four times the total of second placed Italy, who have 86. The Netherlands are third, with 43 points.
In the teams classification, Australia have yet another reason to celebrate as their top home squad Orica-GreenEDGE open up the 2014 season with 145 points and in the number one spot. Just like Australia in the nations classifications, Orica-GreenEDGE have a clear advantage, given the next three ranked teams – BMC Racing Team, Team Sky and Lampre-Merida – have 88, 86 and 83 points respectively.
The next round of the UCI WorldTour will be Paris-Nice, running from March 9th – 16th. But with Gerrans’ strong lead and his proven track record in week-long stage racing, it will be no easy matter ousting the Orica-GreenEDGE rider from his overall lead in the UCI WorldTour classification.