Dual Olympic track gold medalist Geraint Thomas executed two perfect attacks to win stage two of the Tour Down Under today and take the ochre leader’s jersey that he hopes not to relinquish.
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) broke his rear derailleur in a pile-up on the descent of the decisive Corkscrew climb some 10km from the finish and, along with defending race victor Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), lost more than two minutes.
The respective losses are an advantage to Thomas, who has been out in Australia training since late December and, having put his road career on hold last year to focus on the team pursuit at the London Olympic Games, is back and hungry for a title win.
“We could see how good he was in December already, and committed. He came out here early so the plan was to go for G,” Sky sports director Kurt Arvesen said.
“He has been training on the route, he knew all the corners to climb, everything, so he’s motivated. For sure if he keeps this form, and maybe even builds a little bit more on this form, he can be competitive in the Classics.”
British national champion Ian Stannard (Sky) suffered skin abrasions on his right thigh in the crash that saw several riders treated at the end of the 116.5km stage. Amaud Courteille (FDJ), who sustained a mild concussion, and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) were transported to hospital for x-rays.
A group of four including Chris Juul-Jensen (Saxo-Tinkoff), Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R La Mondiale), William Clarke (Argos-Shimano) and Calvin Watson (Uni SA – Australia) comprised the early break, which the peloton held at around two minutes before reeling it in with about 20km remaining and prior to the feature climb.
Sky, Orica-GreenEdge, RadioShack Leopard and Lotto-Belisol, which had the previous race leader and stage one winner Andre Greipel, positioned at the front of the pack as Greipel set the pace, presumably for teammate Jurgen Roelandts.
The attacks began at the bottom of the short but sharp categorized ascent where the peloton started to splinter.
Thomas caught George Bennett (RadioShack Leopard) on the snaking road and then surged ahead of the Kiwi to clear the summit solo.
Bennett and teammate Ben Hermans, as well as Javier Moreno (Movistar), used the steep descent to catch the race leader but could not match his speed in the flat and straight run to the line where Thomas attacked from fourth wheel and sprinted home.
Moreno finished a second behind the Welshman with Hermans third and a chase group of 12 a further three seconds off the pace.
“At one point I did think maybe I’d gone a bit early, got a bit keen up that climb, but I managed to just hang on over the top and fortunately there was another little group behind so we worked really well together,” Thomas said post-race.
“I took a bit of a run and hit them with 400-300m to go and it was a fast finish. I gave it everything and it’s great to get the win.”
The in-shape Thomas has not ruled Gerrans and Gilbert out of the race ahead of tomorrow’s punchy third stage to Stirling despite their time losses today.
“I think they can always get it back tomorrow if the right group goes away,” he said. “There are a lot of other good riders though, it’s not just those two in the race.
“Obviously I’ve got good legs but it’s a lot more than just having good legs – there’s a lot of tactics to play. I think tomorrow is a tough stage. It’s a hard start so potentially there could be a strong group that goes away, which would be pretty dangerous. We’re just going to try and defend it tomorrow and if we do that I think that will be a real good step forward. I’d love to keep it but we’ll see.”
The Tour Down Under continues tomorrow with an undulating 139km race from Unley to Stirling.
Vineyards around Adelaide
Geraint Thomas attacks
Thomas wins the stage
Thomas puts himself into the race lead
Tour Down Under stage two results, 116.5km Mt Barker to Rostrevor
1. Geraint Thomas (Sky) 2-44-18
2. Javier Moreno (Movistar) at 1sec
3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard)
4. Tom Slagter (Blanco) at 4secs
5. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol)
6. Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Merida)
7. Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp)
8. Wilco Kelderman (Blanco)
9. Ion Izagirre (Euskaltel Euskadi)
10. George Bennett (RadioShack Leopard)
General classification after stage two
1. Geraint Thomas (Sky) 6-19-32
2. Javier Moreno (Movistar) at 5secs
3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard) at 7secs
4. Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Merida) at 14secs
5. Tom Slagter (Blanco)
6. Ion Izagirre (Euskaltel Euskadi)
7. Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel Euskadi)
8. Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol)
9. Jack Bauer (Garmin Sharp)
10. Tiago Machado (RadioShack Leopard)
26. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) at 1min19secs
29. Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Qucik Step) at 1min19secs
46. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) at 2min43secs
61. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) at 2min56secs