Simon Gerrans has taken stage 3 of the Santos Tour Down Under, and staked his claim to overall honours with a win after a furious climb over the infamous Corkscrew. The Orica GreenEDGE rider out-kicked Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing and Michael Woods of Cannondale Pro Cycling. George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo put in a strong performance to show his intent on the climb up the Corkscrew today.
Today’s stage from Glenelg to Campbelltown would provide the GC contenders for the 2016 Santos Tour Down Under with their first opportunity to stretch their legs and see who was in contention for the win by the time the race reached its end in Adelaide. 139km of rolling roads that concluded with a mad climb up the Corkscrew before a screaming descent to the finish for the final few kilometres. The climb itself was 2.5km in length and positioning would be all important coming towards it with the team managing to hold the front faced with a strong advantage.
Laurens De Vreese of Astana launched the first attack of the day and went completely unimpeded. The 27 year old Belgian built a lead of 3 minutes before the field began to close it back down again to 2.30mins with 118km to go. He went completely unchallenged at the first intermediate sprint, while behind him Dimension Data led the peloton forwards.
Tinkoff were the next team to show real interest at the front of the bunch and they were looking after the interests of stage 1 winner Jay McCarthy. Their presence on the front of the bunch decreased the lead of De Vreese to 1.40mins with 73.5km to go. Prior to the feed zone the gap even descended to just 1.20mins before ballooning back out again to over 4 minutes with 43km still to go.
Incredibly the field remained very unanimated until the final 35km or so to go. While De Vreese looked very determined to try for a long range effort though, finally the peloton kicked into gear with UniSA now seizing the reins at the front and bringing his lead down to 2.05mins. They received support from LottoNL-Jumbo and Astana with IAM Cycling then lending their full weight to the chase effort, thus completely dissolving the breakaway within the space of just a few kilometres. With just over 20km to go De Vreese was picked up and spat out the back of the bunch, and left to face the long ride home while trailing the leaders now.
From here though it was all about positioning on the front of the peloton. Tinkoff led the charge but behind there was carnage about to ensue as a crash brought down a number of riders, and split the field. A group of about 35-40 managed to get through unimpeded and had a slender lead from the stragglers behind, but that was brought back together to give one big peloton once again on the run in to the climb.
Heading to 1km from the climb of the Corkscrew it was Team Sky who had control of the field, with Geraint Thomas fancied to do well on today’s stage after he took the win in the Corkscrew stage in 2013. They had a couple of cards they could play though with the likes of Sergio Henao also there in the line up. Tinkoff regained control of the peloton as the riders hit Corkscrew Road and the race slowed dramatically on the slopes although the intensity increased massively.
The ochre jersey of Jay McCarthy was right where it needed to be, but his rivals were swarming around him with Simon Gerrans well positioned and also George Bennett there. With 8km to go he went to the front of the race while rider after rider cracked at the back of the field. The pace of LottoNL-Jumbo was strong with Bennett certainly signalling his intent at the front, behind him Jay McCarthy had Bennett closely marked with Simon Gerrans and Geraint Thomas also there. Eventually though Bennett’s teammate pulled aside with the race leader now taking his turn at the front with 5.7km to go.
That was Richie Porte’s cue to have a little dig on the front. A short lived attack just began to push things a bit and break the race up with Gerrans moving across to join him with AG2R La Mondiale’s Domenico Pozzovivo and Team Sky’s Sergio Henao. McCarthy really looked to be struggling as four riders made their way up the climb ahead of the rest with Cannondale Pro Cycling’s Michael Woods also there. Behind him was a small group with Simon Gerrans leading the chase as Woods now took a turn on the front with Henao countering that move. Together the pair of them made their way through the crowds and up to the summit of the climb. They weren’t interested in chasing each other, instead opting to work together up the slopes. Henao took the KOM points at the top of the climb with a group chasing behind just a few seconds back.
Down the descent it was a question of whether Henao and Woods could take the risks and make them pay off against a very motivated chasing pack. Gerrans was again leading the chase with Richie Porte also making his presence felt along with Lotto Soudal’s Rafael Valls. Behind them Jay McCarthy had managed to stay in contact with the chase group as Richie Porte launched another attack this time as the riders headed downhill and the leaders passed the 3km to go mark.
Woods and Henao didn’t show any signs of letting up while behind them the catch was finally made before Steve Morabito of FDJ and Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing went out on the attack. This group of ten were pulling no punches as they closed in on the finish. Through the final bend before the sprint finish and Movistar’s Ruben Fernandez led the sprint out, but it was a kick from Rohan Dennis that looked certain to claim the win; until Simon Gerrans came up on his shoulder. The two threw everything into the final metres and only a photo finish could separate them on the line; confirming that Gerrans had just managed to scrape the stage win.
In the group that came through 13 seconds behind were Patrick Bevin and George Bennett, while Greg Henderson of Lotto Soudal crossed the line in a group that included the likes of Katusha’s Maxim Belkov; with Jesse Sergent of AG2R La Mondiale a little later with teammates Christophe Riblon and Alexis Gougeard.