April 29th, ’14. While our corner of the world slept just two nights ago, an Australian in Belgium was busy making history. The 100th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege saw Orica GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans take his first ever Ardennes Classic win, but more than that it was Australia’s first ever victory in La Doyenne.
April 29th, ’14. While our corner of the world slept just two nights ago, an Australian in Belgium was busy making history. The 100th edition of Liege-Bastogne-Liege saw Orica GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans take his first ever Ardennes Classic win, but more than that it was Australia’s first ever victory in La Doyenne. History making in the one-day classics is beginning to become something of a habit for Gerrans, two other World Tour races record Gerrans as the first Australian victor, in GP Ouest-France Plouay and the GP Cycliste de Quebec. Simon Gerrans is something of a quiet phenomenon in cycling terms, and it is perhaps his versatility that has made him the great rider that he is today, a great rider with no apparent intention of stopping either.
After winning the 2014 Liege-Bastogne-Liege Gerrans said, “I’ve had some really beautiful victories over the past couple years, but Liege is really special to me, I’ve competed in this race every year since I turned professional.” That’s not entirely true, as the Australian missed the 2006 edition of the race, but since 2005 with that one exception Gerrans has been there, for the cycling season’s fourth monument race. His record is impressive too, since 2009 he has not failed to finish outside the top 20. But until now a win, even a podium place in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, has eluded him.
It has been the same story in the Amstel Gold Race, a race that Gerrans still has yet to win yet, although he has placed third on three occasions. But for several years it has been the elephant in the room, that it would only be a question of time before an Ardennes Classic finally fell to the Australian. “It’s a race I’ve always dreamed of winning,” said Gerrans, “and I think because it’s something I’ve really worked for, it’s a fantastic feeling.”
Although the record for first Australian win goes to Gerrans, he is not the first Australian podium in the race. That honour falls to Phil Anderson who finished second to Sean Kelly in 1984, then third to the same Irish nemesis in 1989. But what a year for Gerrans to achieve the win! It’s not like the year has been nasty to Gerrans and this win has been a redeeming feature by any means, quite the opposite in fact. As seasons go, Gerrans’ 2014 one has gone brilliantly.
He began by winning the Australian national road title for the second time in three years. What was special about this year’s win was the manner in which he won. Gerrans bested Cadel Evans of BMC Racing and Richie Porte of Team Sky; in a race that really showed off the best of Australian cycling, with the three of them gaining daylight from the rest of the field in their bids for victory. He then went one better; or rather three better. He out-sprinted one of the fastest men on two wheels in the form of Andre Greipel of Lotto Belisol in stage one of the Santos Tour Down Under, he then won back the overall lead on the summit finish to Old Willunga Hill, and took the ochre jersey for the third time in nine years; and the points jersey.
It is a delight to see Simon Gerrans win and not just because of the historic nature of his win. As I said at the beginning of this article, Gerrans possesses this incredible versatility, a gift that sees him climb and beat men of the calibre of Cadel Evans and Alejandro Valverde, then sprint faster than the Peter Sagan-s and Andre Greipel-s of this world. In a sport that is becoming more and more specialised Gerrans is one of those who can do a bit of everything; and it pays off. There are a number of riders out there who are like him, Alejandro Valverde, Peter Sagan, Michal Kwiatkowski are three of the same ilk; and Valverde and Gerrans are the sport’s living proof that age is just a number.
Gerrans is 33, Valverde is 34; in other sports they would be on their way out. But in cycling age is by no means a guarantee of anything, in fact increase in numbers seems to indicate increase in race smarts; a vital catalyst to victory. Kwiatkowski on the other hand is 23. That is what is so beautiful about cycling is that it is a marvellously diverse sport where riders sometimes decades apart can go head to head and no one can be any the wiser about who will win. As we say goodbye to the spring classics for another year we must applaud not just Gerrans but each of the geniuses on two wheels who have dazzled us with truly heroic performances. From day-long breakaway riders who will not be remembered to antagonists of winning moves who timed their efforts slightly too soon, to Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans – winners of the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege respectively, we say congratulations and roll on the stage races.
By: Ed Wright