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After making it into a 10-rider group that gathered on the descent for the Corkscrew climb, Gerrans beat Dennis and Woods in a close sprint to win stage 3 of the Tour Down Under and take over the race lead

Photo: Sirotti

MICHAEL WOODS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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ROHAN DENNIS

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SIMON GERRANS

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TOUR DOWN UNDER

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21.01.2016 @ 12:43 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

After a horrendous 2016 season, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) has returned to his winning ways in the race that has been his happiest hunting ground as he delivered a masterful display to come out on top in the first big battle between the GC riders on stage 3 at the Tour Down Under. Despite losing contact on the Corkscrew Climb, he made it back to be part of a 10-rider group that sprinted for the win and held off Rohan Dennis (BMC) in a photo finish. Michael Woods (Cannondale) beat Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) in the sprint for third which meant that Gerrans also took the overall lead with a 3-second advantage over the stage 2 winner.

 

With 3 overall wins, Simon Gerrans is the most successful rider in the history of the Tour Down Under and so a perennial favourite for the race. However, things were less certain for the 2016 edition after the 2014 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner had a disastrous 2015 season and at 35 years of age, he still had to prove that he can return to his former level.

 

His bad luck seemed to have no end as he went down in a crash at the end of yesterday’s stage to Stirling at a time when he seemed to be in the perfect position to win the stage but by picking up five bonus seconds along the way he had shown his intentions. Today he proved all his sceptics wrong when he moved back into the race lead by winning the first big battle between the GC riders in his home race.

 

Stage 3 included the infamous climb up Corkscrew Road just 5.7 descending kilometres from the finish in Campbelltown and the ascent is by far the hardest challenge of the race. In the past, Gerrans has found the going tough on the steep slopes and he was again suffering when Michael Woods and Sergio Henao (Sky) surged clear. However, he kept his calm and as part of an 8-rider chase group, he made it back to the leader before he launched his devastating sprint to beat Rohan Dennis in the fight for the stage win.

 

However, things didn’t go according to plan for Gerrans in the run-in to the climb. After lone attacker Laurens De Vreese (Astana) had been brought back with 21.4km to go and the pace had ramped on the very dangerous and high-speed descent leading to the bottom of the main challenge, there was a big fight for position.

 

Tinkoff had been in control all day and it was Oscar Gatto riding on the front when a big crash brought down overall contender Julian Arredondo (Trek), Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Songezo Jim, Tyler Farrar (both Dimension Data), Lucas Hamilton (UniSA), Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Koen De Kort (Giant-Alpecin) and the incident split the field, with around 30 riders in the front group. Gerrans and the rest of the Orica-GreenEDGE team found themselves caught out and were forced to chase hard as Tinkoff continued to ride hard with Michael Valgren and Gatto.

 

However, most of the overall contenders found themselves in the second group and it was back together when the peloton entered the final 15km. Ivan Rovny had now taken over the pace-setting and while rode on the front, they key contenders moved into the front positions.

 

Cannondale took over the pace-setting for a brief moment before IAM and Sky amassed on the front with 12km to go. It was the British team that won the battle, with Ben Swift taking a massive turn.

 

As the speed reached close to 100kph, Tinkoff impressively moved back to the front with Valgren and Michael Gogl leading overall leader Jay McCarthy onto the climb in third position. The former quickly swung off and it was neo-pro Gogl that upped the pace even further, splitting the peloton to pieces.

 

LottoNL-Jumbo moved to the front with Enrico Battaglin setting the pace, followed by his leader George Bennett, before Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r) came through for a short turn for Ag2r. However, it was Battaglin back on the front soon after and he did a lot of damage to the splintering peloton.

 

Behind Battaglin and Bennet, McCarthy, Geraint Thomas (Sky) and the Orica-GreenEDGE trio of Gerrans, Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini were riding attentively and it was the race leader himself who upped the pace when the Italian swung off. Gerrans, Bennett, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and the BMC duo of Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte quickly responded and it was still a relatively big group as no one was ready to go full gas yet.

 

That changed when Porte accelerated hard. Gerrans, Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), McCarthy, Sergio Henao (Sky), Michael Woods and Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal) were the first to respond and the group was quickly whittled down. As Porte continued to ride on the front, only Pozzovivo, Henao, Woods, Gerrans, McCarthy, Valls and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) could stay in contact while Dennis found himself a little further back with Steve Morabito (FDJ), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana).

 

Porte didn’t look back and dropped Gerrans, McCarthy, Valls and Fernandez, leaving just a four riders in t front. That’s when Woods launched the first real attack and only Henao could initially follow. Pozzovivo and Porte looked like they were regaining contact when Henao launched his move and while he put daylight into the two chasers, Woods stayed glued to his wheel.

 

Woods came through for another turn before Henao won the sprint for the KOM points and the pair crested the summit with a 10-second advantage over an 8-rider group of Pozzovivo, Porte, Gerrans, Valls, McCarthym Fernandez, Dennis and Morabito that crossed the line in that order.

 

Woods and Henao worked well together and at first they maintained their gap as there was no great cooperation in the chase group. However, the two BMC riders quickly decided to use Porte to lead the chase and after Gerrans briefly had to bring the BMC rider back, he caught the two leaders with 2.5km to go.

 

Valls and Woods both rode on the front but as the cooperation was gone, Morabito launched a move. Dennis followed and the pair got a decent gap which forced McCarthy to make a big effort to bring it back together.

 

Porte again hit the front just before the flamme rouge and he set the pace as they approached the sprint. Fernandez was the first to launch his effort at a time when Gerrans found himself far back in the group. Dennis started from a much better position and easily passed Fernandez. It looked like the win was his until Gerrans came up on his left-hand side and narrowly got the win with a bike throw, with Woods edging McCarthy out in the battle for third.

 

The bonus seconds were enough to move Gerrans into the race lead and he now holds a 3-second advantage over McCarthy while Dennis is 2 seconds further adrift in third. Things should be less dramatic in tomorrow’s fourth stage which is mostly flat. However, the wind has often played a role in the stage to Victor Harbor and a late climb just 28km from the flat finish could challenge some of the sprinters.

 

The first key stage

After two sprint finishes, all was set for the first big GC showdown on stage 3 which brought the riders over 139km from Glenelg to Campbelltown. After a flat start, the terrain got a bit more undulating but there were no categorized climbs in the first 130km. A fast descent led to the bottom of the 2.4km climb up Corkscrew Road and from the top only 5.7km of descending remained.

 

The heat was a bit more bearable when the riders rolled out through the neutral zone with all 137 riders who finished yesterday’s stage within the time limit all present. With no KOM points on offer in the early part of the stage, there was no real incentive to go on the attack so when Laurens De Vreese (Astana) took off as soon as the flag was dropped, no one responded.

 

Bonus second for McCarthy

The Belgian had already built a 3-minute lead at the 10km mark and this was the signal for Tinkoff to up the pace. The Russian team hit the front and kept the gap at around 2.30 until things heated up for the first intermediate sprint.

 

De Vreese of course took maximum points while Dimension Data tried to set things up for Nathan Haas. Orica-GreenEDGE were also in the mix with Gerrans but it was Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) who crossed the line in first position, with McCarthy picking up one valuable second.

 

Dennis goes down

The action had brought the gap down to 1.50 but it was back up to 2.15 as things calmed down. Meanwhile, Dennis hit the deck in a small crash but he rejoined the peloton quickly.

 

The gap stayed around 2 minutes for a while as Tinkoff returned to the front with Valgren, Gatto and KOM leader Boaro setting the pace. As the roads got more undulating, De Vreese was clearly suffering and as he entered the final 75km, his advantage had been reduced to just 1.40. It dropped to 1.20 with 65km to go as the Tinkoff trio were cooperating nicely on the front.

 

Another second for McCarthy

The gap was down to 1.05 by the time De Vreese reached the feed zone which came cs a welcome chance to extend his advantage. As the peloton slowed down and Tinkoff stopped their work, his gap reached 2.40 with 50km to go.  With 43km to go, it was more than 4 minutes and the peloton was still not reacting.

 

That changed when the riders reached the second intermediate sprint. De Vreese of course took maximum points while Tinkoff were trying to set up McCarthy for the bonus seconds. Boaro set the pace on the front until Valgren took over. The Orica-GreenEDGE train moved up next to them and positioned Ewan behind McCarthy who was led out by Gatto and Adam Blythe. Gerrans decided not to contest the sprint and it was Ewan who beat McCarthy who again picked up one second.

 

The chase gets serious

The action had brought the gap down to 3.10 but as Tinkoff took a brief moment to recover, it went out to 3.40 with 35km to go. UniSA were the ones to up the pace and kept the gap at around 3.30.

 

It seemed like the 30km to go mark was the place that everybody had marked out as the point to move forward and it was IAM taking control with Aleksejs Saramotins. Suddenly, it was a fight for position and as UniSA and Ag2r lined out their troops, the gap was melting away.

 

It was only 2 minutes with 27km to go when Tinkoff again hit the front with Valgren and they gained another 45 seconds in just 2km. The gap dropped to less than a minute when Ag2r took over with 23km to go before BMC also came to the fore. IAM were next and it was Marcel Aregger who led the peloton past De Vreese with 21.4km to go. Moments later, Tinkoff were back on the front and then a crash split the field before the exciting finale unfolded.

 

 

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