Andre Greipel finished streets ahead of his competition at stage one of the Tour Down Under today as world champion Philippe Gilbert and Simon Gerrans indicated a will to win the first WorldTour race of the season.
Greipel launched off the wheel of pilot Greg Henderson in the final 200m of the 135km race to Lobethal finishing lengths ahead of Arnaud Demare (FDJ), second, and Mark Renshaw (Blanco), third, to take the first ochre leader’s jersey of the tour.
The victory for the German sprinter came after he claimed the 51km prelude criterium on Sunday with a team totally dedicated to his ambitions.
“We expected more attacks,” said Greipel. “The team did an awesome job again. It was hard to control and keep me up the front but the team did an awesome job.”
The 2012 tour winner Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Gilbert (BMC) both ensured they picked up time bonuses throughout the race and at seven seconds adrift of Greipel are fourth and fifth, respectively, in the general classification ahead of stage two tomorrow.
Greipel is unlikely to hold onto the leader’s jersey with the second stage including a category one climb less than 10km from the finish that, maybe more importantly, features a narrow, technical and fast descent. Some, including Gilbert, have predicted it, and not the traditional queen stage to Willunga, may determine the final standings.
“It’s hard to say something today,” said the Belgian Gilbert when asked if he was up for overall honours. “We will see tomorrow evening after the climb. This climb will decide the race.
“If it’s hot it will be hard but it’s for everybody the same thing. It’s the beginning of the season. I don’t think anybody will have good condition like we can have in the great Classics but I think a few guys are going well.”
Jordan Kerby (Uni SA – Australia) attacked within the first 10km of the opener and achieved a maximum lead of about seven minutes before Lotto-Belisol, Blanco and Garmin-Sharp mobilized at the front of the peloton to bring back the gap.
Jérôme Pineau (Omega Pharma – Quick Step) bridged across to the race leader with about 30km remaining and just before Kerby called it a day.
Pineau looked set to collect the maximum bonus at the third intermediate sprint with 16km remaining but was caught unaware when Gilbert burst from the fast approaching peloton and surged ahead of the Frenchman to pick up three seconds.
“It was not our idea but we were pushing because Simon Gerrans took (two) seconds. I was pushing to do it also so I would not lose time on him,” said Gilbert of the Australian who picked up two seconds at the first intermediate check and one at the third.
“I was trying the second (intermediate) sprint but we went too early in the front and with the headwind it’s just not the best position, so I stopped and the last one attacked a little bit more than 1K to the line.”
The Lotto-Belisol team was at the head of affairs with 1km to go as the peloton appeared to string out behind its train. Greipel had a clear run to the finish and was unawares of the sprinters jostling for position behind him.
The 30-year-old has spent the past two seasons constructing his lead-out, which, so far in Australia, no other team has been able to match or best.
Former Milan-San Remo champion Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEdge), who placed second to Greipel in the prelude criterium, was not in contention today and finished 20 seconds behind the stage winner.
“This wasn’t really a sprint per se, it was quite a hard little finish,” the 26-year-old Goss said.
“Greipel is going well, he’s never not going well here at this time of year, and his team is going really well also. We’ve just got to keep putting it together on the day and eventually we’re going to gain the experience we need to sprint to the line.
“We miss a bit of experience,” he continued of his Australian-based team in its second year.
“I haven’t got a lot of experience at doing this myself, I’m still learning a lot, and we’re learning as a team. I think we’ve got all the right ingredients and in time we’re going to get it absolutely perfect and we can keep trying everyday here.”
Sky’s Edvald Boasson and Geraint Thomas are 10 seconds adrift of the race leader ahead of the second stage, which should suit the duo.
Andy Schleck, on a mission to return to top form having missed large chunks of last season due to injury, was one minute and 29 seconds back in the overall standings after day one.
Tour Down Under 2013, stage one: Prospect to Lobethal, 135km
1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in 3-35-24
2. Arnaud Demare (FDJ)
3. Mark Renshaw (Blanco)
4. Simone Ponzi (Astana)
5. Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp)
6. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida)
7. Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Merida)
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky)
9. Jose Rojas (Movistar)
10. Zak Dempster (Uni SA- Australia) all same time
General classification after stage one
1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in 3-35-14
2. Arnaud Demare (FDJ) at 4 secs
3. Mark Renshaw (Blanco) at 6 secs
4. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) at 7 secs
5. Philippe Gilbert (BMC) same time
6. Jerome Pineau (Omega Pharma – Quick Step) at 8 secs
7. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) same time
8. Simone Ponzi (Astana) at 9 secs
9. Jose Rojas (Movistar) same time
10. Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) at 10 secs
13. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) at 10 secs
24. Geraint Thomas (Sky) at 10 secs