Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) put the Australian team in the headlines for all the right reasons by winning stage three of the 2013 Tour de France into Calvi after 145 tricky kilometres.
Two days after the Orica-GreenEdge team bus was in the news, 33-year-old Gerrans outsprinted the hot favourite for the stage Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Movistar's rapid Jose Joaquin Rojas.
On paper it was a stage that suited Gerrans, narrow roads with barely a metre of flat.
"The route was like an Ardennnes Classic, I knew I was in with a chance," he said later and it was clear that his Orica team had faith in him, riding down the early break with help from Sagan's Cannondale team.
Although another move went clear over the final climb, the combined efforts of Orica and Cannondale put paid to that too. When the final escapees were brought back with three kilometres to the line, it was clear that the stage would end in a 'bunch' sprint.
In fact, the bunch was only around 90 riders strong, with the four climbs on the route - ridden at an average of over 39kp/h - did for half the field, including all the sprinters. But Jan Bakelants, RadioShack's surprise yellow jersey, was still in the leading group, meaning he will be in yellow for the team time trial back on the French mainland in Nice tomorrow.
Short stage, early attack
The short stage, early start and early finish before the airplane transfer back to the mainland clearly inspired the 198 riders left in the peloton who quickly got down to business. A break of four formed after only two kilometres of racing and stayed clear for 130km.
The break was launched by Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) who was chased down and joined by Sebastien Minard (Ag2r), Alexis Vuillermoz (Sojasun), Cyril Gautier (Europcar) and 2012 Vuelta mountains jersey winner Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge). Two kilometres later, the five leaders already had 40 seconds on a bunch happy to let them get on with it.
Finally yellow jersey Jan Bakelants' Radio Shack team rolled into action to ride tempo and the break was never given more than 4-20. Throughout the stage Sky and Saxo Bank took turns to ride on the front, partly to stay out of trouble and partly, you suspect, to show the others how strong they were. Either way, it spelled doom for the break and they were caught on the final climb of the day, the second category Col de Marsolino, less than 14km from the line.
By this point, the pressure applied by Europcar, riding for King of the Mountains Pierre Roland (in that dreadful polka-dot short and jersey combo that should be banned by the UCI), had split the peloton to bits.
Rolland carried on over the top of the climb, to be joined by Sylvain Chavannel (Omega Pharma), Lars-Petter Nordhaug (Belkin) and Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel) but with Peter Sagan still in the front group, they were doomed.
When Orica took up the chase inside eight kilometres to go, it looked like a generous move on their part, helping carry the seemingly invincible Sagan to the line. But then nobody counted on Simon Gerrans, who was given a fantastic lead out by Daryl Impey and held off Sagan to the surprise of everyone except him and his team. Fair dinkum, as we believe they say. All those sick to the back teeth of hearing how great Sagan is cheered loudest...
With no general classification rider, the Australian team came to the Tour with an eye on stage wins and anything else they could get themselves into - jerseys, breaks, television interviews, whatever. Three days into the Tour they almost had Clarke in the mountains jersey and had already claimed their first ever Tour stage win. Orica could go home now and still claim to have had a good Tour. With morale on a high inside the team, it'd be a brave man who thought we'd seen the last of the Orica team in the 2013 Tour.
For Cannondale's Boy Wonder Peter Sagan, two second places on two successive stages on top of a first stage crash must be hurting a little, though he has a lead in the points jersey to take to Nice. And Jan Bakelants finished 19th on the stage after a solid performance by him and his team.
Will the Belgian still be in yellow after tomorrow's team time trial stage? No, not a chance. The RadioShack management is probably wishing it had made Fabian Cancellara ride the Tour after all. They could have stuck him on the front in the TTT, got the team to hang on for grim death and held the jersey all the way to the mountains. Hindsight is great, isn't it?
A final thought for Sky's Geraint Thomas, who, it turns out, is racing with a "small fracture" in his hip after his stage one crash and finished the stage 177th, 9-15 down on Gerrans. But at least ‘G' is still in the race.
Astana's Andrey Kasheckin had the dubious honour of being the first rider to abandon because of ‘intestinal troubles, though French wild-card team Cofidis finally made the news when Yoann Bagot (son of 1980s ex-pro Jean-Claude, trivia fans) quit halfway through the stage. If only it had been the Cofidis team bus driver who jammed the wagon under the finish line gantry, it may not have resulted in a stage win, but it would have got them some headlines.
Tour de France 2013, stage: Ajaccio to Calvi, 145.5km
1. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge in 3-41-24
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale
3. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing
6. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM
7. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Astana
8. Maxime Bouet (Fra) Ag2r
9. Julien Simon (Fra) Sojasun
10. Gorka Izaguirre (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi all same time
Overall classification after stage three
1. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Leopard in 12-21-27
2. Julien Simon (Fra) Sojasun at 1 sec
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
6. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEgde
7. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp
8. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM
9. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale all at same time
15. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky
26. Ryder Hejedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp
38. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing
60. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo-Tinkoff all same time
99. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky at 9-16
173. Ian Stannard (GBr) Sky at 26-01
184. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 26-50
194. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 26-50
Peter Kennaugh gets some help
Scenery on stage three
All in the lunge: Simon Gerrans (left) pips Peter Sagan (right)
Simon Gerrans celebrates taking Orica-GreenEdge's maiden Tour win
Another day in the yellow jersey for Jan Bakelants
Tour de France 2013: Related links
Tour de France 2013: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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