By Anthony Tan
Team Sky drew first blood in Sunday’s Cancer Council Classic. But two days later in the South Australian village of Tanunda, 2008 champion Andre Greipel of HTC-Columbia fired the first real warning shot of the opening event of this year’s ProTour when he claimed the first road stage and ochre leader’s jersey at the 2010 Santos Tour Down Under.
“I think we deserved it. Now we have to take the responsibility to try and win every stage now, like we did in the last two years,” said Greipel, a comfortable winner by two bike lengths from Gert Steegmans of RadioShack and Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Jurgen Roelandts.
The day previous, the gregarious owner and general manager of HTC-Columbia, Bob Stapleton, indicated to VeloNews his formidable team, well-versed in winning virtually any sprint stage they wanted in 2009, would change their strategy after Sunday’s loss. The strategy worked – but Greipel was reluctant to reveal it.
What he did say Tuesday was that his team’s sprint train began seven kilometers from the finish of the 141km leg, but first Garmin-Transition’s Matthew Wilson and then teammate Jack Bobridge tried to derail it. To further complicate matters, one of Greipel’s lead-out men had problems with his derailleur, though HTC-Columbia was unperturbed and Bernhard Eisel assumed the role of last man for the German giant.
RadioShack team manager Johan Bruyneel admitted afterwards that compared to some other outfits here, his unit in Oz has little experience in setting up a sprint train, even though three men – (Tomas) Vaitkus, (Sebastien) Rosseler and (Daryl) Impey – were dedicated to the cause. “I think this week is very interesting on how to try out different things (in a sprint situation), and how to do it and how not to do it,” he said.
This augments Steegmans’ result and perhaps makes him — whose entire squad of seven is at his disposal — Greipel’s biggest threat. “This is a team for the Grand Tours,” said Steegmans, “so they’re not used to doing the sprints. But still they put a lot of effort in me for pulling the sprint, so that’s given me a lot of confidence and hopefully tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, we’re going to do it perfectly.”
Is winning stages the best way to defend the overall lead, the race leader was asked.
With a wry grin, Greipel answered: “Yes. And no crashes.”
No probs, mate, for a leaner Lance
In what the Texan summarized as “a fairly uneventful day,” RadioShack’s Lance Armstrong – an already far leaner version of the 37-year-old Lance Armstrong we saw here 12 months ago – expended no more energy than what he deemed absolutely necessary, finishing safely in the first pack of 90 riders in 46th place.
“(The stage) was not bad. I think for everybody, it was the first up-and-down stage; that hill (Menglers Hill) was … I think everybody was suffering a little bit,” Armstrong said.
“When you have that group of three or four (in a break), one or two teams controls and the attacks and the accelerations stops, and it’s just a consistent pace. The wind wasn’t a big factor, maybe a little bit at the end, but overall, it was a fairly uneventful day.”
‘So, Lance, you’ll be back tomorrow, right?’ asked a local reporter.
“Tomorrow morning? Absolutely!” he laughed. “But I won’t be here (in Tanunda). I’ll be somewhere else.”
First, a two-hour road trip
A 133-kilometre drive from Adelaide, the 2010 Tour Down Under peloton left its northernmost point at St Clare at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, the weather a Pleasantville 16 degrees Celsius and vastly different to 12 months before when the midday mercury was consistently rocking around the 40°C mark.
Once again, the most wanted man in this bike race was tracked by a coterie of journalists including yours truly. He repeated what he said in the days before: that he’s a little stronger, a little fitter, and therefore a little faster and a little more confident. No doubt by July, Lance is hoping the “littles” become a lot.
Gorka Izaguirre (Euskatel-Euskadi) attacked from the gun and gained a handy 2:20, but after 17km that was shut down before a trio went away just after the peloton became groupé. Twenty-six ‘s in, Martin Kohler (BMC), Biel Kadri (AG2R La Mondiale) and Timothy Roe (UniSA-Australia-AIS) were 2:45 in front, which less than 10km later blew out to 6:50 and by the 45km mark, the escapees had amassed their maximum lead of 9:45.
With almost 100km still to race, the rather innocuous trio needed to hold or increase their lead if they were to stand a chance of staying away. But as they journeyed south through the bite-sized towns of Tarlee, Kapunda, Greenock and Seppeltsfield, their advantage slid in line with the distance remaining.
To his credit, new Trek-Livestrong recruit Roe danced away from his companions on the day’s sole climb of Menglers Hill, his upper body bobbing in a fashion not dissimilar to Spaniard Francisco Mancebo as he tackled the 8.16 percent, 1.9km pitch in the saddle.
After 114km, Roe reached Menglers’ crest with a 1:48 lead to the peloton, guaranteed the mountains jersey by the day’s end. When the man pack hit the same mark, it had split into three fairly even groups that somewhat reformed; 20km from the finish in Tanunda, a chase group of 90-odd was in hot pursuit, now 40 seconds behind the 20-year-old South Australian.
Around the counter-clockwise finishing circuit taking in some world-famous and not-so-famous (though interestingly-named) vineyards that included Yalumba Wines, Barossa Valley Estate, Cockatoo Ridge, Viking Wines and Kilikankoon, Roe had been caught and was now doing his utmost just to dangle on the back.
In the final kilometers, RadioShack, Liquigas and Team Sky all tried their hand at sprint trains of some sort, but HTC-Columbia had learned a lesson Sunday and this time taught their rivals how to do it right.