By Anthony Tan
Picking up where he left off two years ago, HTC-Columbia’s big German sprinter, André Greipel, has claimed his second overall victory in the 2010 Santos Tour Down Under. And as Greipel took his second title, the new Team Sky bookended its stay in Australia with honors in the final stage, held in Adelaide city, with Chris Sutton and Greg Henderson reversing their positions from the previous Sunday’s Cancer Council Classic.
Just as it did a week ago, Sky executed its lead-out to perfection in the closing kilometers of Sunday’s 90km circuit race. Entering the 400-meter straight on King William Road, Sky’s Ben Swift led out Sutton, who according to team plans, was to lead out Henderson. But so strong was Sutton, he found himself unchallenged in the final meters, while Henderson, who was slightly boxed in, overcame Graeme Brown (Rabobank) in a photo-finish bike-throw to the line.
“I just saw my old man at the top of the hill and my sister said he almost had a heart attack, so … I hope he’s all right,” said Sutton, his cheeky grin a mile wide.
“Greg said at the start of the week, ‘I think we have one of the fastest trains here.’ I just kicked, went for it, and Greg, I wasn’t sure if he was on my wheel or not – I just went as long as I could and thought if Hendy comes round, he comes round — but I held on and we went one-two, which is incredible.”
With apparent ease, Greipel and his team owned by American entrepreneur Bob Stapleton won three of the six stages on offer, repeating their dominance of 2008 when the 27-year-old from Rostock, Germany, took a quartet of stages en route to being crowned champion.
“I’m really happy (for me), for the team as well. The team did a great job the last week, and I’m just really happy today,” said Greipel, who equaled Stuart O’Grady’s victory double in the Tour Down Under, achieved in 1999 and 2001.
Sooner rather than later, a palmarès like a novel
There is little left to say about Greipel, a muscled, 184-centimeter (6-foot-half-inch ) rider whose physical presence is atypical in the peloton.
Since he turned pro in 2005 for Wisenhof, Greipel has managed to combine preternatural strength with speed. Last year, he accumulated more wins than all except his teammate from the Isle of Man, Mark Cavendish. In years to come, his palmarès is likely to resemble a novel.
Greipel’s 11-second winning margin over 2005 TDU champion Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne) may not sound like much. But if one goes back through the years, this race has been won — and lost — by less than that.
Sanchez fought to close that gap on Saturday, when he and teammate Alejandro Valverde, with Cadel Evans (BMC) and 19-year-old revelation Peter Sagan (Liquigas), put HTC-Columbia under fire in a thriller of a stage around Willunga — an effort that eventually came to naught as the race leader’s team kept its cool and did its work.
“We tried to use our heads, first and foremost, before our strength,” explained Michael Rogers, HTC-Columbia’s captain on the road, after Saturday’s stage.
“We rode to our weakest link on the climb (of Old Willunga Hill), which was André. We were a little bit nervous, heading into the last eight or nine kilometers, but obviously strength in numbers — and that’s how we won the bike race.”
A notable mention is certainly in order for Henderson, the Kiwi who finished behind Greipel and Sanchez on the overall classification, and whose 11th-hour bid for the podium came true Sunday courtesy of picking up one intermediate sprint and finishing second on the stage.
Minor classifications: some close, some not-so-close
Greipel also ended a clear winner in the sprints classification with 24 points to Henderson’s 18. Robbie McEwen (Katusha) finished third with 16.
The mountains competition was even more lopsided. Thomas Rohregger (Milram) made his intentions known from day one and by the third stage was four points clear of young South Australian Timothy Roe (UniSA), who this year will ride for the Trek-Livestrong U23 squad. On stages four and five, Rohregger extended his lead by an unbeatable margin to end the race 26 points clear of Valeriy Dmitriyev (Astana) and Roe’s UniSA teammate, David Kemp.
The team classification was a far more closely fought affair, thanks largely to the Caisse d’Epargne power trio of Leon Sanchez, Valverde and Jose Rojas, who on Saturday finished first, third, and 13th, moving the team within two seconds of AG2R La Mondiale. Unfortunately, that’s as close as they got, and even though they came to win the overall, the Spanish bandidos can walk away satisfied that they threw everything including the kitchen sink, cupboards and silverware at Greipel’s HTC-Columbia squad.
Twenty seconds separated the three best young riders under 26. In the end, it was 24-year-old Belgian Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto) taking the prize ahead of Wesley Sulzberger (Française des Jeux) and Rojas.
All over bar the shouting
On roads nestled in between Adelaide’s CBD (Central Business District) and North Adelaide, 20 laps of a 4.5km circuit were all that remained for the 129 remaining participants in the 2010 Santos Tour Down Under. Since the opening stage five days ago, just three riders had pulled the plug: Tiziano Dall’Antionia (Liquigas-Doimo), Pieter Weening (Rabobank) and Wim Stroetinga (Milram).
A flurry of escapes ensued in the early laps, but it wasn’t until midway through the 13th that a break of three gained any sort of real ground — Sulzberger (Française des Jeux), Trent Lowe (Garmin-Transitions) and Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas-Doimo).
Having begun the day 39 seconds behind Greipel on the overall standings, Sulzberger was most certainly a threat and had reason to bury himself. And over the following five laps that’s just what he did, taking virtual race leadership four laps from the finish when the break’s advantage went out to 43 seconds.
But with just four teams having experienced the sweet taste of victory since last Sunday’s Cancer Council Classic, too many were unwilling to leave Australia with just an empty bottle of sunscreen, and cruelly though predictably, the escape was shut down 2.5km from the line.