Equaling the closest-winning margin 10 years ago, Cameron Meyer and his Garmin-Cervélo team held off all and sundry in Sunday’s final stage to win the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under.
Coming into the final sprint down King William Road in the heart of the city – Adelaide’s own Champs Elysées – his main adversary, Matthew Goss (HTC-HighRoad), had to finish either first or second; Goss just six seconds away from the ochre leader’s jersey courtesy of placing second in an earlier intermediate sprint.
But Team Sky, who had no interest in the bonus seconds on offer, saved all their cookies till last.
And in scenes reminiscent of one year ago, they upstaged their more fancied rivals with a perfect lead-out – so perfect, in fact, that Ben Swift and Greg Henderson went 1-2 to not only capture the sixth stage, but in doing so, elevate Swift to third overall behind Meyer and Goss, who finished third on the stage and thus ended the tour a heart-wrenching two seconds adrift of the overall win. It was the same margin Stuart O’Grady won the race by in 2001.
“It was such a close bike race, and there was nothing I could do except cross my fingers,” said Meyer, doing his best to hold back tears of joy.
“Matt Goss took points in the first (intermediate sprint) and closed (the overall lead) to six (seconds). There was some part of me that thought I was going to lose this… And I was just hoping that some of the guys that weren’t doing the intermediate sprints, like Ben Swift, to have fresher legs at the end to beat Matt Goss.
“We wanted to be aggressive to try and really put the pressure on HTC, and looks like in the end they had to use their men up quite a lot, and Matty Goss didn’t quite have the train at the end,” Meyer said, who, 12 days ago, turned a sprightly 23. “Hands down to Matt Goss… but thank God, I’ve still got the jersey.”
“It’s a funny game, cycling?” Swift was asked after taking his second stage of the week.
“Oh, isn’t it, just?” he replied.
“Sometimes, stage races are a race within a race. I was feeling really bad about halfway through, after the efforts on Willunga yesterday,” said the third-year pro, also 23, “but my team did an absolutely perfect job. I mean, Mat Hayman practically did the lot from the front (in the final kilometers).
“Mat (also) protected me the whole day; (I) didn’t have to do a tap in the wind. It’s just unbelievable.
Do you think Meyer buy you a pint tonight?
“I hope so… he better do!” joked Swift.
“But no, I’m really happy for him, and I (look) forward to racing him at the team pursuit in the (track) worlds.”
In the minor classifications, Goss won the sprint jersey, Roberts the mountains, and Movistar was the best team.
More hope than confidence
“Hopefully, some of the other teams will get involved. Hopefully, he (Goss) doesn’t win the stage.
“Tyler Farrar and Julian Dean, some of the best sprinters in the world, (I’m) hoping they’ve got their Tour de France legs on today and can beat Matt Goss over the line, which will keep me in the jersey and give me the tour win.”
There appeared to be more hope than confidence in the words uttered by Meyer, the overnight leader, moments before the 1:15 p.m. start on one of Adelaide city’s most famous streets, King William Road, which served as both the start and finish location of the sixth stage.
Right from the get-go, Meyer’s best lieutenant on the fourth stage, Matthew Wilson, took off in a bid to disrupt proceedings for HTC-High Road, and was soon joined by Stuart O’Grady (Leopard-Trek), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Dimitri Champion (Ag2r La Mondiale). The quartet’s efforts were assisted by a crash in the pack that appeared to be caused by Jurgen Van de Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto), which also saw his team-mate André Greipel forced to chase back on.
On the second of twenty laps, Under-23 worlds TT silver medalist, Luke Durbridge (Uni SA-Australia), made the junction across to the lead four. Said Wilson: “I was doing the biggest pulls I could, just knowing all I had to do was make it to that first sprint.”
But even with the added firepower, Goss’ HTC-High Roaders never gave them more than 20 seconds’ advantage, and by the start of the eighth lap – which would see the first intermediate sprint contested at the end of it – that maximum margin was cut by half, before there was no margin at all.
At the sprint, Goss received a perfect lead-out but it was Matthews who used the HTC-High Road Express to his advantage and took the maximum three-second bonus, with Goss and Greipel in second and third.
The result saw Meyer’s lead over Goss and Matthews reduced to six and nine seconds respectively, the latter leapfrogging his team-mate and previous third overall, Laurens Ten Dam. On the tenth lap, the penultimate KOM prime on Montefiore Hill was won by the man who led the classification, Luke Roberts (Uni SA-Australia), even though he had already sealed his mountains jersey the day before on Old Willunga Hill.
Tension hits fever-pitch
Anticipation reached fever-pitch on the second and final intermediate sprint at the end of Lap 12. Yet inexplicably, both the HTC-High Road and Rabobank lead-out men stuffed up their trains, with neither Goss nor Matthews gaining any of the bonus seconds on offer; for Goss, it ended up being a race-losing mistake. “Matty Goss was on my wheel and I was waiting for him to jump – but he didn’t jump… so we both lost the sprint,” said Matthews.
Predictably, another escape attempt went soon after, a seven-man move forging ahead that included the day’s most aggressive rider, Stuart O’Grady. Three of the septet – O’Grady, Nicki Sorensen (SaxoBank) and Simon Zahner (BMC) – lasted all the way to the penultimate and nineteenth lap but with the stakes on offer in the group behind them, there was no way in hell they were going to survive.
Coming into the final kilometer-and-a-half, Hayman, Geraint Thomas, Henderson and Swift comprised the formidable train from Team Sky, and with the HTC-High Road and Garmin-Cervélo trains non-existent due to wear and fatigue, Henderson’s lead-out was so good, Swift and he took the first two places over the line.
Swift’s stage win also moved the British rider to third overall, and disappointingly for Matthews, bumped the Rabobank neo-pro to fourth on GC, one place ahead of his team-mate, Laurens Ten Dam.
Matthews said when he was told by his sport director he needed to win the stage to win overall, it planted a seed of confusion: “My DS said it over the radio with about five laps to go. (It) might have put me off a little bit because I wasn’t really thinking about it – I was thinking about the sprint in the end. There were too many things going through my mind, so yeah, it might’ve stuffed m up a bit.
“Coming into the last lap, (I) just didn’t have the experience these guys have in the last lap of a big race like this,” he said, “and didn’t quite have the speed and the technique to get to the front.
“(I’m) satisfied, but disappointed to be so close to a podium finish in the Tour Down Under. It was a good ride by the team but (I) just couldn’t quite finish it in the end,” said Matthews.
Final Overall standings