ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan 21, 2012 (AFP) – Australian champion Simon Gerrans took possession of the Tour Down Under leader’s jersey in a dramatic fifth and
penultimate stage won by Spaniard Alejandro Valverde on Saturday.
Heading into Sunday’s 90 km race around Adelaide, Gerrans, of GreenEdge, is on the same time as Movistar team leader Valverde, with Portuguese Tiago Machado of RadioShack-Nissan in third at 9 secs.
In a thrilling end to the 151.5km km stage from McLaren Vale to Old
Willunga Hill, Valverde pipped Gerrans in an uphill sprint for the finish line.
While Gerrans will now look to hand nascent Australian team GreenEdge their
maiden WorldTour victory, Movistar were celebrating a stylish win for Valverde
on what is his first race since returning from a two-year doping ban.
Gerrans said: “It’s fantastic, it’s a pretty special moment for GreenEdge.
In our first WorldTour outing, to have the lead going into the last stage is
Arguably the most decisive stage of the race, stage five starred with a
dozen riders still in contention to succeed last year’s winner, Cameron Meyer.
But with the peloton climbing Willunga twice, and finishing on the summit
for the first time, the going got tough once some leading teams began setting
the pace after cresting the summit.
Valverde’s Movistar outfit were alert to the danger, and had bodies up at
the front when RadioShack-Nissan hit full gas in a bid to drop rivals and put
their challenger, Belgian Jan Bakelants, in position.
Their efforts soon had the bulk of the peloton dropping off the back, with
Gerrans, and many other contenders, holding on for dear life in a 25-man group
which had a minute’s deficit to a small group of leaders.
Left with no teammates, Gerrans did well to stay on the wheels as the chase
group accelerated on the way to the foot of the climb in preparation for the
final, 3.5 km punt to the line.
After the last remnants of an earlier six-man breakaway were reeled in, the
final two kilometres saw young Australian Rohan Dennis and Portuguese Machado
make a late bid for victory.
However they were overtaken in the final kilometer as the anticipated duel
between Gerrans and Valverde materialised, the returning Spaniard pipping the
new Aussie champion to the line in a finish which had the crowd in raptures.
Valverde didn’t take the leader’s ochre jersey, but was delighted with his
first victory since winning the Tour of Romandie — one of many wins in 2010
to be annulled because of his doping ban.
After two years out of the sport, one-day classics specialist Valverde was
delighted to be back on the podium.
“I’m super happy, I can’t believe it,” said the Spaniard, whose ban was
related to his implication in the ‘Operation Puerto’ drugs scandal which
erupted in 2006.
“My team were brilliant throughout the stage, I won thanks to them.
“It’s an emotional moment for me. I want to dedicate this win to all the
people who have been there for me during my time off the bike.
“This stage suited me, and it’s a perfect comeback for me.”