Diego Ulissi won stage 2 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Wednesday in Stirling, Australia. Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) was fastest to the line in a tough, uphill sprint to close the 150-kilometer leg from Prospect.
Overall leader Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) was second and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was third.
“I’ve never believed in my chances to win this stage because I had the impression that Simon Gerrans was by far the strongest,” said Ulissi. “I thought he’d be unbeatable, but I managed to beat him thanks to the help of the great team I have behind me. It has a lot to do with the serenity I found by winning a few races at the very end of last season; therefore, I could train for this one with no worries and prepare well for Milano-Sanremo.”
With 20km remaining, the day’s long breakaway was erased entirely. Philip Deignan (Sky) was among the riders to launch counter-attacks before and after the catch. A further jump from Garmin-Sharp split the peloton, but the bunch came back together on a rolling descent 18km from the finish.
With 16km to go, the race’s most prolific stage winner, André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), suffered a puncture. The German champion made his way back to the peloton before the 10km to go mark, but would not factor in the finale.
Former Tour de France champion Evans struck out early in the sprint, but faded before the line.
“I went too early, and got swamped at the finish,” he said. “I hope to get it right in the next few days. I didn’t have the legs and timing to do it today. The team is being really good here. We’re still getting things going together. It’s our first race of the year.”
Ulissi timed his surge perfectly and Gerrans followed him across the line to extend his overall lead with the second-place time bonus.
“I would have loved to win the stage again today,” said Gerrans. “It was close, but I can’t win them all. It didn’t surprise me to be sprinting against Diego Ulissi in such a finale like Stirling. He’s a classy rider. But I wasn’t expecting he’d pass me as fast as he did. He’s obviously a threat for the overall classification, but it’s a good result for me today as I have a bigger advantage over my other rivals with the time bonus of the second place.”
The Tour Down Under continues Wednesday with the 145km third stage, from Norwood to Campbelltown, which finishes with a 7.4km descent from the KOM line atop Corkscrew Road. Gerrans said he expected the stage to have significant impact on the final general classification.
“My position on GC is just as good as I could have hoped for,” he said. “Tomorrow is going to be the most decisive stage with the Corkscrew climb so close to the finish.”