Green machine: Australian Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff, right) just beats Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) to the line to win stage two of the Tour Down Under. Photo: John VeageFor a fleeting moment in the finale of stage two in the Tour Down Under on Wednesday, Simon Gerrans’ season looked set to continue the horror run of crashes that repeatedly sidelined him last year.
But as much as the unavoidable crash he had inside the last 500m of the 132km stage from Unley to Stirling was a disastrous finish the 35 year-old Victorian and his team knew it really could have been worse.
As Gerrans picked himself up from a spill, those who avoided the crash were in full flight towards the finish where Queensland’s Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) pipped Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) to win, while defending champion Rohan Dennis (BMC) finished third.
Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director Matt White summed up the outcome aptly, saying with wry grin and a shrug of the shoulder: “It’s glass half full, glass half empty, isn’t it.”
Despite the drama and opportunity lost to win the stage and take the race lead, Gerrans is still very much in the fray in his pursuit for a record fourth overall win.
Starting Thursday’s 139km third stage from Glenelg to Campbelltown, McCarthy leads overall by four seconds over Ulissi, Gerrans is third at five seconds and Dennis fourth at six seconds.
Forget the prospect of McCarthy, 23, folding under the pressure. His stage win and race leadership may be his first in the World Tour, but the fourth year professional is determined to make best his opportunity.
McCarthy said he will “definitely” try to defend the ochre leader’s jersey: “I was hoping for a top five overall. “Hopefully I can keep it up. I think I can still play a bit of an underdog (role) in the bigger picture of this race.
“I feel like the shape’s good and I have a good team around me to hopefully go for it.”
Gerrans’ intent on Wednesday – and that of his teammates – was made very clear, especially after the peloton reached Stirling for five laps of a hilly 20.5km circuit
Gerrans picked up five bonus seconds in two intermediate sprints and his team rode superbly to protect him and reel in the breaks – including an 86km attack by Queensland’s Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) that was reeled in with 19km to go.
But then, and inside the last 500m, their plan all came apart when Dutchman Lieuwe Westra (Astana) crashed in front of Gerrans’ South African teammate Daryl Impey after touching wheels with another rider.
Impey went down and so did Gerrans who was tucked behind the South African’s rear wheel in readiness for the lead out.
“Daryl was just about to go around the group and open up. He went down and I went straight over the top with nowhere to go, ” said Gerrans, 35, who was fortunate to have not sustained more than a grazed knee and that the crash was inside the last three kilometres which, according to rules, meant he got the same time as the winner.
Gerrans also knew straight away that he had escaped relatively unscathed, saying when asked if he feared the worst as he hit the deck: “No … not at all. [I’m] fine. As soon as I picked myself up again I knew nothing was severely wrong. I asked Daryl how he was straight away and he seems to be okay too.”
But while Gerrans saw the good, he still lamented the missed chance to win: “We picked up a valuable five seconds on the road. But I’m bitterly disappointed we didn’t finish off the team work with a win at the end.”