• ADELAIDE 17 - 25 January 2015
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Gerrans gives Aussies something to cheer for on Australia Day

Victorian Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) chose a fitting day to put Australia on top of the podium for the first time in this year's Santos Tour Down Under winning the 'Queen' stage of the race atop Old Willunga Hill in McLaren Vale on Australia Day.

The 151.1km stage began where the vines meet the sea and took in the scenic coastal vistas of the Fleurieu Peninsula before heading through Willunga and up to the finish.

Gerrans, a two time and defending champion of the Tour, was piped on the line in this same stage last year but today he overhauled Dutchman Tom-Jelte 'TJ' Slagter (Blanco) to cross the line half a bike length clear, cheered on all the way by the Aussie fans who turned out in force in support.

"It was absolutely fantastic, the crowd today was bigger than a stage at the Tour de France, really there were people around the whole course today cheering us on, it was a great atmosphere," said Gerrans.

"Obviously I was pretty disappointed to drop out of contention on stage two for overall and I had one chance to really make up for that and that was today so I’m rapt," Gerrans explained. "To win here on Australia Day, it’s a fantastic feeling and a big thanks to my Orica-GreenEDGE team mates they waited in line for me today so it was great to finish it off.

"I never gave up till I was right to the line especially when the young Blanco guy (Slagter) jumped across to us and went straight past, I was straight on his wheel and tried to come past him in the final," said Gerrans. "I’ve had two finishes up here and I was second last year and a win this year so it’s a nice way to round out the week."

But the 23 year old Dutch runner-up was far from disappointed because his efforts today gave him the overall lead and, in all likelihood, the Tour trophy for 2013. Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky Pro Cycling) went into the stage with a slim five second lead but he lost 28 seconds to Slagter on the second and final ascent of the category one Old Willunga Hill and is now out of contention.

"With 600 metres to go, I’ve seen Simon Gerrans going fast with a Movistar rider (Moreno)," said Slagter "I could have just gone for third place as long as I had a gap over Geraint Thomas but I wasn’t sure about the seconds. I wanted to win the stage and make a gap on GC.

"I preferred to have my adversaries as far behind as possible," he said. "For the stage win, Gerrans was fast but it doesn’t matter really.

"It’s an incredible feeling!"

"I never won a pro race before and I’ve a stage here this week, second today with the jersey and I have enough of a lead to believe that I can my win the first WorldTour race of the year tomorrow," said Slagter. "It comes from such great team work. I’m really proud to show this team to the world. It looks like the real beginning of my career even though the season is long."

Ten seconds behind the pair across the line today was Spaniard Javier Moreno Bazan (Movistar) who is now 13 seconds back in second place overall and in the lead in the Skoda King of the Mountain competition.

"I knew that if I waited for the sprint, I wouldn't have a chance so I attacked with about one kilometre to go. I had a good rhythm, but Gerrans came flying past me and he won the stage," said Moreno Bazan. "I was at the front but I got passed by two riders (Simon Gerrans and Tom-Jelte Slagter) who were stronger than me. I didn’t look for the jersey of king of the mountain but this is the kind of classification that I like!

"There's nothing more to say than congratulations (to Slagter), because he's going to win. Being second on GC (general classification) is probably the best ranking I could hope for," said the Spanish rider. "Slagter was absolutely superior. My performance shows the hard work I’ve done this winter. It gives me good hopes for the future."

Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky Pro Cycling) went into the stage with a slim five second lead but he lost 28 seconds to Slagter on the second and final ascent of the category one Old Willunga Hill and is now out of contention.

"The legs just went with 500 metres or so to go," said Thomas. "All the boys did a great ride. Eddy (Boasson Hagen) did a great turn. I should have swung over and let someone else do a turn, but I ended up doing all the work. I was a bit empty then.

"(Simon Gerrans) came past me and it was a bit too fast to get on his wheel. Then I got stuck out in the wind and I just went backwards with about 400m to go and lost the whole thing," Thomas explained. "It might not look like I was panicking, I was giving it everything, but there wasn't much coming out.

"Afterwards, you're pretty gutted because you wanted to win. For the first race of the year, we started with a bang and ended with a bang, the wrong kind of bang," he said. "It's been a good week, a good start of the year. At least it's not snowing."

Belgian Ben Hermans (Radioshack-Leopard) has moved to third overall 25 seconds off the lead after placing tenth on today’s stage.

"I am satisfied with how the race went. I was not thinking about the stage victory. There was too much wind and I'm not as explosive as the other guys like Gerrans. I am very happy with third place in a WorldTour race."

Earlier in the day seven riders set the pace early breaking clear to contest the two Jayco intermediate sprints of the day at Snapper Point. The first at the 63.4km mark went to Belgian Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) who today also collected the Europcar Most Competition Rider award.

"The team asked me to go on the attack this morning and we had a bit of luck to have two guys from Vacansoleil-DCM (with Tomasz Marczynski) up the road," said de Gendt. "We wanted to make the race for the climbers. We did our best but the wind made it almost impossible to succeed.

When the lead group reached the second sprint at 103.4km it was de Gendt's team mate, Tomasz Marczynski from Poland who grabbed the top points ahead of 20 year old Australian Calvin Watson (UniSA-Australia).

"Last year, with the same kind of effort, I reached the top of Willunga Hill," said de Gendt. "Today, I got caught at the bottom."

When the race regrouped for the climb and it was Movistar who set the pace the first time up Old Willunga Hill where Italy's Eros Capecchi led his team mate Jose Herrada Lopez over the top.

But when the race hit the climb for the second and final time the stage and overall contenders came out to play with Moreno on the attack, then Gerrans then Slagter.

Santos Tour Down Under leader Slagter also sits atop the Jayco Sprint and the Cycle Instead Best Young Rider classifications while Moreno holds the lead in the Skoda King of the Mountain competition.

Tomorrow's final stage will be fought out on the 4.5km Adelaide City Council Street Circuit and the 90 kilometre stage includes two Jayco intermediate sprints at the finish arch. The first comes at the end of lap eight and the second at the end of lap twelve. The Skoda King of the Mountain competition also features at 42.5km and 64km when the race goes over the category three Montefiore Hill.

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