L’ILE-ROUSSE, France (AFP) — Simon Gerrans’ sprint victory on the third stage of the Tour de France in Calvi on Monday completed what has been an eventful start to the race for his Orica-GreenEdge team, for good and bad reasons.
The 33-year-old’s outfit caused a stir on Saturday when its bus became stuck under a gantry at the finish line in an incident that was later blamed for causing a mass crash among the peloton.
Garikoitz Atxa, a Spanish former cyclist who was on his first day working as the team’s bus driver, was caught on camera with his head in his hands before the bus was moved out of the way just in the nick of time. Officials fined the team 2,000 Swiss Francs ($2,116).
But, fast forward to Monday, and the Australian outfit was toasting its first Tour stage win.
“It’s a fantastic victory for the team. We had a brilliant first season last year, but we really missed winning a stage on the Tour de France, so this year it was a big objective for the team to win a stage and I’m really happy to have done that,” said Gerrans, who won last year’s Town Down Under in his home country as well as Milano-Sanremo.
Gerrans edged Peter Sagan (Cannondale) by the narrowest of margins, edging last year’s green jersey winner in a photo finish.
“Sagan is such a complete rider,” said Gerrans. “He wins in the mountains and he can win bunch sprints.
“But I guess today the trick was great teamwork. I really had the full support of my teammates, right up until the last couple of hundred meters. That was the key.”
Gerrans has now won two stages on the Tour, but in vastly contrasting circumstances, with his previous success coming in the Alps in 2008. He insisted on Monday that he had matured and grown into his role as a team leader in the intervening years.
“Early in my career, I was an opportunist, going for the breakaways and with that I was able to win a mountaintop finish,” he said. “That is really not my forte, but I put myself in the right break and was able to capitalize on that back in 2008.
“As I’ve progressed over the years I’ve sort of become stronger and now I’m really able to win a race when the bunch is whittled down.”
Meanwhile, looking back at the now-infamous bus incident, Gerrans said all he could do was laugh, although he acknowledged that all of the Orica team felt for the hapless Atxa.
“It was definitely a bizarre day, not something that anybody on the team was expecting, nor anybody around the world,” said Gerrans. “We didn’t really find out what happened until we finished the first stage. Afterwards we saw the footage of the bus being stuck under the finish line, and you can really do nothing but laugh at the situation.
“It was such a bizarre scenario for that to happen. We are all really proud of the way Gari conducted himself and for sure he was really embarrassed, so we really felt quite sorry for him.”
Gerrans’ win capped what was a fine day all around for the team, with Simon Clarke starring as part of the five-man group that broke away early in the stage and reaching the summit of each of the first three climbs first to take top points and the day’s combativity award.
“I was brought here to take part in breakaways,” said Clarke. “I don’t know if I’m a climber. I’m more of an opportunist. … I took my chance today. Unfortunately, one kilometer before the summit of the last climb I was caught but I’m very happy that Simon took advantage.
“What happened with the bus was not ideal but now we can talk about Orica-GreenEdge for different reasons.”