By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse
Australian Simon Gerrans caused a minor sensation on Sunday by winning the tough 15th stage of the Tour de France on the race’s third mountain finish in the Italian Alps.
The 28-year-old from Melbourne, however, was quick to give a nod to Australian great Phil Anderson, without whom he might never have got on a bike.
Gerrans, who rides for Credit Agricole, bagged a prestigious first win in the race after attacking breakaway companions Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel and Garmin’s Danny Pate in the final 150 meters of the rain-lashed 183km stage.
The three had been part of a four-man break which at one point had a 17-minute lead on the bunch.
Gerrans looked to be slipping out of contention when a late attack by Martinez put the Aussie rider in trouble on the final, 11.1km climb.
But Gerrans dug deep, pulled himself back up to Martinez and Pate — and when he saw his chance to attack in the finale Gerrans did it in style, finishing 3 seconds ahead of Martinez.
“I thought we’d have to hit the last climb with a big advantage on the group to have any chance,” said Gerrans, who finished four minutes ahead of a group containing all the yellow jersey favorites.
“On the last climb I wasn’t really sure how my legs were. Martinez’s attack dropped me straight away, but I hung in there and once I got back on I wasn’t going to let them go again.”
Describing what is his biggest career win, the Melbourne native added: “I think it still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure I’ll be pinching myself for the next few days. It really is an amazing feeling.”
Gerrans’ victory, he admits, might never have happened if Anderson — the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey and a close neighbor of Gerrans’ family near Melbourne — had not prompted him to take up cycling to help rehabilitate an injured knee.
Within no time Gerrans was competing in races, and then fulfilled one of his dreams by heading to Europe to join the AG2R team for the 2005 season.
Despite securing most of his professional wins thus far with the French outfit, it is with his new team, Credit Agricole, that he has bagged the biggest.
Now living in Monaco with a large community of Aussies who are both friends and rivals, Gerrans admits he is glad of Anderson’s advice.
“I took up cycling after talking to Phil. And I quickly realized that cycling is a beautiful sport,” he added.
“There’s always another level to aspire to, and another race to apire to. Once I came to Europe winning a stage on the Tour de France has been my biggest aim.
“It’s just been an amazing journey.”