By Benjamin Fitzmaurice
Tour de France stage winner, Simon Gerrans, a new recruit of the new Cervélo Test Team, won the first stage of the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic in Australia, riding for the local O2 Networks squad on Friday.
The race was delayed, in strange circumstances, by more than 90 minutes because Australian sprint ace, Katyusha’s Robbie McEwen, had his flight cancelled and was late arriving for the event.
The race organizers delayed the start so that McEwen could compete in the event. Teams warmed up expecting a race start at 2:30 p.m. had to warm down only to begin the process again in anticipation for McEwen’s arrival at around 4:00.
During that hour-and-a-half delay organizers were in contact with McEwen’s taxi as it made its way from the Melbourne airport to the Williamstown event. Phil Liggett entertainingly kept the crowds informed of the progress of McEwen’s taxi.
Just like Elvis entering the building, McEwen entered the race in grand style getting the taxi to drive onto the race circuit and deliver him to the start line. Reportedly McEwen had readied during the ride emerging in full kit, helmet on, with only the wheels on his bike to assemble onto the frame.
Due to the delayed start, the reputedly “fastest critierium race in the world” became even faster with the event time of one hour cut down to a 45 minute sprint. Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) attempted an early break from the bunch with teammate, Nick Sanderson, only to be brought back into the fold of the peloton by a big effort from Graeme Brown of Rabobank.
Ten minutes into the race Gerrans, along with Australian domestic professionals, Dean Windsor, Joel Pearson and Australian Critierium Champion, Bernie Sulzberger (Virgin Blue), broke away from the bunch. The quartet worked together like a track team pursuit opening up a 26-second lead on a tight 800 meter circuit.
The main bunch, led by Jelly Belly rider Johnny Clarke, attempted to unsuccessfully pull the break away back however only could manage to get glimpses of the group down the finishing straight. Gerrans opened up his sprint early at the final turn and held off Windsor and Pearson for the 200 meter drag to the finish.
“Last year I had to wait until about March to get my first win, so to get one on the 2nd of January – I’m pretty happy with that!” Gerrans said.
Gerrans said he was really feeling the pinch by the furious pace over the first ten minutes.
“I warmed up and cooled down about four times,” he said. “By the time the race started I’d just about had enough for the day. I actually felt really bad for the first few laps of the race, starting absolutely cold like that.”
Despite his late rock star entrance and lack of warm up, McEwen managed to get sixth place and stay in contention for the overall title. Baden Cooke (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team), Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Mark Renshaw (Team Columbia) finished fifth, seventh and eighth respectively.
Stage 2 of the JBCC is a spectacular two kilometer course around the Geelong Botanic Gardens. The course has elevated water views and a long finishing straight suited to experienced road cyclists.
1. Simon Gerrans, O2 Reflections Group
2. Dean Windsor, Mazda
3. Joel Pearson, Savings & Loans
4. Bernie Sulzberger, Virgin Blue
5. Baden Cooke, O2 Reflections Group
6. Robbie McEwen, Katyusha
7. Graeme Brown, Urban Hotel
8. Mark Renshaw, Mazda
9. Jono Cantwell, Virgin Blue
10. Brett Aitken, Savings & Loans