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Gerrans wins stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under

Australian champion surprises himself with a sprint win over Greipel

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Simon Gerrans won stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Tuesday in Angaston, Australia. Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) delivered a surprise sprint win over André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the 135-kilometer opening leg of the UCI WorldTour opener in Nuriootpa.

Greipel was second and Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp) was third in the sprint after the Menglers Hill climb thinned some of the fast finishers, including Australian Caleb Ewan (UNISA-Australia), from the peloton.

“I guess I surprised a few today, myself included,” said Gerrans. “That was a tough climb, everyone was tired coming to the finish, and that may have taken some sting out of his legs.”

Gerrans took two time bonuses and will wear the leader’s jersey in Wednesday’s second stage, which covers 150km from Prospect to Stirling. Greipel is second overall, at five seconds.

Two men — Will Clarke (Drapac) and Niel Van deer Ploeg (UNISA-Australia) — set out on a long breakaway venture almost immediately from the start on Tuesday. The pair built a sizable advantage, but with 17km to go, the front of the race was all together.

Garmin, Tinkoff-Saxo, and Sky contributed the bulk of the pace-making on the day and it was the latter’s Richie Porte who led into the base of the Menglers Hill climb with 15km to go. Nathan Haas (Garmin) turned a long pull at the front of the thinning peloton on the climb, but it was Lotto that sprung Adam Hansen over the top first, the secure the climber’s jersey for the Australian.

Europcar teammates Yukiya Arashiro and Bjorn Hurau jumped over the top of the climb. A half minute behind them, Lotto led roughly 50 riders in the chase on the mostly downhill run into Angaston. Arashiro blew after a long turn in the wind, leaving Hurau alone for the final kilometer.

Australian Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff) attacked with a half kilometer to go, but the group drew him back in. Former Tour de France yellow jersey Daryl Impey (Orica) led out the sprint and teammate Simon Gerrans edged Tour Down Under record stage winner André Greipel (Lotto) for the victory.

“It was a perfect finish for Gerro [Simon Gerrans] today,” said Greipel. “The gearing was just too hard for me today. It wasn’t a bunch sprint today. It was very hard today, and I am no climber. I tried to go up as fast as possible, so it’s a good sign that the condition is there. The headwind played against us today.”

Gerrans admitted that the pressure of the leader’s jersey would be a challenge to handle so early in the race, but also acknowledged that his home tour is one that is decided by just seconds, and a stage win is impossible to pass up.

“This race is won by seconds and you have to take time when every opportunity comes up,” said Gerrans.