By Rupert Guinness of The Australian, For VeloNews
Stuart O’Grady’s (Crédit Agricole) bid to win the Jacbob’s Creek Tour Down Under a third time hangs in the balance after he lost nearly a minute in Wednesday’s blistering-fast second stage of the South Australian event.
Canberra’s Michael Rogers (AIS) won the 150km stage from Italian Fabio Sacchi (Seaco), who deposed Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Adecco) as overall race leader. Third at the same time was Italy’s Andrea Tafi (Mapei).
McEwen, the winner of stage one on Tuesday night, rode aggressively all day and was instrumental in the first major attack of the day. The overnight race leader and Australian champion led an early eight-man breakaway that formed at 25km and stayed away until 90km.
McEwen quickly found his lead under siege though. He failed to win the first of two intermediate time-bonus sprints at 66.5km. That went to Italian champion Daniele Nardello (Mapei) who gained a three-second bonus from McEwen, who took two seconds.
By the time the second sprint went under the field’s wheels at 94.4km, the breakaway was brought back and McEwen was sapped of energy to sprint.
However, his worst mistake was to miss the day’s vital move that followed. He would finish 47th and in the main pack at 8:06 behind.
Defending race champion O’Grady fared better in his home event in the state of South Australia, finishing 11th at 49 seconds.
But for him to win overall he must now launch a race-winning attack in tomorrow’s third stage – a challenge O’Grady admits will be tough.
“It’s going to be hard to win from the position I am in. But anything is possible,” said O’Grady of a day that includes the 5km-long ascent up Old Wilunga Hill with 20km to go.
O’Grady’s error in Wednesday’s second stage from Hahndorf to Strathalbyn was to miss the winning seven-man break with 10km to go.
Rogers, who won stage two of the 2000 race and wore the yellow leader’s jersey for two day before turning professional, ignited the move. On his wheel were Sacchi, Tafi, Russian Alexandre Botcharov (AG2R), Frenchman Anthony Morin (Credit Agricole), Belgian Paul van Hyfte (CST) and Australian Patrick Jonker (AIS).
For Rogers the move carried the added gain of placing him within shot of Sacchi’s race lead. Now second overall, one second behind Sacchi, Rogers, 22, could find himself in the yellow leader’s jersey by Thursday night.
Sacchi – who has come to the race at 149 lbs. (11 lbs. lighter than last year when he won a stage) – is determined to defend his lead, claiming the yellow jersey today was his objective. “It was very important,” he said, admitting that he could also have won the stage.
“I misjudged the length of the [finishing] straight. But still, the most important thing was to take the lead.
“I want to do the yellow jersey proud; especially for the Italian community here. This is very important for them.
“I love Australia though. If I could, I would take up Australian citizenship tomorrow.”
However, also in the hunt are five other riders within seven seconds. They include Italian strong man Tafi (Mapei) who is third at 5 seconds.
While falling short of taking the race lead by one second, joy was all that Rogers showed for today’s result. His win was his first as a professional. And first to congratulate him was his Mapei stablemate Tafi. They may be riding as opponents for the Australian race; but in Europe where they race for Mapei they are close friends.
“This win is far more important,” he said, when asked to compare it to his 2000 stage victory that he claimed as a registered under-23 rider.
“It was great to win it to for Mapei. It was great to win with riders like Andrea here too. He is a good mate of mine.”
Rogers said his win today came in such a hard fought stage which saw the average speed rest at 45.3kmh added further significance to it.
“It was a real hard day. We just kept pushing and pushing until we got one [breakaway group] away,” he said. “Finally we got one.
“But then I was expecting something to happen with 2 kilometers to go. So I thought: “why not go with 10km out.”
“Coming into the last corner [with 400m to go] I made sure I was first around.
“Then when I saw the finish line, I put my head down and went as hard as I could.”
Stage two: Hahndorf to Strathalbyn – 150km;
1. Michael Rogers (Aus), AIS, 3:21:52;
2. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco;
3. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei;
4. Alexandre Bothcarov (Rus), AG2R;
5. Anthony Mornin (F), Credit Agricole;
6. Paul Van Hyfte (B), CST;
7. Patrick Jonker (Aus), UNi SA, all s.t.;
8. Robert Tighello (Aus), AIS, at 0:41;
9. Daniele Nardello (I), Mapei, at 0:43;
10. Inigo Chaurreau (Sp), AG2R, at 0:49;
11. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole;
14. Cadel Evans (Aus), Mapei, both s.t.;
23. Jonathan Vaughters (USA), Credit Agricole, at 8:06;
28. Bobby Julich (USA), Telekom;
47. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto, both s.t.;
All riders bar one finished at 8mins 06secs;
DNF: Ludovic Capelle, Bel), AG2R).;
Overall after two stages;
1. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco, 4:20:59;
2. Michael Rogers (Aus), AIS, at 0:01;
3. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei, at 0:05;
4. Alexandre Botcharov (Rus), AG2R, at 0:07;
5. Anthony Morin (F), Credit Agricole;
6. Paul Van Hyfte (B), CST;
7. Patrick Jonker (Aus), Uni SA, all s.t.;
8. Daniele Nardello (I), Mapei, at 0:45;
9. Robert Tighello (Aus), AIS, at 0:48;
10. Inigo Chaurreau (Sp), AG2R, at 0:50;
11. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole, at 0:54;
14. Cadel Evans (Aus), Mapei, at 0:56;
15. Stefan Wesemann (Ger), Telekom, s.t.;
23. Jonathan Vaughters (USA), Credit Agricole, at 8:10;
28. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto, at 8:11;
30. Bobby Julich (USA), Tel, at 8:13;
49. Brad McGee (Aus), La Francaise des Jeux, s.t.;
Sprints: Jans Koerts (Nl), Domo;
Climbers: Scott Sunderland (Aus), AIS;
Under 23: Mark Renshaw (Aus), United Water;
Teams: Australian Institute of Sport (AIS);