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ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Geraint Thomas (Sky) won stage 2 of the Santos Tour Down Under Wednesday, attacking a late breakaway to take the stage and the overall leader’s jersey.
Thomas countered an attack from George Bennett (RadioShack-Leopard) six kilometers from the finish and found himself solo on the head of the race. Bennett soon joined Thomas on the descent from the Montacute climb, however, along with teammate Ben Hermans and Javier Moreno (Movistar).
Bennett and Thomas put in the bulk of the work in the closing kilometers as a chase group of 11 riders pursued just a handful of seconds behind. Thomas attacked up the left gutter from the back of the group inside 500 meters to go to storm away for the stage.
Thomas took the ocher jersey off the back of overnight leader André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who finished more than six minutes back.
The 26-year-old said he had been training hard heading into the new season, using London teammate Bradley Wiggins as motivation.
“Seeing what Brad did [at the Tour de France] last year has definitely given me the confidence to really push on on the road,” Thomas said.
Moreno was second with Hermans third, both a second behind Thomas. The chase group reeled Bennett in late and he rounded out the top 10.
Thomas said afterwards he had been determined not to suffer a let down after claiming gold in the team pursuit in London.
“As soon as I finished the Olympics I was straight back on the road,” he said. “I wanted to start the year strong and that’s what I’ve done — it’s definitely a nice reward for all the hard work over winter.”
Last year’s Down Under champion, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), conceded his hopes of defending the title were gone after losing contact with the leading group and finishing 2:36 behind Thomas.
Thomas said he was worried he had attacked too early on the 2.4km climb up Corkscrew Road.
“At one point I did think perhaps I’d gone a bit early, got a bit keen up that climb, but I managed to just hang on over the top and fortunately there was another little group behind and we worked really well together,” he said. “I just took a bit of a run at them and hit them with 400-350 meters to go. I knew it was a fast finish and I just gave it everything.”
The Welshman was quietly confident of hanging on to the lead, although he conceded Thursday’s stage from Unley to Stirling would not be easy.
“Tomorrow’s a tough stage, it’s a hard start so potentially there could be a strong group go away, which would be pretty dangerous,” he said. “But we’ve got a strong team; we’re just going to try and defend it tomorrow and if we do that it will be a real step forward.”
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and Matthew Lloyd (Lampre-Merida) were among the riders caught up in a late crash. The Belgian was not badly hurt, but he limped home 2:49 behind the leaders. Arnaud Courteille (FDJ) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) were taken to the hospital for assessment following the crash, but no riders were seriously injured.
The Santos Tour Down Under continues Thursday with the 139km stage 3 ride from Unley to Stirling, which is likely to end in a sprinters’ showdown in an uphill finale. Greipel won the stage in 2012.