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Simon Gerrans holds a unique place in Australian cycling as the only rider to win stages in all three grand tours. It’s therefore appropriate he leads Australia’s first top-level team, Orica-GreenEdge, through its first Tour de France over the next month.
For Gerrans, the winner at Milan-San Remo in March, the goal is another stage win. He’s been looking over the road book to find those stages that suit him, the ones where the GC will be sorted, allowing him to form an escape, and that end on an incline.
“I’d like to think it’s possible to win a stage,” he told VeloNews. “If I could get in one of those breakaways that go right to the final, even if there seems to be less and less of those, then I think I can have a good chance to win a stage. That would be an ideal way to continue this season.”
Gerrans has enjoyed his season so far. He won the Aussie road championship — from a breakaway — and the overall classification in the Tour Down Under. The wins started Orica off on the right foot, before it was even Orica.
Two months later, he pulled off an entirely unexpected win on Italy’s Ligurian coast. Gerrans escaped with Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) on the Poggio and went on to win the Milano-San Remo classic.
Gerrans appears to have mastered escapes. He has the ability to sniff them out, go with them and win. Each of his three grand tour wins — in Prato Nevoso at the 2008 Tour, in Bologna at the 2009 Giro and in Murcia in the 2009 Vuelta — was from an escape.
In the last two years, he raced with Sky and supported the team’s goal of winning the overall with Brad Wiggins. He suffered from crashes in 2010 and only got his chance to go free last year when Wiggins abandoned with a fractured collarbone.
“There were only a few breakaways last year. Luckily for us at Sky, we had Edvald (Boasson Hagen) in the team and he was going like 10 men. Of the three key breakaway stages, he was in two of them and he won one and ran second in the other basically,” Gerrans explained. “Unfortunately for me, the way it panned out, I couldn’t land any of those breaks, but I think I had the form that if I had made the break I could have taken a win.”
This year, Gerrans leads Australia’s new Orica team with Matt Goss. He’ll focus on escapes and Goss on sprints.
“Simon showed already that you can rely on him in every race for the win,” Orica sports director, Lorenzo Lepage told VeloNews. “He looked over the road book. He’ll divide up the possibilities with Goss.”
Both riders will benefit from the lack of any general classification plans for the Aussie squad. Team management has said from the beginning that this year’s Tour squad would purely be designed to hunt stage wins. There will be no Wiggins/Cavendish-style balancing act.
“Just going into the Tour with a team that’s targeting stage wins means that on the days you’re not targeting, you can take it as easy as possible,” said Gerrans. “You can just sort of finish in the last group on the road and just inside the time limit each day. It’s about saving energy for those stages you’re targeting. It’s a nice way to race the Tour.”
Gerrans may have flipped through the road book to land on stages 10 and 11, the first high-mountain stages, which come on the heels of the time trial and first rest day. The GC may be sorted enough at that point to allow him to ride free again. Or, he may be eyeing a stage in the Pyrenean mountains. Either way, he’ll enjoy the ride with Australia’s first top-level team.
“I’m really proud to be a part of this team, everybody is,” he said. “It’s really special this year, having the national champion’s jersey and being apart of the Australian team that’s doing the Tour.”