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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Simon Gerrans (Orica – GreenEdge) couldn’t believe his luck. Or lack of it. After a crash-marred 2015 season, with no less than seven major crashes, Gerrans was hoping for a smooth ride in the Santos Tour Down Under last week.
But the cycling gods are never that magnanimous. Just as Orica was setting him up for a sprint in stage 2 in a grinding, rising finale perfect for his qualities, wheels touched and Gerrans was back on the ground.
“Gerro” wasn’t about to fall into another funk. He brushed himself off — just a little bark off the tree, as the Aussies like to say — and won back-to-back stages, picked up key mid-stage time bonuses, and won the Tour Down Under for a record fourth time. Instead of being on his back, he was back on top.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Gerrans said Sunday. “2015 was so frustrating. Nothing seemed to go right. With this win, I hope I am back on track for 2016.”
Last year, Gerrans did catch a few breaks, but all the wrong kind. He broke his collarbone in a training ride in December 2014, forcing him to miss his title defense at the 2015 Tour Down Under. He broke his wrist at his comeback race at Strade Bianche, but proving how much of a hard-ass he truly is, he made it back for the Ardennes, only to crash twice more.
Gerrans crashed out of both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, breaking his wrist in the same incident that took out yellow jersey holder Fabian Cancellara. Things got even worse when he crashed heavily in the Vuelta a España, leaving him with a bloodied face and a banged-up shoulder.
Even more frustrating was that all of those crashes, except for the training accident, were not his fault. Gerrans, who came to the road after racing motor-cross, is an excellent bike-handler but was brought down in pileups and nervous sprint finales. Despite it all, Gerrans bounced back to finish sixth in the Richmond worlds. Few in the bunch are tougher than Gerrans.
“Gerro had some bad luck, but he’s put it behind him. He wants to go from 2014 to 2016 and forget about 2015,” Orica sport director Matt White said. “Everyone knows how tough he is, and to win here, for the record fourth time, says it all.”
With his fourth Tour Down Under crown, Gerrans reconfirms his spot atop the Aussie heap of cyclists, but he’s seeing some stiff competition from below.
At 35, Gerrans by far is Australia’s most successful rider in the peloton today, especially with the retirement of Cadel Evans in January last year. A lethal stage-hunter and savvy one-day racer, Gerrans has won stages in all three grand tours as well as Milano-Sanremo in 2012 and became the first Australian to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2014.
Nipping at his heels are the likes of Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis, both of BMC Racing, and teammate Michael Matthews. While Porte and Dennis are stage racers, there could be a brewing power struggle within Orica between Gerrans and Matthews. Team management is trying its best to downplay any conflicts, and Matthews and Gerrans likely won’t be at many of the same races. In an effort to spread the riches as well as ease any possible tensions, the pair will only coincide at the Ardennes classics and the Tour de France.
At Richmond last year, Australia gave Gerrans and Matthews free reign to race, with Gerrans coming home sixth and Matthews second. Some wondered if the team had backed one rider, Peter Sagan might not have stayed away.
The 25-year-old Matthews excels in the same hilly terrain as Gerrans, and both will be pressing for leadership at Sanremo and the Ardennes classics. And with the Rio de Janeiro Olympics serving up a mountainous road course, that growing rivalry could spill over throughout the season.
Right now, however, Gerrans isn’t worrying about any of that. He’s savoring his Tour Down Under victory and will race at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race next weekend before returning to Europe. Gerrans is confident if he can stay upright, he will be back in the mix.