BALLARAT, Australia (VN) — Rhys Pollock produced the ride of his life to win stage 1 of the 2011 Jayco Herald Sun Tour Wednesday, but for any rider outside the top 10 to win the event overall, it will take something more exceptional.
Pollock was part of a 15-man break that slipped away from the peloton less than 10 kilometers into the 170.4km opening stage from Whittlesea to Ballarat.
Eventually the group splintered, providing first Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervelo) and then Pollock with solo opportunities to ride away with the stage. Bobridge, the current Australian road champion, made several attempts to make a break, initially with Pollock and then alone.
But with 25km left to ride, the six — Bobridge and Pollock, along with Jonas Jorgensen (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Nathan Haas (Genesys Wealth Advisers), Jens debusschere (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Reinardt van Rensburg (MTN Qhubeka) — had regrouped, and with a sufficient gap of over a minute to the next group of four, looked to have the stage between them.
Then, in a surprise to many, with all but six kilometers remaining, Pollock made his decisive move. It was the last of a series of smart calls for the 31-year-old, who had backed off after his period away with Bobridge because he felt he didn’t quite have the legs after the last climb and believed, as it correctly turned out, that their immediate pursuers would get to them both in any case.
“I was sort of suffering on the hill and saw the other guys and waited for them after the climb. When you don’t have the legs, there is not much point in pushing,” Pollock said after his stage win, later donning the race leader’s jersey.
“The win surprised me given the caliber of riders. I just came here to help the younger guys. But when you are in a situation like that and your team is relying on you — the only one out there — you have to give it everything.
“I was trying not to do too much work. But once they started attacking, I just made sure I was in the front when all the moves came. I knew if it came to a sprint finish I would be third or fourth, so I knew I had to do something different,” Pollock said.
Whilst cycling is not the only thing on Pollock’s mind at the moment, it obviously became the priority today.
“This is my seventh Sun Tour, and I was thinking seven is a lot to not actually get a result on. I haven’t even finished on the podium before. So to get the yellow jersey and to win a stage, well … I’m getting married in three weeks time — this is for Dana my fiancée for sure,” he said.
Bobridge eventually missed the podium, as Jorgensen and Haas filled the stage’s minor placings, but was judged the day’s most aggressive rider.
At day’s end, it is hard to imagine that any rider outside the top 10 on stage 1 has any chance of winning the 2011 Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
After Joe Lewis (Australian National Team), Koen de Kort (Skil Shimano), Tim Gudsell (PureBlack Racing) and Bernie Sulzberger (V Australia), the gap to the next group of five riders is around eight minutes, while the rest of the field is at 10:24.
Bobridge is now in the right position overall and has the talent to take the victory on Sunday.
If he does so, it would complete a remarkable seven-day turnaround, having had the dubious honor of carrying the ‘lanterne rouge’ as the last rider on general classification after stage four of last week’s Tour of Beijing.
To do so, his Garmin-Cervelo teammates will have to control any attacks on the open road stages over the next two days, before Bobridge displays the climbing skills on Arthurs Seat he will require to attain a lead big enough to defend on Sunday’s final street circuit stage in Carlton.
Saxo Bank’s team director, Brad McGee, predicted two weeks ago that Jorgensen would be the rider to beat. He has abilities as a climber, and although his team is a man down after losing Richie Porte, they too have the strength and experience to protect his position and launch him towards victory.
Not that Pollock plans to give up the yellow jersey easily.
“For our Drapac team, this is the number one race for us. We came down here and rode the course, we knew what we were up for and this is definitely the result we wanted to get.
“So early in the tour, it takes a bit of pressure off our other guys and the guys will be out in force in the next couple of days,” Pollock said.
The stage saw five riders withdraw en route, the highest profile casualty being Porte. The Tasmanian, whose form had been good enough to take him to sixth place in the world championships individual time trial at the end of September, put it down to failure to recover from nasal surgery in England last week.
In the contests for the sprint and the mountains jerseys, Haas and Pollock have taken the early lead, Haas also the leading under-23 rider.
Thursday’s second stage is 140.6km of riding from Sovereign Hill to Geelong, and includes two Category 3 climbs.