DRYSDALE, Australia (VN) — The Great Ocean Road produced one of its most stunning days on stage 3 of the 2011 Jayco Herald Sun Tour, and in the best traditions of a tourist icon, it inspired a visitor to victory.
It was not the first time that 23-year-old German rider Marcel Kittel had been motivated by a visit to the region, having finished in the bronze medal position when he came to Geelong for the world under-23 time trial championships 12 months ago.
The Skil-Shimano rider’s presence in this year’s race had drawn plenty of attention following an impressive stage win on debut in the Vuelta España and after some lower key results on the opening two days, he did not disappoint — recording his 16th victory for 2011.
Meanwhile, Drapac Cycling’s Rhys Pollock remained in yellow ahead of Nathan Haas (Genesys Wealth Advisers) at 15 seconds and Saxo Bank-SunGard’s Jonas Jorgensen, three seconds further back.
“It’s the end of the season. I’ve had lots of races and the travel to Australia was long and hard. Today was the first day my legs were OK,” stage-winner Kittel said.
“But we are very motivated and I tried to win. It was not just a win for me, it was a win for the team. The boys did a really good job today.”
Kittel emphasized the importance of his teammates’ role in the win, particularly given they had started the day one man down after Alexandre Geniez was forced out through illness.
“I can really believe in my team and today we showed how well we can work together,” he said.
“Drapac started to do the work to bring the break back but we helped in order to go for the sprint. Then the boys bought me to a good position with one kilometer to go, which was important, because the finish was not easy — it went downhill and then up again. It needed good timing.”
Although Kittel calculated on the spot that he had already had more than 50 racing days this year, he was not content to leave the matter there. He was already looking to the final two days of racing — Saturday’s stage from Sorrento, featuring three ascents of Arthurs Seat, and Sunday’s circuit course based on Lygon Street.
“Tomorrow will be a big fight but my role will be to support other riders — maybe as far as the first two climbs. Then I must keep something back as there is another chance for me on Sunday,” Kittel said.
Overnight leader Pollock and his Drapac team were happy to make the most of the early four-man breakaway that went just 2.5 kilometers into the 173km stage.
“The team rode fantastically today and we didn’t even use everyone up, leaving Tom Palmer to have a good sprint for himself,” Pollock said.
“I felt pretty good today. The team took over and I just sat in the box seat. We have now given ourselves the best possibility going into tomorrow. And who knows — stranger things have happened.”
Pollock did, however, confess that he had never ridden up Arthurs Seat in a race situation, conceding that it would indeed be a new experience.
Nothing changed in terms of the top 10 places on general classification, all contenders finishing with the leaders in the 72-man bunch finish.
But it will be tomorrow where they and the rest of the remaining 94 riders can really show their all-round skills.
The 131.6km journey from Sorrento may be the Tour’s shortest open road stage in 2011 but it is unquestionably the toughest with three arduous ascents of Arthurs Seat — the last providing the stage with a spectacular hilltop finish.
There will also be two intermediate sprints at Merricks and Flinders.
It will almost certainly decide the Jayco Herald Sun Tour with any sort of mass finish a very remote possibility.
The battle for yellow will be fascinating with no standout climber amongst those within reach on the general classification table. The most talked about are Jonas Jorgensen of Saxo Bank and Garmin-Cervélo’s Australian road champion, Jack Bobridge, who is at 23 seconds.