When Simon Gerrans started cycling to help rehabilitate knee injuries suffered while racing motor bikes, he never imagined he would go on to emulate the feats of pioneering Australian compatriot Phil Anderson.
On Monday, Gerrans, who won his maiden Tour de France stage in 2008, grabbed his second career win on the race to hand his Orica-GreenEdge team their maiden Tour win.
It got the proverbial monkey off his team’s back a year after their race debut last year ended with lots of encouragement, but no stage wins.
However, few expected Orica to make it two in a row.
On Tuesday the Australians kept the momentum going with victory in the fourth stage team time trial over 25km around Nice. To top it off, Gerrans took possession of the fabled maillot jaune.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s been a dream two days for us. It really doesn’t get any better than this,” Gerrans said.
While Gerrans had caused a minor shock on Monday by throwing his wheel over the line ahead of Slovakian sprint specialist Peter Sagan, team sporting director Matt White was even more surprised by Tuesday’s winning performance.
“It’s certainly been a very big two days,” said White, who only returned to the sport recently following a ban after admitting to using performance enhancing drugs while a rider with Lance Armstrong’s US Postal team.
“Most teams are judged very much by how they perform at the Tour de France. We’ve won more than 50 races since our inception ... but yesterday [Monday] was obviously the biggest win for the team. To win today, to put Simon into the yellow jersey, we didn’t really expect it,” he said.
On a mainly flat course suited to teams with powerful riders, Orica pushed Omega Pharma-Quick Step into second place by just one second, with Sky Pro Cycling and Saxo-Tinkoff in third and fourth at three and nine seconds adrift respectively.
Of the big hitters, Cadel Evans was one of the principal casualties.
His BMC team finished ninth, 26 seconds behind Orica to leave him with a 23 second deficit to race favorite Chris Froome and a 17 second deficit to former two-time winner Alberto Contador.
Evans, who usually speaks out in defense of his teammates, was less charitable this time.
“You look to gain every second you can at this stage in the Tour and losing a lot of seconds certainly isn’t what I hoped for today and isn’t what I expected, but we’ll have to go back and have an analysis, and look at why and go on from here. The simple analysis is that we weren’t fast enough,” the 36-year-old said.
Although Evans remains a threat to Froome and Contador, for the moment the race’s fabled prize is on the shoulders of Gerrans, who along with Evans is one of Australia’s leading cyclists of their generation.
The 33-year-old is the only Australian to win stages in all three Grand Tours, has two victories in the Tour Down Under, won last year’s Milan-San Remo, as well as the 2009 GP Ouest-France Plouay and last year’s Grand Prix Quebec.
He has also achieved podium finishes in prestigious one-day classics such as the Clasica San Sebastian and the Amstel Gold Race.
Gerrans says part of the credit should go to Anderson.
“Phil Anderson introduced me to cycling, he was my first coach and lent me a bike to get started in competitive cycling,” Gerrans said. “So it was really thanks to Phil that I took up cycling as a sport. Originally, I first took it up to help me get over some knee injuries from racing motor bikes. So it’s pretty special now to follow in his footsteps. He was the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey and obviously to become the latest Australian is a pretty special feeling.”