Britain’s Geraint Thomas launched an audacious attack on Corkscrew Hill, then outsprinted his rivals to record a brilliant win in the second stage of the Tour Down Under yesterday.
Thomas, who won gold in the team pursuit at the London Olympics, broke clear halfway up Corkscrew Hill 5km from the finish line and was too strong in the closing stages, taking both the stage win and the overall lead in the season-opening UCI WorldTour race.
The 26-year-old said he had been training hard heading into the new season, using London teammate Bradley Wiggins as motivation.
“Seeing what Brad did [at the Tour de France] last year has definitely given me the confidence to really push on on the road,” Thomas said after winning the stage in 2 hours, 44 minutes, 18 seconds.
Thomas took the field by surprise when he attacked on Corkscrew Hill and although he was caught by three other riders on the downhill run to the finish line, he attacked again 400m from home to claim the 116.5km stage from Mount Barker to Rostrevor.
Spaniard Javier Moreno of Movistar was second with Radioshack Leopard’s Belgian rider Ben Hermans third, both a second behind Thomas.
Thomas also took over the ocher jersey as outright leader from Andre Greipel, the big German sprinter finishing more than six minutes back.
Thomas said afterwards he had been determined not to suffer a let down after claiming gold in the team pursuit in London.
“As soon as I finished the Olympics, I was straight back on the road,” he said. “I wanted to start the year strong and that’s what I’ve done — it’s definitely a nice reward for all the hard work over winter.”
World road race champion Philippe Gilbert’s chances of overall victory are all but gone after he was involved in a crash soon after getting over Corkscrew Hill.
The Belgian was not badly hurt, but he limped home 2 minutes, 49 seconds behind the leaders. Frenchman Arnaud Courteille and Giovanni Visconti of Italy were taken to hospital for assessment following the crash, but no riders were seriously injured.
Last year’s champion, Australia’s Simon Gerrans, conceded his hopes of defending the title were also gone after losing contact with the leading group and finishing 2:36 behind Thomas.
Thomas said he was worried he had attacked too early on the 2.4km climb up Corkscrew Hill.
“At one point I did think perhaps I’d gone a bit early, got a bit keen up that climb, but I managed to just hang on over the top, and fortunately there was another little group behind and we worked really well together,” he said. “I just took a bit of a run at them and hit them with 400 to 350 meters to go. I knew it was a fast finish and I just gave it everything.”
The Welshman was quietly confident of hanging on to the lead, although he conceded today’s stage from Unley to Stirling would not be easy.
“Tomorrow’s a tough stage, it’s a hard start so potentially there could be a strong group go away, which would be pretty dangerous, but we’ve got a strong team, we’re just going to try and defend it tomorrow, and if we do that it will be a real step forward,” he said.
Today’s 139km stage starts in inner-city Unley and finishes with an uphill sprint into the town of Stirling.