Ulissi Sprints to Victory in Stage 2 of Tour Down Under 2014
Gerrans remains the overall leader of the Tour Down Under, but Ulissi is now second in the general classification, just seven seconds behind Gerrans. 24-year-old Ulissi crossed the finish line in 03:52:15 and his strong form may prove problematic for Gerrans in the coming stages.
"I’ve never believed in my chances to win this stage because I had the impression that Simon Gerrans was by far the strongest. I thought he’d be unbeatable but I managed to beat him thanks to the help of the great team I have behind me," Ulissi explained after being celebrated on the podium.
"It has a lot to do with the serenity I found by winning a few races at the very end of last season, therefore I could train for this one with no worries and prepare well for this year's Milan-San Remo." Ulissi has taken seven professional stage victories in his career so far, including a stage win in the 2011 Giro d'Italia.
Gerrans, the newly crowned Australian road champion, had been hoping for back-to-back stage wins after his victory in Angaston yesterday but despite closing fast on Ulissi wasn't able to overtake.
"I would have loved to win the stage again today," Gerrans explained. "It was close, but I can’t win them all. It didn’t surprise me to be sprinting against Diego Ulissi in such a finale like Stirling. He’s a classy rider. But I wasn’t expecting he’d pass me as fast as he did. He’s obviously a threat for the overall classification but it’s a good result for me today as I have a bigger advantage over my other rivals with the time bonus of the second place.
According to Gerrans his position in the general classification and his seven second lead on Ulissi is just as good as he could have hoped for.
"Tomorrow is going to be the most decisive stage with the Corkscrew climb so close to the finish,” Gerrans concluded.
Evans' third place on the stage has moved the 2011 Tour de France champion up from ninth overall to fourth overall at 13 seconds off the lead and he was one of several strong contenders to test their legs on the short, sharp pinch at the end of the stage.
"I went too early, and got swamped at the finish," said BMC Racing rider Evans and added "I hope to get it right in the next few days, I didn't have the legs and timing to do it today. The team is being really good here, but we're still getting things going together. It's our first race of the year. I'm going OK. I just need a bit of timing. The general classification is still pretty open."
The Adelaide suburb of Prospect hosted a stage start for the third year in a row farewelling the 136 riders who are still in the race as they headed off to the Adelaide Hills region ahead of two laps of an undulating, leafy 20 kilometer circuit through and around the finish town of Stirling.
The hostilities started early when an early attack saw yesterday's Europcar Most Competitive rider Will Clarke of Team Drapac break clear with UniSA-Australia's Campbell Flakemore and Dutchman Boy Van Poppel of Trek Factory Racing.
"It’s three years in a row that I break away on the way to Stirling. Unfortunately, the last two haven’t been as successful as two years ago when I stayed away and won," Clarke explained after crossing the finish line in 124th position. He was once again crowned Europcar Most Competitive Rider.
The trio shared the spoils of both Adam Internet Sprint and both Skoda King of the Mountain primes contested in the first 85 kilometers.
At One Tree Hill, 26 kilometers into today's stage, Van Poppel scored top points in the Adam Internet sprint ahead of Flakemore and Clarke. But when the trio contested the Skoda King of the Mountain climb at Golden Grove it was Clarke who crested the hill ahead of Flakemore and Van Poppel. Mountain classification leader, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) led the peloton over a couple of minutes later to protect his jersey.
The second climb of the day was at Checker Hill at the 56 kilometer point and the placings were a repeat of the previous as Clarke lead Flakemore and Van Poppel over the top before Hansen grabbed fourth place points.
The second Adam Internet intermediate sprint was at Blahannah (85 kilometer) where Clarke held off Van Poppel and Flakemore was third.
Hopes the trio might fight for the stage win were washed away like rain on a hot summer day when they were reeled in by the peloton as they rode through Stirling to start the final 20 kilometer circuit to the finish.
"In the next day or two, I’ll take it easy," said Clarke. "I feel a bit tired so I’ll back off for another attack a bit later in the race."
Meantime Hansen's efforts ensured he held onto the Skoda King of the Mountain lead, although now sharing the lead with Clarke who also has 20 points.
"I’ve seen the possibility to take two points for the KOM without spending much energy as the fourth place atop the hill was still up for grabs," Hansen explained.
Hansen's teammate, star sprinter André Greipel of Germany put in a super effort to fight his way back to the lead group after a front wheel change the closing kilometers. He placed 19th, the last rider in the lead group awarded the same time as the winner, which meant he only slipped down one place overall to third where he sits 11 seconds off the overall lead.
"I was trying to help André (Greipel) today," continued Hansen. "It was always the plan to race for him, even after he had a flat tire. He and I had a little argument with one kilometer to go. He wanted me to go for myself but I kept supporting him."
Australian David Tanner (Belkin) fractured his right collarbone in a crash during yesterday's stage 1 and had surgery overnight to repair it. X-rays recorded this morning confirmed a broken scaphoid for Spanish climber Jose Joaquim Rojas (Movistar) who will return home for treatment together with his Italian teammate Giovanni Visconti who broke his leg in a crash during Sunday's People's Choice Classic.
Tomorrow's stage three of the 2014 Tour Down Under starts in the downtown Adelaide shopping precinct of Norwood and takes the riders over the notorious Corkscrew Hill climb shortly before the finish in Campbelltown. Race leader Gerrans expects the Corkscrew Hill climb to have decisive effects on the general classification.