Santos Tour Down Under: stage 2 report and photos

by Matt de Neef

On paper, stage 2 of this year’s Santos Tour Down Under should have been better suited to Simon Gerrans than stage 1. And as the finish line approached in Stirling today at the end of 150km, Gerrans was sitting pretty on the wheel of his teammate Darryl Impey. But a perfectly timed sprint by Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) saw the Italian take the win ahead of Gerrans and Cadel Evans (BMC).

It wouldn’t be a Tour Down Under stage without a breakaway featuring a UniSA/Australia rider. The same could be said of Drapac if their first two stages at the race are anything to go by. Two stages, two breakaways, two impressive rides from Will Clarke off the front.

Today Clarke was joined by Campbell Flakemore (UniSA/Australia) who placed fourth in the U23 men’s ITT at last year’s world road championships, and Boy van Poppel (Trek), the son of one of the Netherlands’ most succesful sprinters, Jean-Paul van Poppel.

The trio made their escape within 4km of the stage start in Prospect, the third group of riders to try their hand at some TV time (the ever-aggressive Will Clarke was in all three attempted moves).

Unlike on stage 1, today’s breakaway wasn’t allowed to gain a gap of more than 2:50 at any point in the race. Their lead fluctuated throughout as they made their way through the two intermediate sprint points and two climbs on the route.

It was van Poppel that took out the honours in the first intermediate sprint at One Tree Hill, with Flakemore and Clarke picking up the minor placings. And when they reached the first KOM of the day — the 1.1km long climb to Golden Grove — Clarke danced away to take the full 10 points ahead of Flakemore and van Poppel.

A few minutes down the road, the leader of the KOM classification, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) rode clear of the peloton in his green polka dots, taking the remaining two points on offer.

The second and final climb for stage 2 came 20km down the road at Checker Hill — a mere pimple at 600m long, albeit with a gradient in excess of 13%. Flakemore attacked decisively on the steep slopes and looked to have it won but a last-minute surge from Clarke saw the Tasmanian take maximum points again. Flakemore took six points, van Poppel took four and Adam Hansen, again, led the peloton over the crest to take the final two points available.

With the day’s two climbs complete both Adam Hansen and Will Clarke found themselves on 20 points. Hansen will retain the green polka dot jersey tomorrow as leader of the KOM classification after a countback to see who, out of Clarke and Hansen, had won the highest category climb — Hansen, with his win on the 1st-category Menglers Hill yesterday.

Over the next 50km the Orica-GreenEDGE-controlled peloton kept the breakaway within arm’s reach, the lead yo-yoing between 1:30 and 2:30. The break was never going to survive to the finish but the trio of Clarke, Flakemore and van Poppel continued on, getting themselves and their team sponsors on TV.

The day’s second and final intermediate sprint came after 84.6km of racing and went by with a complete lack of fanfare. Clarke rolled through uncontested ahead of Flakemore and van Poppel.

With roughly 43km left in the 150km stage, the breakaway riders hit the town of Mylor and the finishing circuit for the first of two and a half laps. With a fading Flakemore not contributing in the breakaway, and with the urgency building in the peloton behind, the leader’s gap was on its way down.

With 31km to go Flakemore, exhausted, dropped the wheel of the breakaway companion ahead and fell back to, through and out the back of the main field. He would go on to finish the stage nearly 20 minutes behind the leaders.

After 1.5 laps of the finishing circuit the two remaining leaders passed under the finishing arch. There was one 21.4km lap to go and the peloton was hot on their heels.

Clarke and van Poppel were caught less than a kilometre later, prompting a flurry of attacks from within the main field over the next few kilometres. Sky’s Phil Deignan tried his hand, as did Wes Sulzberger and Travis Meyer in a Drapac one-two. But nothing stuck and with 14km to go in the race the distinctive yellow of the rebranded Tinkoff-Saxo squad came to the fore.

Over the next 8km Tinkoff-Saxo drove the pace hard at the front, presumably in an attempt to setup the win for their sprinter Rory Sutherland who had made a last-ditch effort to win yesterday’s stage.

Simon Gerrans, in the ochre jersey of the race leader, remained inconspicuous in the bunch for the vast majority of the day. It wasn’t until 6.5km from the finish that Gerrans came to the front of the strung out bunch, surrounded by his Orica-GreenEDGE teammates.

With Lachlan Morton and his Garmin teammates driving the pace on the uphill run towards Stirling with 5km to go, riders were being popped off the back of the main field. With 2km to go Ian Stannard (Sky) launched a shortlived attack and then, as they passed under the 1km to go banner, Richie Porte moved to the head of the bunch. Interestingly, none of Porte’s Sky teammates were anywhere to be seen.

Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) attacked with 600m to go with the big names in tow, including Gerrans, Evans and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE).

In the dash for the line Gerrans had the perfect lead out from his South African teammate Darryl Impey and looked primed to win consecutive stages. But it was Diego Ulissi, a stage winner at the 2011 Giro d’Italia, that hit out at exactly the right time. The Lampre-Merida rider ducked out of Cadel Evans’ slipstream and scooted along the barrier on the right-hand side of the road to take a comfortable victory.

Gerrans crossed the line in second, picking up a handy six-second time bonus, ahead of Cadel Evans who picked up four bonus seconds.

The result leaves Gerrans in the overall lead, seven seconds clear of Ulissi and 11 seconds clear of Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who had fought back from a front-wheel puncture in the closing stages to finish in the lead group.

Cadel Evans sits in fourth overall, 13 seconds behind Gerrans, while Steele von Hoff rounds out the top five on the same time. Other big contenders for the overall include Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) — both 17 seconds back — and Richie Porte who is 21 seconds off Gerrans.

Tomorrow’s stage 3 takes the riders 145km from Norwood to Campbelltown and features the tough climb up Corkscrew Road (2.4km at 9%) which tops out less than 8km from the finish.

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