Gianni Meersman wins the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick-Step) has won the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race, sprinting to victory in Geelong at the head of a nine-rider group. Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) finished second while Cannondale-Garmin’s Nathan Haas was third.
The final selection of the action-packed race was made in the third and final circuit around Geelong when several smaller groups came together, aided in part by Cadel Evans himself.
Evans, in his final race as a professional cyclist, finished fifth, just behind Team Sky’s Luke Rowe.
GEELONG, Australia (CT) – The final race in Cadel Evans’ professional career began on the Geelong waterfront in overcast conditions and with a light drizzle falling on the riders. After a short neutral zone through eastern Geelong the flag was pulled inside the race director’s car and the first attacks of the day began.
With many teams keen to be represented in the break — including many of the local Continental teams — it took more than 10km for a group of four riders to establish a lead off the front. Laurent Didier (Trek), Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli), Darcy Woolley (African Wildlife Safaris) and Josh Taylor (Charter Mason) opened a lead of 23 seconds by the 14km mark as Budget Forklifts’ Brodie Talbot tried to make his way across to the break.
The day’s first intermediate sprint came after 23.6km in the town of Barwon Heads, the summer home of Cadel Evans. Josh Taylor took the maximum points, Woolley was second and Frapporti was third.
By the time the leaders were making their way west along Thirteenth Beach after 26km their lead was out to 3:26 thanks to an easing of the pace in the main field. It took Brodie Talbot another four kilometres to make contact with the four leaders. It was shortly after this that the now five-strong lead group held its maximum advantage of 4:57.
The peloton didn’t take it easy for much longer with BMC, Drapac and Orica-GreenEdge among the teams coming to the front to control the break. The gap steadied at around 4:30 after 42km of racing as the leaders approached the second and final intermediate sprint in Torquay. Marco Frapporti took out the second intermediate sprint ahead of Woolley and Taylor.
As the riders approached the hills near Bells Beach the gap was steady around the 4:20 mark. Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge) was patrolling the front of the main field while, behind him, it was the colours of BMC massing in support of their leader Cadel Evans.
The day’s first KOM came at Bells Beach where the riders tackled a ramp 2km ascent. Laurent Didier paid a visit to his team car on the climb, grabbing something to drink, but the visit didn’t go as planned. As he reached for a bottle his back wheel slid out and he hit the ground hard.
The Trek Factory Racing rider looked in considerable pain as he pulled himself up and he soon withdrew from the race, leaving just four riders in the breakaway.
Brodie Talbot took maximum points over the top of the Bells Beach KOM, followed by Woolley and Frapporti.
The race headed from Bells Beach back out to the Great Ocean Road before turning right on to Forest Road to head north. A southerly breeze gave the riders a tailwind and they flew away from the coast towards the halfway point of the race.
With 77km completed the gap was down to 3:00, thanks to the efforts of Hepburn on the front of the bunch and some support from Vladimir Isaychev (Katusha) and a handful of BMC riders.
When the race turned east on to Barrabool Road, with 89.1km completed and roughly 85km to go, the gap was down to 2:30 and the action was about to heat up. The right turn saw the southerly tailwind become a crosswind and Cannondale-Garmin pounced, all five of the team’s riders on the front doing their best to tear the race apart.
They were successful – a group of 12 riders broke off the front of the main field, with the likes of Mark Renshaw (Etixx-Quic-Step), Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) among those represented. The likes of Cadel Evans and Richie Porte, meanwhile, were in the second group.
The pace of the Cannondale-Garmin-led group saw the four breakaway riders caught with 77km to go and a short time later the lead group was back to 12 riders as some of the original breakaway riders were shelled from the lead.
The crosswinds, meanwhile, had wreaked havoc on the remnants of the peloton, with many smaller groups formed further down the road.
As the riders climbed up Scenic Road with 73.6km to the finish, the front of the race was more or less back together. At the top of that short climb the race joined the finishing circuit — a circuit they would complete three full times once they returned to the start/finish line in Geelong.
British national champion Peter Kennaugh tried to get away on the Scenic Road descent, prompting a split in the main field and the formation of a seven-rider lead group. It wouldn’t be the last time Kennaugh would animate the race.
With 66.4km to go, over the top of the final climb on the circuit, Kennaugh managed to get clear on his own. Behind him a chase group containing the likes of Danilo Wyss (BMC), Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin), Maxim Bouet (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Nathan Haas was leading a splintered main field. The action was well and truly hotting up, but there was still more than 60km to race.
When Kennaugh crossed the start/finish line in Geelong to start the first of three finishing circuits, his advantage could be measured in just a handful of seconds. Behind him, several groups could be seen massing for the catch.
One of the big pre-race favourites, Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), appeared to be having an off day as he crossed the start/finish line and soon withdrew from the race.
Kennaugh was soon caught, prompting a counter-attack from Maxim Bouet. He led solo for a few kilometres before being joined by Jack Bauer (Cannondale-Garmin) and Darren Lapthorne (Drapac). When the trio went over the second KOM of the day — on the steep Challambra Crescent, a climb made famous by the 2010 Road World Championships — it was Bouet that took maximum points, followed by Bauer and Lapthorne.
Nineteen-year-old Orica-GreenEdge signee Robert Power (Jayco-AIS Under 23 Team) bridged across to the lead trio with 46km to go while Pat Shaw (Avanti), Calvin Watson (Trek) and Stef Clement (IAM) made their own attempt at trying to bridge across.
When the four leaders crossed the start/finish line to begin their penultimate lap of the finishing circuit they had 36 seconds over the three chasers and 1:12 over a peloton that had been thinned to just 60 riders.
Robert Power set the tempo when the lead group hit Challambra Crescent for the penultimate time, but just before the summit the two leading groups came together, forming a seven-rider group at the front of the race. A late attack from Bouet saw him take the KOM with Bauer second and Power third.
In the main field Ian Stannard (Sky) was trying to get across to join the seven leaders, the Briton bringing Danilo Wyss, Brendan Canty (Budget Forklifts) and Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin) with him.
When the seven leaders hit the short but steep Queens Park Road/Melville Avenue climb (the first part of which featured in the 2010 Worlds course) Robert Power attacked, but he was soon shut down by Darren Lapthorne.
With 29km to the finish the seven riders were back together again. The peloton was 30 seconds behind and the four chasers were somewhere in between. The two groups came together with 26.5km to the finish, briefly forming an 11-rider group at the front of the bike race.
In the main field, Cadel Evans was sensing the danger. He attacked on the Hyland Road climb — the final climb of the circuit — and dragged the peloton across to the lead group. No sooner was the race back together than Evans’ teammate Danilo Wyss attacked.
Roughly 24km from the finish Ian Stannard and Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick-Step) bridged across to Wyss and a short time later Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) set off alone to try and join them.
At the start of the final lap, with 20.2km to race, Wyss, Stannard and Serry had just a few seconds over Simon Clarke. Martin Elmiger (IAM) was trying to come across the gap as well while the peloton was roughly a minute behind.
Clarke made contact at the start of the final lap and with 19.1km to race the four leaders had 45 seconds. Cannondale-Garmin, so active earlier in the race, came to the front of the peloton to chase down the leaders.
The gap was inside 30 seconds when Elmiger joined the leaders with 15.1km to race, just before the final ascent of Challambra Crescent. The peloton, meanwhile, was down to just 40 riders, strung out on approach to the challenging ascent.
Danilo Wyss attacked on the upper slopes of Challambra Crescent and it was only Simon Clarke that could respond. But with 12.3km to go, just before the top of the climb, Peter Kennaugh and Moreno Moser made contact as well.
On the final time down Scenic Road, with 12km to race, it was the fast-descending Cadel Evans that bridged across to the four out front, bringing a few riders with him. Kennaugh thinned the lead group to nine on the final ascent of Queens Park Road/Melville Avenue, while Cadel Evans sat in second wheel.
Simon Clarke attacked on the flatter section of Melville Road with less than 10km to race, using some road furniture to his advantage. He was caught with 8km to the finish, creating a 10-rider group at the front of the race: Simon Clarke, Davide de la Cruz and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-Quick-Step), Peter Kennaugh and Luke Rowe (Sky), Cadel Evans and Danilo Wyss (BMC), Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha), and Nathan Haas and Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin).
On the last climb of the race, the 700m-long Hyland Road ascent, Peter Kennaugh put in yet another attack. Moreno Moser closed down the gap before punching past and over the top of the climb solo.
He had just a small advantage but with the downhill run to the finish the Italian was able to hold off the chasers until 3.2km to go. Peter Kennaugh had been distanced slightly in the run-in, leaving nine riders at the front of the race as they turned right onto The Esplanade to begin the final two kilometres to the end.
Cadel Evans was well-placed at the back of the group, biding his time for the final sprint. Luke Rowe tried a long-range sprint with 500m still to go but it was Meersman that timed his run to perfection. He launched off the wheel of Nathan Haas in sight of the line and powered past to win the first ever Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Nathan Haas faded in sight of the line allowing Simon Clarke to pull past for second place.
Gianni Meersman said after the race that he felt right at home in the cool windy conditions.
“[The course] was really hard, we had Belgium weather conditions so it worked for me,” Meersman said. “I really like short steep climbs so it turned out to be a great race for the whole team.”
“In the beginning it wasn’t easy, we had a lot of wind. When we arrived on the shorter loop course I think most of the peloton was already on the limit.
“The team rode really well, I said I was feeling good and they trusted me so I’m really happy I could finish it off.”
Cadel Evans said after the race he didn’t “have the legs” to compete with the likes of Meersman on the fast finish but that he was nonetheless satisfied with the result.
“It was incredibly aggressive racing,” Evans said. “I was happy to make the front group at first. It was almost like riding a world championship.”
When asked what he would do now that his career has wound to a close, Evans replied: “I think I am going to go for a little ride, and then I promised my boy I am going to take him fishing.”
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