Santos Tour Down Under: Simon Gerrans shows strength with impressive stage one win
Roger Hammond says Team Sky may struggle to stop Simon Gerrans at the Tour Down Under.
Last Updated: 21/01/14 3:50pm
The Australian, who entered the first UCI WorldTour event of the season as favourite after claiming his national road race title just over a week ago, stunned Andre Greipel in the sprint finish in Angaston to claim the leader's jersey and vital bonus seconds.
Given the Orica-GreenEdge rider's early advantage and impressive form, Hammond says the likes of Team Sky and BMC will have their work cut out to deny the 33-year-old a third Tour Down Under crown.
"Gerrans broadcast his intentions by taking the intermediate sprint halfway through the stage but for him to win today, being the marked man, really is a sign of his form," said the former British champion.
"You don't win a national title in Australia without having form and to pick up intermediate sprint bonus seconds shows you must be feeling good and feeling positive.
"[His rivals] have got to come up with something but Gerrans is a climber and can deal with all of the next stages.
"They've got to find that chink in his armour, they've got to find his weakness - but we've seen him beat a sprinter, he's a climber and I'm struggling to see what they can find on him really!"
Analysing Gerrans' sprint success over Loto-Belilsol speedster Greipel, Hammond praised the Australian's movement after seeing him slide into the German's slipstream in the closing stages before powering past the five-time Tour de France stage winner on the line.
"With Andre Greipel making it over the climb with 12km to go, the leadout was done because Greipel had his dedicated team doing it," explained Hammond.
"The difficult thing is getting onto his wheel but Simon Gerrans seemed to float into that spot quite well and that's what set him up for such a good finish.
"Gerrans didn't have to fight too hard to get that wheel and that's normally what costs so much energy.
"From there he was able to concentrate on getting around Greipel. It was a good finish for him, though - that climb would have just knocked a bit of the air out of Greipel, and that carries on to the finish."
However, despite Gerrans' fine opening day display, Hammond says Cadel Evans (BMC) and Richie Porte (Team Sky) will still be hopeful of recouping the time they lost over the course of the next five stages.
With the current high temperatures in Australia likely to take their toll on the riders during the course of the week and a more challenging route in store compared to previous editions of the race, there is still plenty of time for twists and turns.
And Hammond reckons British outfit Team Sky will be boosted by the performance of debutant Nathan Earle, who was a last-minute replacement for Chris Sutton who fractured his wrist in the People's Choice Classic on Sunday.
"Cadel Evans had his whole team protecting him so he knows something," said Hammond.
"He's got the brashness to say 'you guys, you've flown all the way to Australia but you're here to help me'. So he's confident about his own form.
"He was quiet today and clearly felt today's stage was more about staying upright, staying in contention and over the next coming days he'll try to exploit those little climbs and ride away and take the win.
"Richie Porte, meanwhile, looked strong on the climb and always looked comfortable. He was under the mantra of 'don't lose the race today, keep safe and keep up there'.
"Team Sky should be very pleased with themselves, too, because stage one has gone better than planned with Nathan Earle being up there and riding so well as a last minute replacement.
"You could see their strategy was 'get to the climb, stay upright, stay safe and don't lose the race today' and they've come away with the bonus of a replacement rider riding really well."