Gerrans grabs the best win of GreenEDGE’s short history

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GreenEDGE riders (AAP Image/Kathy Watt)

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Simon Gerrans’ perfectly-executed attack and sprint to victory at Milan-San Remo on Sunday is by far the best performance his GreenEDGE team has produced in its short life.

Just last week I wrote in my column here that GreenEDGE needed to do more to show it was capable of mixing it with the big boys.

How sweet it is to be proved wrong!

Gerrans’ finish-line ambush on Fabian Cancellara capped off a perfectly-executed attack made with just over 7km remaining in the 298km race.

The decisive move was begun with 10km to go by the Italian Liquigas-Cannondale team, sending Valerio Agnoli on a solo attack near the base of the final climb, the Poggio. Liquigas held multiple cards to play, with Vicenzo Nibali in excellent form a few days after his victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, and Peter Sagan ready to contest a bunch sprint if it eventuated.

With 7.5km remaining, as the chase group of 30 riders swept Agnoli up, Nibali launched a vicious attack with Gerrans tight in his slipstream. The Australian champion had clearly anticipated the move: his first brilliant tactical decision of the day.

Of the remaining chasers, only ‘Spartacus’ Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) had the power to follow, and the three had opened a slender gap of a few seconds as they began the descent to the finish.

Cancellara’s enormous power drove the three leaders most of the final 6.6km to the line, an effort which may have cost him victory. However, past form suggests that Gerrans was always going to be the fastest of the three in a sprint, and he played to his strength: brilliant tactical decision number two.

No sympathy for Cancellara. This is the prisoner’s dilemma so often seen in cycling: do you do the hard work to stay clear of a chasing peloton, or sit in the slipstream and hope the other guy is feeling generous or desperate?

Cancellara’s (formidable) reputation dictates that in a small breakaway he’s almost always going to be the guy pedalling at the front. He is both the best man for the job, and far too dangerous to help out unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Nibali and Gerrans had the advantage of a sprinter team-mate in the chase group (Sagan and Matt Goss respectively) and were hardly going to tow Spartacus to the finish. That’s racing.

All Gerrans had to do was hold onto Cancellara’s back wheel (admittedly not easy) on the descent and hope his legs had enough to get him over the line. The tactics were perfect, the execution flawless, and Gerrans raised his arms to claim what is easily the best victory for his young team.

And with that, I humbly and joyfully admit that my impatience last week was misplaced. GreenEDGE has its first victory in one of cycling’s monuments, in scintillating style.

To see what this means to the team, watch the exuberant wrap-up video posted on the team’s YouTube channel. The confidence that flows from this win will be enormous. It is hugely significant.

Well done to the GreenEDGE team, and well done to Simon Gerrans. You bloody ripper!

Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. A former A-grade club athlete, and now a keen recreational cyclist and roller racer, he once rode very slowly up Mont Ventoux. Tim tweets about sport at @timehhh_sp.