Gerrans one to watch at Tour de France
Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde fight out the finish of Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under (Image: Felix Lowe)
Unlikely French hero Thomas Voeckler animated the 2011 Tour de France like no other. Riding for the small Europcar Team, he and Pierre Rolland held off the big boys to keep Voeckler in yellow for what an eternity.
As each stage dawned, journalists would predict the Frenchman’s downfall, but by sunset they would be scratching their heads and searching for superlatives as his name still clung to the top of the leaders’ board. By the next morning they would be predicting his downfall again.
While Voeckler is no slouch on a bike, his effort in France last July was nothing short of Herculean. It showed what can be achieved with an ounce of luck and a determined spirit. Once he had his hands on that yellow jersey, he was damned sure he wasn’t going to surrender it without a fight.
The maillot jaune tends to have that effect on bike riders and its possession is rarely given up easily.
But let’s imagine for a moment that halfway through this year’s race, Australia’s own Simon Gerrans gets into a breakaway of four or five riders and manages to sprint to victory gaining three or four minutes over the peloton.
The Orica-GreenEdge rider crosses the line, arms held aloft, mouth wide open, screaming with joy as he realises he is now the overall leader of the race. He stands upon the podium and is helped awkwardly into the yellow jersey by podium girls in bouncy yellow dresses.
He waves to the crowd and poses for photographs, but already the journalists are tapping at their computers. Great win. Deserving rider. Will only hold the jersey for a day, two at most.
Is it possible that the yellow jersey could work its magic on Gerrans, and, as it did with Voeckler the year before, transform the Australian into a tour anomaly? A rider with undoubted talent, but one not supposed to be battling it out at the top of the general classification?
It is a fantasy worth examining.
Simon Gerrans is a mountain man. He grew up in the Victorian Alps, around Jamieson and Mansfield, at the foot of Mt. Buller. While it isn’t Mont Ventoux, the 16km climb to the top of the 1800m high mountain makes a good training ride, and Gerrans holds the current record.
Yours truly foolishly tried to match that record during the 2009 High Country Challenge and suffered the worst cramps of my less than illustrious cycling career. They hit less than halfway up and I couldn’t ride the next day so I’ll vouch for the mountain’s credibility.
While I went onto claim second in a D grade club race later that year, Gerrans added to his collection of Grand Tour stage wins, claiming one each from the Giro and Vuelta. With stage 15 of the previous year’s Tour already under his belt, he became the first Australian to have achieved this unique treble.
His Tour stage win highlighted how determined and dangerous Gerrans could be. In a breakaway of four riders, he was repeatedly attacked as they neared the top of the final climb, but like a certain Frenchman last year, he refused to give in. With the group down to three as they approached the line, Gerran’s finished the stronger, taking a well fought victory.
It is the Victorian’s trademark move. Get into the breakaway or final selection, then outsprint whoever is left. He did it against Richie Porte and Matthew Lloyd at this year’s nationals in Buninyong, and he did it against Fabian Cancellara and Vincenzo Nibali at Milan – San Remo.
But is he more than a one trick pony? Carlos Sastre seemed to think so. The 2008 Tour winner was team mates with Gerrans at the Cervelo TestTeam in 2009 but didn’t want the Australian on that year’s Tour squad.
Gerrans, who already had two Grand Tour stages to his name (including Cervelo’s first GT win), would have been an automatic pick in any other team, but word amongst the peloton was that Sastre was worried that his leadership may have been threatened by the in form all rounder.
In what was a rather backhanded compliment from the Spaniard, Gerrans was left off the squad. Suffice to say, he left the team soon after.
Gerrans will not be left out of the 2012 Tour. Indeed, he will lead a team whose prime objective is to win stages. Matt Goss may win a stage. Gerrans may call on his signature move and win one, and like Voeckler before him, achieve a little bit more than is expected of him.
And if he doesn’t? Well, he may not ride for Orica-GreenEdge, but we can always look to Cadel!