Looking beyond the headlines at the TDU

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    It should be back to a bunch sprint on Stage 7 of the Giro d'Italia (Image: Supplied)

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    Andre Greipel and his Lotto-Belisol juggernaut deserve every rapturous headline for another predictably dominant win in the opening stage of the Tour Down Under, but for me better stories were unfolding behind him.

    Keen students of the TDU will know how precious seconds are in deciding this great race.

    Twice in its 15-year history, Down Under has been decided on a count back. On two other occasions the margin has been two seconds and there’s also been a three-second victory.

    Orica GreenEDGE’s defending champion Simon Gerrans is one who knows only too well about the fine lines at play here. Last year’s win over Spain’s Alejandro Valverde was one of those count back victories.

    So it was no surprise to see him chase down two bonus seconds at the first sprint point in Charleston, and then try again on the final intermediate, which yielded another precious second.

    What was a surprise though was also seeing current World Champion Philippe Gilbert make a grab for some intermediate glory.

    Since he arrived a week ago, people have been trying to guess what the star BMC rider’s objectives are and what his race condition is.

    At the weekend media conference, Gilbert said he wanted to at least be in the top ten and maybe pick up a stage win.

    Later the team upped the ante and said they would like to see him on the podium. Stage one left us in no doubt.

    Gilbert is here to win the Tour Down Under, and on this performance it will take something special to stop him.

    With around 18kms of the 135km stage to race, Gilbert rocketed from the peloton in pursuit of lone escapee Jerome Pineau. The Tour de France veteran looked certain to claim the final intermediate sprint, but the rainbow stripes weren’t to be denied.

    Gilbert timed his lunge to perfection and literally stole the three seconds from Pineau’s grasp. In truth, it looked like Pineau thought he’d done enough but he clearly didn’t count on the Belgian’s raw power.

    That single, one kilometre sprint was brutal in its intention, and sent a shockwave through the peloton.

    Credit too to Gerrans for following Gilbert at just the right time, and claiming the final second on offer.

    It meant they both ended the day with three bonus seconds, which places Gerrans fourth and Gilbert fifth on general classification going into the 116km second stage from Mount Barker to Rostrevor.

    After watching Gilbert do little more than roll around the back of the bunch during Sunday’s People’s Choice Classic, there were some brief thoughts that maybe the TDU wasn’t a big objective for him. And from the Rainbow Jersey wearer that would be a shame.

    After all, Cadel Evans honoured the stripes in 2010 with some of the most thrilling racing in TDU history, so naturally we expect the same from Gilbert.

    Those briefs thoughts were firmly rebuked on stage one, and with the much-anticipated Corkscrew climb looming large in stage two, sunrise can’t come soon enough.

    Away from the drama at the front of the race, there were other potentially significant stories developing.

    OGE sprinter Mat Goss lost 30 seconds, despite his team working hard to set him up for the finale. He may have had a mechanical issue or was feeling crook, but with 91 riders finishing at the same time as Greipel, you would’ve thought Goss could finish better than he did.

    Andy Schleck fared even worse, finishing 1:19 to Greipel. He sits in 105th spot at 1:29 to the contenders. It’s very hard to see him having the opportunity to recoup very much of that time.

    Schleck has been reluctant to set objectives for the Tour Down Under, given his time off the bike through injury. Maybe he was actually being truthful. We’re not used to that in cycling at the moment, so perhaps we’ll have to cut Schleck some slack, for now.

    So a day for big headlines and no small amount of intrigue at the Tour Down Under.

    A perfect day for the record breaking Andre Greipel, he now has 15 wins at the TDU (12 stages and three Classics) compared to 14 wins by Robbie McEwen (12 stages and two Classics).

    Next, the Corkscrew awaits, 2.5km of punchy pain that should create more headlines. But will they be rainbow tinged?