January 23, 2011 2 Comments
In the end, Cameron Meyer won the Tour Down Under but he will have been the first man to visit the Team Sky bus and congratulate Ben Swift. In a thrilling finish, the young British rider headed a Sky one-two to not only claim his second stage victory of the race, but also deny Matthew Goss the bonus seconds he required to overhaul Meyer at the top of the standings. Swift’s win meant he jumped up to third in the final classification.
State of play
Today’s last stage consisted of 20 laps of a 4.5km circuit around downtown Adelaide, with two intermediate sprint points at the end of the eighth and 12th laps. Final stages are often largely ceremonial affairs, with the overall race already decided and presenting the opportunity for a grandstand bunch finish for the sprinters.
Not so at the Tour Down Under. With largely flat stages and no time trial, there is rarely more than a smattering of seconds between the leading contenders. Meyer started the day with an eight-second advantage over Goss, but with 16 bonus seconds available – three each at the intermediate sprints and ten at the finish – the result remained very much in doubt.
However, history was very much in favour of Meyer, despite him being a time-trialist rather than a sprinter. Only once in the race’s 13-year history – Stuart O’Grady in 2001 – has the lead changed hands on the final day.
The race exploded into life in the first 30 seconds, with a crash at the back of the field and an immediate attack by Garmin-Cervélo‘s Matt Wilson. It was a planned move, designed to force the HTC-Highroad team of Goss to come to the front and expend energy in the chase.
Wilson was quickly joined by four riders including O’Grady, with HTC-Highroad working at the front of the peloton to maintain the gap at around 15 seconds.
Goss closes the gap
As the first sprint point approached, the HTC-led peloton gradually reeled the escape back in, completing the catch as they completed lap seven. Garmin’s Travis Meyer, Brett Lancaster and Tyler Farrar then launched one counter-attack after another. Each was soon reeled in by HTC, but sapped their energy enough that, as they led out Goss for the sprint, Rabobank’s Michael Matthews was able to just beat him across the line, with André Greipel third. Nonetheless, Goss picked up two bonus seconds, reducing his deficit to Meyer to six.
Standings after first intermediate sprint: 1. Meyer, 2. Goss +0:06, 3. Matthews +0:09.
In the four-lap gap before the second sprint point, UniSA’s Luke Roberts went clear, as part of an eventual group of five, to secure the win in the King of the Mountains competition.
Again, HTC brought the pack back together well in advance of the sprint, but as Goss and Matthews looked at each other, the latter’s lead-out men, Jos van Emden and Thomas Leezer, rolled across the line first, with Astana‘s Allan Davis (the 2009 overall winner) third.
With just the finish to come, Meyer maintained his six-second advantage, meaning that Goss needed to finish in the top two to have a chance of overhauling him, while only a win would be good enough for Matthews.
Standings after second intermediate sprint: 1. Meyer, 2. Goss +0:06, 3. Matthews +0:09.
A frantic finish
One final breakaway – again featuring the veteran O’Grady – escaped in the closing laps, but with both the overall race victory and the glory of a final stage win at stake, there was never any chance of it surviving, and it was swallowed up on the penultimate lap.
The final few kilometres was a chaotic affair as Sky and RadioShack, who had both held back during the intermediate sprints, also surged to the front in search of a stage win for Ben Swift and Robbie McEwen respectively. Sky’s Matt Hayman and Geraint Thomas drove a ferocious pace in the final two kilometres to set up a grandstand finish. There was plenty of bumping and barging as the key players jostled for position, with the relatively slight Matthews faring particularly badly.
HTC’s earlier efforts took their toll as they were unable to exert their usual level of control at the front. Mark Renshaw, providing his usual high-speed lead-out, went left but Goss, worried about being boxed in, chose to go the other way and was unable to catch the Sky pair of Swift and Greg Henderson, as the Kiwi moved the 23-year old Yorkshireman into position to claim a one-two.
With the ten-second time bonus for winning the stage, Swift leapfrogged Matthews into third place overall, exactly mirroring the result of last year’s final stage, where a Sky one-two put Henderson on the bottom step of the podium.
Meyer finished down in 20th, but the quarter of a bike length which separated Henderson in second from Goss in third was enough to give him overall victory. McEwen was fourth.
Although the overall win had eluded him by two seconds, Goss had the consolation of winning the sprinters’ jersey, while Roberts was confirmed as the King of the Mountains winner.
Meyer was still stunned after the finish:
It hasn’t sunk in quite yet. Three riders were within striking distance of taking the overall. To race in front of tens of thousands of people all cheering my name, so many friends and family and supporters out there, was fantastic.
He explained how Garmin-Cervélo’s tactics had been specifically targeted to weaken Goss’s lead-out train in the final sprint:
Our plans were to go out hard and aggressive to put the pressure on HTC-Highroad. It looks like they had to use their men up quite a lot and maybe Goss didn’t quite have the train [in the end].
I just sat there. It was like watching people play chess and having it all unfold before me.
Double stage winner Swift explained how he had benefitted from great team support throughout the stage:
We made a call today not to challenge for the intermediate sprints and just go for the big one. Fortunately, it paid off.
I was struggling really bad half way through after the efforts of Willunga yesterday. [But my team] is just perfect, throughout the race they supported me, they made sure I was not on the outside or in the wind all day and Matt Hayman did an awesome job coming into the last corner.
A combination of errors today and the handful of seconds he lost behind a crash on stage two ultimately cost him victory, but Goss was disappointed rather than disconsolate:
I guess it’s a little bit of a disappointment, but it’s also not a bad result. The team rode awesome all week and they completely supported me. We had a great race, and if it wasn’t for a couple of mishaps, maybe it would be different but that’s bike riding. It just didn’t really work out this year, but I will come back next year.
The race also saw an end to the international racing career of Lance Armstrong. The seven-time Tour de France winner, who has been dogged all week by new allegations arising from an ongoing federal doping investigation, departed immediately after the stage, refusing to speak to the press. He finished 67th overall, featuring only briefly in a short-lived breakaway on stage five. It was a low-key end to the career of one of the sport’s most famous names.
British sprint ace Mark Cavendish finished 129th, the last overall finisher. A heavy crash on stage two which required stitches and had left him with difficulties sleeping put paid to any chances of a stage win from a race which he freely admitted beforehand he was not in peak condition for:
Hopefully I’ll start winning later in the year. [The Tour de France] is the biggest race of the year for the team and for the sponsors. I want to win everywhere but it’s very important to win there.
The lack of the highly touted head-to-head showdown between Cavendish and Greipel was the only real disappointment of a good Tour Down Under blessed by fine weather and close and eventful racing throughout. Australian riders won all four major jerseys (overall, sprint, King of the Mountains and young rider), and claimed three stage wins and half of the top ten places on general classification. As both a showcase for young local riders in one of cycling’s hotbeds of talent and the season curtain-raiser, the Tour Down Under is now a firm fixture on the UCI calendar, and deservedly so.
The 2011 season is now officially under way. Let battle commence.
Stage 6 result:
1. Ben Swift (Sky) 1:53:47
2. Greg Henderson (Sky) same time
3. Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) s/t
4. Robbie McEwen (RadioShack) s/t
5. Juan José Haedo (Saxo Bank-Sungard) s/t
Final general classification:
1. Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Cervélo) 17:54:27
2. Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) +0:02
3. Ben Swift (Sky) +0:08
4. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) +0:09
5. Laurens ten Dam (Rabobank) +0:10
Tour Down Under posts
- Cameron Meyer wins Tour Down Under as Ben Swift claims final stage (guardian.co.uk)
- Swift claims stage win Down Under (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Cameron Meyer wins Tour Down Under; Lance Armstrong 65th (sports.espn.go.com)
- Team Sky rule in Adelaide (skysports.com)
- Meyer nips Goss to clinch Tour Down Under (cbc.ca)
- Young trio stars as Tour farewells Lance (news.theage.com.au)
- Down to the wire: Meyer wins Tour Down Under (velonews.competitor.com)