Geraint Thomas produced an incredible performance at the Tour Down Under to take victory on stage two and move into the race lead.
The Team Sky Brit delivered a stinging attack on the decisive Corkscrew Hill climb, bursting over the top and onto the fast descent into the finish in Rostrevor.
Despite being joined by three fellow attackers, Thomas kept his cool as the quartet held off a group of pursuers in a tense chase to the line.
Biding his time in the sprint the Welshman put in an explosive dig to lead home Javier Moreno (Movistar) and Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Leopard), opening up clear daylight at the line to move into a five-second race lead and take the ochre jersey.
All eyes were on the new climb which looked set to break the status quo of the sprinters and so it proved, with the climb and a crash on the descent ensuring the peloton is now split to pieces after just two stages.
“I’m really happy with that,” admitted Thomas after the stage.
“I’ve worked hard since the Olympics trying to lose the track weight and I’ve got some good kilometres in over the winter. I wanted to start this year strong. I knew I had decent form but you never know how well everyone else is going.
To get the win is a massive bonus for all the hard work over the winter.”
That work for Thomas meant a transition back from a gold medal-winning Olympic campaign to the unique demands of the road. He explained: “The track is a different sport these days. It’s all about power and weight doesn’t really come into it. You carry more muscle but you obviously carry a bit more fat as well as you’re not doing all the volume – it’s all sprint work really. So I had to work hard through the winter months and it’s finally paid dividends.
“I always knew that I’d have decent legs on the climb I just wasn’t sure how I’d go. I got a bit excited and attacked a bit earlier on there. With about 400 metres to go I was starting to tie up but fortunately there was that group behind and we were able to work well together.”
A relatively short test at just 116.5km, the second day kicked off from Mt Barker and again the peloton saw a flurry of early attacks.
When the dust had settled four riders found themselves clear, Calvin Watson (Uni-SA), William Clarke (Argos-Shimano), Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Christopher Juul Jensen (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) making up the day’s four-man break.
A number of teams including Team Sky and Bernhard Eisel looked to keep a watching brief on the front, the peloton not allowing the move much rope after pegging it at 2:20.
Clarke was the last man to be swept up with 17km to go as the pace shot up in the bunch, positioning crucial for the overall contenders on the run into the 2.4km, 9% climb at Corkscew Hill.
Overnight race leader Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) made his intentions clear ahead of the steep ramps by pace-setting on the front of the bunch, safe in the knowledge he would be forced to relinquish his race lead due to the testing terrain.
Positioned perfectly by his team-mates, Thomas hit out as the road began to ramp up, heading over the top of the climb first to take the points before burying himself on the descent.
A group of 11 riders in pursuit could not catch the four men up ahead and Thomas used his track background to make things look easy in the sprint.
Practice makes perfect
After the stage Sports Director Kurt-Asle Arvesen was full of praise for the efforts of the team and Thomas, and explained how an extensive reccy of the stages helped the team to victory.
“It was a really good day and a really good win for G and for the team,” said the Norwegian. “We’ve been doing a lot of work for him to keep him towards the front and when he can pull off a stage win like that it’s perfect.
“He’s done the climb four or five times in training and the descent as well and he knew the finishing straight. We knew that it was a tailwind on the finish line, so even if he spent some energy attacking and being out there by himself we knew that if he got in the right position he could still win the stage.”
With the ochre jersey now on his back attention turns to defending the race lead.
“On the sprint stages the sprinters’ teams should have the same interest as us,” explained Arvesen. “Tomorrow should be quite nervous with a circuit around Stirling which is pretty hard. We know the circuit and we’ve done it a couple of times. Friday should be a new sprinter day and then it is the Willunga stage which is a big GC day. We need to be ready to defend the jersey.
“Now we need to make sure the right group goes tomorrow morning and the boys can help control behind. It’s a good start to the year.”
On the demands of Thursday’s stage Thomas also added: “Tomorrow is a super hard day and will actually be one of the toughest days to control – starting out on the highway which will be a tough climb. There will be a lot of guys looking to attack so it could be a strong group that goes.”
2013 Tour Down Under, Stage 2 Results
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 2h 44′ 18″
2. Javier Moreno (Movistar) +1″
3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Leopard) +1″
General Classification After Stage 2
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 6h 19′ 32″
2. Javier Moreno (Movistar) +5″
3. Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Leopard) +7″