ADELAIDE — Welshman Geraint Thomas won the short but demanding second stage of cycling’s Tour Down Under on Wednesday, avoiding a 15-man fall near the finish which brought down world champion Philippe Gilbert.
The 116km stage featured a new addition to the race: an arduous climb up the Corkscrew, a 7.25km long series of switchbacks, with a gradient near the end of around 15 degrees.
That climb was designed to counter the historical dominance of sprinters over the 15-year history of the six-stage race, the first event of the World Tour.
The stage victory made Thomas the race leader on general classification, taking over the leader’s ochre jersey from Andre Greipel, who won the first stage on Tuesday.
Thomas has been in South Australia state for several weeks, training on the roads over which the Tour will be raced, and showed the benefit of that experience on Wednesday. He launched his final sprint unexpectedly and had established a clear advantage before his rivals could react.
"I’ve worked hard all winter and since the track (season) all I’ve been thinking about is the road. That’s what kept me racing after the (London ) Games. After Beijing I was out on the lash for a few months, but I was straight back on the road after the Games, thinking about this year."
Thomas knew how important the Corkscrew would be in deciding who was in a position to attack over the final few kilometres. He ensured he was part of the four-man group that broke away immediately after the exhausting climb and he was able to put himself in a winning position.
"I did think, ‘what have I done, have I gone too early?’ But I just bit the bullet and luckily the group came up and they were willing to work. I jumped quite early with about 400m to go. I knew it was a fast tailwind and I had seen the bunch coming so thought I’d better go. It was great to win."
The early part of the stage featured a four-man break involving Australians Calvin Watson and William Clarke, Guillaume Bonnafond of France and Christopher Juul-Jensen of Denmark. They led by up to two minutes, but the peleton had pulled them back by the 97km mark and the field was all together as the riders started up the Corkscrew.
Gilbert was also prominent, but got caught up in a fall which brought down 15 riders and put paid to his winning chance. The world road race champion was in fifth place on general classification after the opening stage.
Thomas now has a chance to press for overall victory in the Tour, with the help of his Sky ProCycling team-mates.