Gerrans completes Down Under hat-trick

CYCLING

Defending a one-second lead over fellow Australian cycling star Cadel Evans was a ride in the park for Simon Gerrans at the Tour Down Under.

As German sprint ace Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won his 16th Tour stage at Rymill Park outside the Adelaide city centre, Gerrans became the Tour's first three-time champion.

Gerrans and his powerful Orica-GreenEDGE team were never threatened on Australia Day in the sixth and final stage, despite the minuscule lead and high quality of the opposition.

Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre) started the stage only five seconds behind in third place, and was probably more of a threat than Evans (BMC), but there were no changes to the top of the overall standings.

This is becoming a habit: two years ago, Gerrans was level on time with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde going into the last stage and won on a countback.

"Until I crossed the line, I suspected that Diego Ulissi would try and do something, but it went all right," said Gerrans, who first won the Tour in 2006.

"I've got my third Tour Down Under win thanks to an outstanding team."

Gerrans also repeated his Tour-Australian road championship double from two years ago.

His title duel with Evans capped the best Tour in race history.

Yesterday's Adelaide street race attracted a crowd of 115,000 for a race total of 766,000, just less than the record set when Lance Armstrong raced in 2009-11.

For all the potential drama of the one-second time difference, yesterday was the only anticlimactic moment of the Tour.

Once a three-man break took the time bonuses at the two intermediate sprints, Gerrans was safe. As expected, Evans and Ulissi were not fast enough to gain time bonuses by finishing the stage in the top three.

Gerrans (11th), Ulissi (23rd) and Evans (24th) finished the stage on the same time as Greipel.

There were big expectations surrounding Gerrans, Evans (BMC) and fellow Australian star Richie Porte after their epic duel this month at the road nationals.

The trio duly delivered.

Gerrans won stage one and then lost the lead on stage three when Evans soloed to victory in probably the best individual ride in Tour history.

Greipel won stage four, then Porte soloed to victory in the Queen stage at Willunga, where Gerrans regained the lead.

After two inconsistent years, Evans has made a great start to the year before his major goal, the Giro d'Italia.

"Of course we would prefer to win," Evans said. "That's what we are hard-wired to do, but to be second by one second shows we are starting to work towards May."

Porte, who will ride the Giro and the Tour de France in July, was also content.

"It's a little bit disappointing to be fourth, so close to the podium, but to win the Willunga stage makes up for that," he said. AAP

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