Written by: Talek Harris
ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan 19, 2010 (AFP) – Andre Greipel survived a mass pile-up which floored dozens of riders to win the Tour Down Under’s first stage on Tuesday, as cycling legend Lance Armstrong also escaped unscathed.
The 2008 champion from Germany, whose title defense ended in a horror crash with a police motorbike last year, praised slick work from his HTC-Columbia team as they threw down the gauntlet to British newcomers Sky.
HTC-Columbia and Sky led the peloton before Greipel won a thrilling sprint finish ahead of Belgians Gert Steegmans and Jurgen Roelandts, of Team RadioShack and Omega Pharma-Lotto respectively.
New Zealand’s Greg Henderson, who led Team Sky to a shock one-two victory over HTC-Columbia in Sunday’s pre-Tour city race, was relegated to fifth.
“It was a good final and a good warm-up for the team. We took responsibility for the whole stage,” said Greipel.
“The team made the difference, we started as a team and finished as a team. I’m on the podium, but the whole team should be.”
Henderson admitted Sky, embarking on their first full road race, simply weren’t quick enough in the final dash.
“Today it wasn’t fast enough,” he said. “It’s the first real road race. We’ve done a lot of intense training, we’ve done a criterium (short-lap race), but the first road race is different.”
Meanwhile the hopes of reigning champion Allan Davis were dashed by the collision which decked a large part of the field just meters (yards) after the 141-kilometer (88-mile) stage’s start.
A leading rider clipped a cat’s eye, setting off a chain reaction which sent cyclists sprawling and separated the Australian from his Astana team, leaving him an unbridgeable eight minutes off the pace.
“It was a bad one,” Davis said of the crash. “It was strange, we had just started to pick up speed and the next thing quarter of the peloton was on the ground all at the same time.
“The attacks had just started to go, the speed was just starting to pick up and next thing, bang, it went down.”
Australian road race world champion Cadel Evans blamed start-of-season nerves for the pile-up, which left him riding the entire wine-country stage from Clare to Tanunda with a taped-up shoe.
“There were a few more nerves after the first 100 meters,” he said ruefully. “Unfortunately half of the riders were lying in the road, but there you go.”
Australia’s Timothy Roe, Biel Kadri of France and Swiss rider Martin Kohler pushed out to a 10-minute lead in the first third before being caught about 20 kilometres from the end.
Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, was happy to stay out of trouble in the Australian heat as he builds towards a tilt at an eighth title at the record age of 38.
“I think for everybody it’s a hard, up-and-down stage. I think on that hill everybody was suffering a bit,” he said.
“It neutralises the race somewhat when one or two teams control because the attacks stop. The wind wasn’t a big factor. All in all it was a fairly uneventful day.”
Greipel was out for four months with shoulder surgery after last year’s smash, which also floored Davis before he remounted and ultimately won the title.
“No crashes,” said the German, when asked what was the best route to a second Tour Down Under win.