ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Caleb Ewan won the first and last stages of the Tour Down Under but Simon Gerrans defended his overall lead in the final stage on Sunday to win an unprecedented fourth tour title.
Ewan, Gerrans’ compatriot and teammate, won the criterium prelude to the tour and the 130 kilometre opening stage from Prospect to Lyndoch to wear the tour leader’s jersey for more than 24 hours.
He surrendered the lead to another Australian, Jay McCarthy, who won the second stage, then Gerrans won the third and fourth stages to establish an overall lead that survived Saturday’s demanding queen stage up Old Willunga Hill.
The 35-year-old Gerrans took a nine second lead into Sunday’s 91 kilometre final last stage over 20 laps of a street circuit in downtown Adelaide and held off his rivals to claim a fourth title.
Ewan won the stage from fellow Australian Mark Renshaw and Italy’s Giacomo Nizzolo and, while Gerrans leading margin shrank, he held on to win by three seconds from Australia’s Richie Porte — winner of Saturday’s fifth stage — and Colombia’s Sergio Henao with McCarthy fourth.
Gerrans already held the record for tour wins with three, after his overall victories in 2006, 2012 and 2014. His last season was wrecked by crashes and injuries, one of which caused him to miss the 2015 tour, but he extended his record with his fourth win on Sunday in the opening event of the 2016 WorldTour.
"(The team) had a dream run this race," Gerrans said. "Caleb bookending the race with the first and the last stage win, the overall title, plus I think we got the sprint jersey and I don’t think we could ask for a heck of a lot more than that.
"I couldn’t have asked for any more from the guys this week. They really did a sensational job.
"Today they kept me at the front and out of trouble. We tried to give Caleb the best run-up to the line as we could."
Gerrans’ ability was already well known after two stage wins on the Tour de France and as the first Australian to win a stage on each of the world’s three grand tours. But his 21-year-old teammate Ewan announced himself as a rising star of Australian cycling with his performance in the Tour Down Under, which followed his win in the national criterium championships.
"The team showed this week that they’re the strongest," Ewan said. "It was always going to be hard going into the race with two ambitions, trying to win sprint stages and overall GC with Simon.
"But I think we did it perfectly. We came away with four stage wins and overall."