Campbell: 100th Tour looking like one of the best

Stage winner team Orica Greenedge with Simon Gerrans of Australia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, celebrates on the podium of the fourth stage.
July 2, 2013, 1:47 PM

Over the first four stages of the 100th Tour de France, one team name kept cropping up during the race, that of the relatively new Orica-GreenEDGE. But after a scene-stealing gaffe by the team bus driver on the opening day, the riders have once again taken the spotlight, bringing redemption to the squad.

Simon Gerrans won the team’s first Tour de France stage on Monday. On Tuesday, victory on the team time trial moved Gerrans into the yellow leader’s jersey, an unexpected but welcome first for the Australian team.

That Gerrans moved into yellow during the team time trial is a perfect example of how much of professional cycling comes down to the support of teammates.

“This is a dream come true, it really is,” said Gerrans, via the Tour de France website. “Yesterday I was able to win the stage off the back of a fantastic team effort and today we really showed how close we are as a team with how well we worked together. At the end of the day we come out with this stage win and, to top it all off, this yellow jersey. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Among the Orica-GreenEDGE squad is Canadian Svein Tuft, who at 36 years-old, is making his Tour de France debut. An excellent time trialist and a workhorse of a teammate, Tuft helped the team steamroll their way to the finish — despite the team losing radio communication partway through the course.

“It’s a very surprising victory,” said team director Matt White in an interview with Eurosport. “Everyone did their job to perfection.”

Gerrans is the sixth Australian to wear the yellow jersey, but the victory is a coming of age for the entire team.

“One thing I said last night when I was thanking all the guys for their help was that the big thing I achieved yesterday was that I opened the floodgates,” said Gerrans. “I got that first win (at the Tour de France) under the belt for Orica-GreenEdge and I think the first one is always the hardest one to get. I was sure they were going to come thick and fast after that but never in our wildest dreams did we think it would come already today.”

The surprise didn’t stop with the Australian team’s performance. Heavy hitters Sky and Garmin-Sharp both failed to perform to expectations, though Sky’s team leader Chris Froome is just three seconds back from Gerrans. Garmin’s David Millar and Canadian team leader Ryder Hesjedal are both 17 seconds back from yellow.
The 25km time trial course stretched along the waterfront in Nice, France, finishing on the famous Promenade des Anglais.

Omega Pharma-QuickStep set the early high water mark, blitzing the first half of the course at an average speed of 58.8 km/h, slowing slightly to 57.8 km/h during the second half of the course. The time held up while a number of teams rushed to beat it, but only the Australian squad managed to better the Belgian team.

Crashes on the first day have started to take their toll on some of the riders. American Ted King, a fan favourite, was cut today after failing to finish inside the time cutoff. When he left the start ramp with his Canonndale teammates, he was almost immediately dropped and will now have to sit out the rest of the tour, unless his elimination is successfully appealed.

Sky cyclist Geraint Thomas has become a shining example of grit and determination. Riding with a fractured hip suffered on the first day of the tour, Thomas is determined to keep racing. That he has continued this long is something of a miracle.

Despite a dubious first day, the 100th Tour de France is shaping up to be among the most exciting editions ever. Three riders have worn yellow in the first four stages, and a relatively young team has made its mark in cycling’s most prestigious race.

For the moment, the Tour belongs to Simon Gerrans and the Orica-GreenEDGE team. Maybe everyone will finally stop talking about the bus.

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