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Sprint tactics – A lesson from Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under

Today, Simon Gerrans showed us a great example of utilizing tactics, positioning, and solid fitness, to win Stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under and move into the overall leaders jersey.

First, check out the video footage of the stage win. Start at 3:40 if you want to catch the final sprint that we’ll be discussing in further detail. The eventual winner, Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge, is sitting in the perfect position as they round the corner.

Lesson Number One: Know your biggest rival and lock onto their wheel

At the 3:52 mark of this video, you see Simon is still tucked away nicely behind his biggest threat, Andre Griepel. Perfect place to be at this point since he was now able to immediately react to the person he was most worried about. This allowed him the opportunity to react when the time was right, rather than react to his rival coming around him.

Lesson Number Two: Do not get antsy and go too early

Just behind Gerrans there are two people battling for position. The Lampre rider, Diego Ulissi, makes two big mistakes that may have cost him a podium position:

#1 – He is on the outside rather than the inside as they come through the final bend.
#2 – He jumps too early, into the wind, and fades quickly as a result.

At 3:54, Greipel makes his move. Gerrans, along with eventual 3rd place finisher, Steele von Hoff, remain glued to the big German’s wheel. For the next 5 seconds, Gerrans stays locked into his rivals slipstream, knowing that a windy uphill finish required him to be extra patient.

Lesson Number Three: Know how the conditions and the course affect your tactics

At 3:59, Gerrans pops out and spends a mere 5 seconds in the wind, just enough to win by half a bike length. You’ll also see that von Hoff almost sneaks his way into second just by following the right wheel to the finish. How often have you come out of the final corner of a crit, got too excited and start your sprint, only to be swallowed up by multiple people at the line?

Simon knew that an uphill, headwind sprint meant he had to be very patient with his sprint. He was also reading the race and his opponents which factored into his decision as well. This leads us to the next lesson.

Lesson Number Four: Always be reading your opponents and using that information to your advantage.

As you can read in the quote below, Gerrans could tell that the fast run in was stinging the legs of Greipel and “suspected he wouldn’t have the powerful kick.” This gave Gerrans the confidence to leave the sprint a little later, knowing that there was a good chance that the headwind, the slight uphill, and fatigued legs, would all allow him to kick past in the final seconds of this race.

Congrats to Simon Gerrans and his Orica-GreenEdge team on a very well raced stage. Looking forward to more great racing!

Here’s a quote straight from Simon Gerrans website (click the link to read his whole report):

“Coming to the line, the pace was naturally quite high again. There’s a drag for about 2km that leads to the finish. With the fast pace, I could see that Greipel was working really hard, and I suspected he wouldn’t have the powerful kick he can usually unleash to the line.

Simon Clarke, Michael Matthews and Daryl Impey were brilliant. They kept me up at the front and out of trouble. Daryl was especially good at putting me in the right position.

I let Greipel hit out first. The sprint was a slight uphill into a headwind. He faded just a little, which gave me the opportunity to come past him and win the stage.”

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