NICE, France (Reuters) - Orica-GreenEdge’s remarkable start to the Tour de France continued when Simon Gerrans snatched the yellow jersey after the Australian outfit won the team time trial on Tuesday.
The man the Australian had to particularly thank was not one of his team mates but the man who handed him his first bike - Phil Anderson, the first Australian to wear the famous jersey.
“He was my first coach, it’s thanks to him,” Gerrans told a news conference. “So it’s pretty special to follow in his footsteps.”
Gerrans started cycling after his neighbor Anderson, the first non-European to wear the yellow jersey in 1981, advised him to ride a bike to help him recover from a knee injury suffered in a motorbike crash.
Gerrans took the jersey 24 hours after he won an individual stage.
His Orica-GreenEdge team crossed the line in Nice with a time of 25 minutes 56 seconds after the 25 kms, making it the fastest stage in the Tour’s history although the previous record was set on a much longer course.
They finished one second ahead of Belgian world champions Omega Pharma-Quick-Step with Britain’s Team Sky a further two seconds behind in third after the fourth stage.
Gerrans is the sixth Australian to don the leader’s jersey after Anderson, Stuart O’Grady, Bradley McGee, Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans.
“It has been a dream start for us,” Orica-GreenEdge sporting director Matt White said in a finish-line interview. “We knew we would be competitive but to win (the time trial), we are very surprised.”
Overall, Team Sky’s Chris Froome is the best placed of the top contenders in seventh, three seconds behind Gerrans and in the same time as his lieutenant, eighth-placed Richie Porte of Australia.
Spain’s Alberto Contador is 12th, six seconds further back, after his Team Saxo-Tinkoff limited the damage by finishing the stage fourth, nine seconds off Orica-GreenEdge’s pace.
The Australian team were in the limelight for the wrong reasons on Saturday’s opening stage when their bus got stuck under the overhead banner at the finish line as the speeding peloton was approaching.
Omega Pharma-Quick-Step were hampered by problems for German individual time-trial world champion Tony Martin, who suffered concussion and an elbow wound in a crash in the opening stage, and Briton Mark Cavendish, who has had bronchitis.
Martin, however, was still the strongest on the bike on Tuesday, pulling his team mate in impressive fashion.
“He’s so strange. How could you smile with that kind of injury?” the team’s sports director Rolf Aldag asked reporters. “He was so focused; he wanted to be the engine of the team.
“When you see people struggling at the back (of the team), you know it’s Tony pulling at the front.”
Team Sky had their own woes with team pursuit Olympic champion Geraint Thomas of Wales riding despite a small pelvis fracture though he kept up with his team mates until the finishing stretch.
Cadel Evans, the 2011 champion, was the biggest loser when his BMC team finished only seventh, 26 seconds off the pace.
Editing by Clare Fallon