Tour de France: Orica upset odds to win time trial

Team Orica Greenedge, on their way to winning the team time trial around the city of Nice. Picture: AP
Team Orica Greenedge, on their way to winning the team time trial around the city of Nice. Picture: AP
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ORICA Greenedge won the team time trial by less than one second yesterday on the fourth stage of the Tour de France to put veteran Australian rider Simon Gerrans in the race leader’s yellow jersey.

Considered an outsider to win the 25km (15.5-mile) dash along the streets of the southern seaport of Nice, Orica just beat early pacesetter Omega Pharma-Quickstep by .75 seconds, with the top four teams finishing within ten seconds of each other. Orica finished in a provisional time of 26 minutes, 25 seconds. “I couldn’t have imagined this would happen. It’s a dream for me, my team and a lot of people in Australia as well,” said Gerrans. “My first coach was Phil Anderson, who was the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey. So to do that as well is something special.”

The 33-year-old Gerrans, who won Monday’s third stage in a sprint finish, takes over the overall lead from Belgian rider Jan Bakelants. “I knew there were some special stages for me in the first week,” Gerrans said. “It’s a huge satisfaction to win the stage and take the yellow jersey. We’ll try and hold it for a couple of days now.” The Orica riders formed a circle and then hugged and slapped each other on the back when they were sure of the win. “We’re a bunch of friends in the team. We’ve known each other for a long time,” Gerrans said. “So this is a team win and this jersey is for the team as well.”

Tour favourite Chris Froome’s Sky team finished third, ahead of rival Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff.

Bakelants lost the leader’s jersey because his RadioShack team finished way behind. He narrowly avoided a crash as he went perilously close to hitting some railings.

Froome is three seconds behind Gerrans, who is not considered a Tour challenger, and two-time Tour champion Contador is six seconds behind Froome.

The peloton returned to mainland France after three stages in the searing heat and sinewy climbs of Corsica.

Under sunny blue skies, the teams set off at four-minute intervals and the overall team standings were reversed, meaning the first team to go was Argos-Shimano and the last team down the ramp was RadioShack.

The Argos-Shimano team, including Marcel Kittel – the German who won the Tour’s hectic first stage on Saturday – set off first. But Omega did the early damage, setting a ferociously quick time despite the fact their best rider – Tony Martin – was carrying the raw scars of his fall on stage 1.

Garmin-Sharp, convincing winners of the team time trial when it was last held two years ago, were again among the favourites and set off with high hopes of placing veteran David Millar in the yellow jersey. But they finished in sixth place, and Millar blamed himself.

“I wasn’t in good form today but the team was very, very strong,” the 36-year-old Millar said. “I think it was me who was missing the [16] seconds.” There were some injured riders taking part, too, with Martin and Geraint Thomas saddling up despite nursing some nasty injuries after crashing on stage one.

Martin became unconscious in the team bus after his fall and was taken to hospital for injuries including bruising of the lung, while Thomas rode with a fractured pelvis. “He is definitely better today than yesterday,” Omega’s team doctor Helge Riepenhof said of Martin. “Yesterday and the day before were the worst for him. There are bruises everywhere and he lost so much skin that it hurts when he moves.”

Sky was 5.63 seconds behind Omega at the halfway point as Froome drove relentlessly from the front, but they left themselves too much to do and the exhausted Thomas dropped out close to the end.