Olympic track champion Gerraint Thomas of Sky Procycling has snatched the lead in the Santos Tour Down Under after an impressive win on the second stage of the six day UCI WorldTour event.
The Hahn Super Dry Stage 2 took the riders over a distance of 116.5km from Mt Barker in the Adelaide Hills to suburbam Rostrevor where the 26 year old Welshman broke clear to win the stage in a time of 2:44:18. Spaniard Javier Moreno Bazan (Movistar) was second with Belgian Ben Hermans (Radioshack-Leopard) in third place.
"I came here just to race hard and see if there was a possibility to win a stage," said Thomas. "GC (general classification) is a bonus. Having the jersey, I'll try to keep it. If I do tomorrow, it'll be a massive achievement.
"But tomorrow's hard enough so we'll see what happens there first."
The result moves Thomas, a two time team pursuit Olympic Champion, into the Santos ochre leader's jersey.
His team director, Kurt-Asle Arvesen says Thomas was always planning to attack on today's stage.
"We could see that Geraint was in really good shape already in December," Arvseon said. "He was really motivated to do this stage. He's been talking about this attack on Corkscrew all week, and he did it and managed to stay away.
"It's really good for him. He's in good form and he will be better in the classics. Now we try to keep the jersey to Sunday."
Thomas is five seconds ahead of Moreno who is likely to challenge for the lead.
"I am content," said Moreno of his second place on the stage. "Thomas made an intelligent sprint. He was superior in the finale. Nothing but to congratulate him.
"There's still another hard finale, so we will keep fighting to see if we can win," said Moreno. "Thomas attacked very strong on the climb. I preferred to go at my rhythm and not blow up. We caught him on the descent and the four of worked together well to get to the finish line.
"Movistar we are always fighting. Last year, we were close to the win," he said. "We'll see if we can get it now."
Lotto-Belisol's Adam Hansen is 14 seconds off the lead and the best ranked Australian in 14th place.
Today's stage featured a new Skoda King of the Mountain climb that came less than ten kilometres from the finish line. The category one ascent of Corkscrew Road was 2.4 kilometres over an average gradient of nine percent.
New Zealand's George Bennett (RadioShack-Leopard) surged clear but Thomas mounted a successful counter attack to claim the Skoda King of the Mountain points. He was joined by Bennett, Hermans and Moreno (Movistar) for the twisting downhill run into the finish.
Thomas has been in Adelaide for several weeks preparing for the Tour and knew what to expect of the final kilometres. He put that knowledge to good use launching an early sprint attack and hanging on for the win.
Meantime reigning world champion Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) , who was one of the hot tips for stage glory, intead found himself on the deck after crashing on the descent.
"I crashed with 30 or 40 guys," said Gilbert. "They were laying there right on the corner. We just hit them. It was pretty impressive. I just had time to go to the left of the road and another group came behind us.
"It was very fast and there was a big crash."
"When Geraint attacked, I was already at my maximum and it was still a long way to the top. I tried to stay on the wheel, but I did not have the condition."
Australian Matthew Lloyd (Lampre-Merida) also came down.
"I came around a corner and found a whole bunch of dudes on the road. Nowhere to go. I was (doing) around 50 to 60 km/h. It wasn't too bad, but unfortunately there were 30 or 40 guys who came over the top of us," explained Lloyd. "We had nowhere to go. It's one of those things. You cannot do anything about it.
"It was fast and there were corners everywhere. We were in a group of about 10 guys, there were four off the front, we were just behind. It was all relatively close. I am not sure who slid out first."
Despite the numbers who crashed FDJ rider Arnaud Courteille was the only rider to abandon the race. The 22 year old Frenchman has a suspected broken nose and mild concussion. He has been sent to hospital as a precaution while Italian Giovanni Visconti completed the stage but will have precautionary x-rays tonight. Several other riders were treated on the scene and at the finish line area for cuts and abrasions.
Eary in the day four riders broke away to challenge for the Jayco Intermediate Sprint points on offer. Australians Calvin Watson UniSA-Australia) and Will Clarke (Argos-Shimano) as well as French rider Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R la Mondial) and Denmark's Christopher Juul Jensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) were able to ride clear but the peloton made sure they were not allowed to get too far ahead.
At the Echunga sprint (32km) Clarke took the maximum poins ahead of Watson and Bonnafond. Clarke was again first across the line at the second Jayco sprint (72km) where this time Bonnafond was second and Juul Jensen third.
The Jayco Sprint Competition lead is now with Italy's Daniele Pietropolli (Lampre-Merida) who had nine points to his credit going into the stage and collected ten more for his sixth place on the stage.
"It feels good to make the top ten two days in a row," said Pietropolli. "Today it was more for climbers and it was great to be able to climb in the top ten. It's been a nice battle.
"It means my form is good but so early in the season, you can't be sure of your form," he explained. "One day you feel great and the next day can be another story. I'll try to save my legs for the next hard stages.
"I believe it'll be difficult for me to defend this jersey against Greipel. I'd rather try to make the top ten overall, as we're all chasing World Tour points."
The Cycle Instead Best Young Rider jersey is on the shoulders of Dutch rider Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) whi is sitting fifth overall at 14 seconds and has his eyes on a top final placing.
"We know our Blanco team is good, we had a first positive sign from Mark Renshaw's third place yesterday and we're having a good start of the season," said Slagter.
"Today the team set me up really good for the climb where I did the maximum, together with my team-mate Wilco Keldermann.
"Four riders went away but I didn't want to kill myself in the downhill so I gambled, hoping that we would get back on before the line, as I'm a pretty good sprinter in a small group," he said. I've lost the stage but I'm happy with where I stand now.
Juul Jensen's efforts in the lead break saw him named Europcar Most Competitive Rider of the Day.
"This attack today was planned because I wanted to redeem myself from yesterday's stage, so the only thing to do was to break away," said Jensen. "The four of us cooperated pretty well. It was touch and go with the peloton before the first sprint, then we worked pretty well together until we got caught, unfortunately before the climb."
Radioshack-Leopard is on top of the Hindmarsh Team Classification a little over one minute ahead of Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Tomorrow's bikexchange.com.au Stage 3 begins in the cosmopolitan Adelaide suburb if Unley and travels 139 kilometres to finish in the charming Adelaide Hills town of Stirling.