Daryl Impey made it two for two in the Basque Country as he sprinted to victory in Vitoria. The South African took advantage of a fantastic lead out from Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews in the field sprint finish to stage two. Impey stumbled into his first WorldTour win on the second stage of Vuelta Pais Vasco last year when he gapped the field as he led out Allan Davis. This year, Impey was the intended final rider in the ORICA-GreenEDGE sprint train.
“It’s a fantastic win,” said Impey. “It was a bit like last year, really. The whole team was involved with the result. Christian [Meier] and [Michael] Albasini did all of the early work. Wes [Wesley Sulzberger], Clarkey [Simon Clarke] and Pieter Weening did their bit in the final. From there, I had two of the fastest guys in the race as my lead out.”
After winning stage one, Gerrans stood on the start line in Elgoibar in yellow. The team hoped to successfully defend the jersey while targeting the stage victory.
“It was a nice feeling to have the yellow jersey,” said Gerrans. “It’s not every day that you get to be the leader of such a prestigious race. There was a lot of support on the roadside, and I got a few pats on the back in the peloton as well. It’s not something I thought I’d keep until the end of the race, but it was nice to have it today.”
“We talked about our objectives honestly,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “A stage win was the priority over keeping the yellow jersey for another day, but we were hoping we could accomplish both. That Simon Gerrans played such an important role in the sprint showed that we were willing to sacrifice the jersey for the stage.”
Christian Meier took responsibility for the bulk of the early work. Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) slipped away from the bunch shortly after the official start had been given. The Basque rider was on the hunt for points in the mountain classification.
“Christian made it a tactically easy day for us until the final ten kilometres,” said Stephens. “It was perfect. One rider went away looking to keep the mountain jersey, and Christian said to me he was happy to set a good tempo that would keep him out there at a reasonable distance. He did exactly that, and his work kept his teammates fresh for the finish. Albasini came up and collaborated during the second half of the race, but Christian certainly deserves all the credit for the early work.”
Like yesterday, the stage featured a categorised climb inside the final ten kilometres. Txurruka was back in the bunch by the time the peloton hit the lowers slopes of the Alto de Zaldiaran. Jens Voigt (RadioShack Leopard Trek) and Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida) had bridged across to Txurruka in the build-up to the final climb. Voigt rejoined the peloton shortly before the summit, and Malori and a few counter-attackers were brought back on the descent.
“There was a tricky descent coming off that last climb,” explained Stephens. “A few riders got away, and things weren’t completely in our control for a bit. After the descent, we hit crosswinds. A lot of riders had lost wheels on the descent, and they were trying to get back to the bunch in the crosswinds. The team did a great job staying in contact with each other. If one was 20 wheels back, one was 40 wheels back and one was 60 wheels back, we would have been in trouble. Given how complicated the finish was, I was impressed that they could keep it altogether.”
“In the last few kilometres, everybody could see that Simon, Michael Matthews and Daryl Impey were in the perfect place,” added Stephens. “What most people didn’t see is the work that Clarkey and Wes did to get them there. It was a really complicated puzzle of a finish, and we did it well to pull off such a fantastic result.”
As the peloton barrelled towards the finish, the commentators seemed a bit confused as to who was last wheel on the ORICA-GreenEDGE train. Stephens admits he can understand the confusion when the team is fielding two of the quickest riders in the race.
“It’s a good problem to have,” he said. “In Michael Matthews and Daryl Impey, we had two potential stage winners. Obviously, one of them was going to have to dedicate himself to the other. They both understood this, and Michael said he’d take the last lead out role. No doubt that we’ll look for a win with Michael on another day.”
“We talked a lot this morning about who we’d race for in the sprint – me or Michael,” added Impey. “The two of us share a lot of similar qualities as sprinters, and either of us would have given up our chances for the other. We started the day intending to work for me, and mid-way through the race, I confirmed that I was feeling really good, so we stuck with that decision.”
Just inside the final three kilometres, Gerrans was a visible force on the front of the bunch. He took a huge turn, leading the peloton into the final right-hand bend. Coming out of the corner, Matthews took over from Gerrans until Impey opened up his sprint 175 metres from the finish line.
“Most of the job was already done by the time I started my sprint,” said Impey. “I was in a great position, and I had really good legs. When you have the guy in the yellow jersey doing the lead out, it really highlights the team’s commitment to one another.”
Gerrans finished on bunch time and initially thought he may have stayed in yellow.
“I wasn’t quite sure what the situation was on the line,” Gerrans admitted. “I actually thought that I might have kept the jersey. Either way, I was happy to sacrifice the jersey and give Daryl the opportunity to take the stage win.”
Although he won the opening stage yesterday and finished on bunch time today, Gerrans ceded the jersey to Francesco Gavazzi (Astana) and dropped down to seventh in the overall standings.
“That’s how count back works,” explained Stephens. “He won yesterday and was on equal time today but placed no where. Equal time is broken by count back, so Simon lost the jersey.”
Without the jersey, ORICA-GreenEDGE can focus on stage wins and looking after Weening in the upcoming mountains.
“We’ve got a lot of momentum, and we’re gaining a lot of confidence,” said Impey. “The morale is pretty high in the team at the moment. The sprinters like myself will take a back seat in the mountains. We’ll look after Weening and Clarke the next couple days. They’re both riding really well, and Pete might even be able to do something on the overall. We didn’t have the option last year, and we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do there.”