Gianni Meersman claimed this year’s inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, after a tight tussle and sprint finish in the final lap in Geelong today.
Evans, the 2011 Tour de France champion, stayed with the lead group throughout the day as Australia’s greatest cyclist said farewell to professional racing on an emotional high note.
"It was incredibly aggressive racing and I say thanks to everyone coming out, coming to the first race but also racing so hard right from the go," Evans told Channel Seven.
"It was almost like riding a World Championships with a slightly smaller field over a smaller distance. It was super aggressive racing. That made it really interesting.
"Those guys there, Meersman and Haas, they’re pretty quick at the finish and I was happy to make the front group at first but it wasn’t exactly the easiest group to pick.
"Also in the finish there, I came from a reasonably good position. You’ll be able to tell me more about that but didn’t have the legs.
"I think even if I had the legs those guys are quicker than me when I finished."
Today’s race, held amidst wet and windy conditions, saw Meersman win on a nine-man sprint at the end of the 174 kilometer race.
Meanwhile, Australia’s Simon Clarke took second and compatriot Nathan Haas third.
A small breakaway group, containing riders such as Darcy Woolley, Josh Taylor, Laurent Didier and Brodie Talbot, got underway earlier on in today’s race. And, from there, the escapees built a sizable lead of four and a held minutes over the peloton.
Disaster later struck for Laurent Didier, who crashed at the 50 kilometer mark – sustaining a suspected broken hand.
With 82 kilometers to go, Cannondale-Garmin used the crosswind to launch a withering attack that split the peloton.
Evans was among the big names who were caught out by the move, which ignited the race.
From there, constant attacks shredded the peloton.
The race came down to three laps of a hilly 20 kilometer circuit in Geelong.
Evans and then key rival Richie Porte attacked near the end of the second lap, but they were closely marked by the field.
At the start of the last lap, Evans’ BMC team-mate Danilo Wyss and Porte’s Sky colleague Ian Stannard were at the front along with Etixx-Quick Step rider Peter Serry.
They were soon joined by Simon Clarke and Martin Elmiger.
The lead changed again on the last steep climb at Challambra Crescent, with the race coming down to a 10-man lead group.
After Moreno Moser’s solo attack in the last six kilometers failed, he dropped back and the remaining nine contested the finish with the peloton approaching fast.
Evans said he had little chance against faster men such as Meersman and Nathan Haas.
Top 20 Finishers
1 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Extixx – Quick Step 4:15:22
2 Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica GreenEdge
3 Nathan Haas (Aus) Team Cannondale-Garmin
4 Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
6 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Team Katusha
7 Moreno Moser (Ita) Team Cannondale-Garmin
8 Danilo Wyss (Sui) BMC Racing Team
9 Pete Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:07
10 Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling 0:00:09
11 Silvan Dillier (Sui) BMC Racing Team
12 Aleski Tcatevich (Rus) Team Katusha
13 Fraser Gough (NZl) Avanti Racing Team
14 Tanner Putt (USA) UnitedHealthcare
15 Pieter Serry (Bel) Extixx – Quick Step
16 Davide de la Cruz Melgarejo (Esp) Extixx – Quick Step
17 Samuel Spokes (Aus) Drapac Professional Cycling
18 Brendan Canty (Aus) Team Budget Forklifts
19 Ian Stannard (GBr) Team Sky
20 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky
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Rachel Neylan won the inaugural women’s Evans Great Ocean Road Race amidst brutal conditions in Geelong today.
After an action-packed race featuring crashes, wind, hills and significant splits in the peloton, the 32-year-old South Australian rider made her decisive move up the steep incline at Melville Avenue after crossing the Queens Park bridge.
`It just went for it,’’ the Building Champions Squad rider said. “Today was just my day.’’
Neylan said the conditions on course were brutal with the wind on the open sections of the course a challenge for the elite field.
Her win in 3.01:10 casts aside the disappointment of her second placing in right sprint finish to Peta Mullins in the national road race titles in Ballarat three weeks ago.
“I have honestly not ever won a big race before today,” she said.
“Maybe a club race, (but) the result at the worlds in 2012 I would classify as my biggest win and then at the national champs two weeks ago a silver medal, they were my key performances.”
A member of the 2014 Australian World Championship team, Neylan also has a silver medal from the UCI world road race titles in The Netherlands in 2012.
An enthusiastic Geelong crowd banged on the hoardings as Neylan crossed the finished line at the waterfront about 30 seconds in front of Valentina Scandolara (Orica AIS) and Tessa Fabry (High 5 Dream Team).
With 30km to race, it had appeared the strength of numbers in the Orica team would prevail as its riders and riders from Wiggle Downunder came to the fore.
Those teams were controlling the leading pack which was chasing lone breakaway rider Kendelle Hodges (High5) who had opened a one-minute lead.
But Hodges paid the price in the tough windy conditions and was reeled in with 20km to go.
As the leaders passed the Geelong Ring Road on their way back into Geelong, Orica’s Amanda Spratt went on the attack.
But when Spratt was reeled in it came a race in three as Scandolara, Fabry and Neylan headed down Scenic Rd and crossed the Queens Park bridge.
As she turned off Queens Park Rd into Melville Ave, Neylan seized her opportunity, breaking free up the short, steep hill.
She was never again threatened as she rode to the line.
1 Rachel Neylan (Building Champions Squad) 3:01:10
2 Valentina Scandolara (Orica-AIS) 0:00:46
3 Tessa Fabry (High5 Dream Team) 0:00:48
4 Amanda Spratt (Orica-AIS) 0:01:22
5 Lizzie Williams (Orica-AIS)
6 Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS)
7 Ruth Corset (Total Rush Hyster)
8 Ellen Skerritt (High5 Dream Team) 0:01:26
9 Tiffany Cromwell (Roxsolt) 0:01:33
10 Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle Downunder)
11 Loes Gunnewijk (Orica-AIS) 0:01:47
12 Carlee Taylor (Roxsolt) 0:02:13
13 Taryn Heather (Bicycle Superstore) 0:02:45
14 Lucy Coldwell (Holden Women’s Cycling Team) 0:03:02
15 Jessica Mundy (High5 Dream Team) 0:05:01
16 Kristy Glover (Bicycle Superstore) 0:05:40
17 Chloe Hosking (Wiggle Downunder)
18 Kendelle Hodges (High5 Dream Team) 0:10:02
19 Miranda Griffiths (Holden Women’s Cycling Team) 0:11:10
20 Joanne Hogan (Roxsolt)