Yestersday’s Cancer Council Helpline Classic that was raced in Adelaide culminated in a furious sprint finish which was unexpectedly won by Greg Henderson of Team Sky, who in a downhill run to the line managed to outsprint a classy field that included top sprinters Baden Cooke, Robbie McEwen, Gert Steegmans, Robert Förster, Robbie Hunter, Jonathan Cantwell and Allan Davis to name a few.
“Oh mate, honestly, it doesn’t get any better,” said Henderson. “We were joking about it in the (hotel) room (before) – we said: ‘The best way to get Team Sky on the map is the very, very first race we get together, we end up winning the bike race.’
“And that just happened tonight … it’s just unbelievable … The lead-out was just so fast — I don’t think I’ve been on the back of anything faster – and in the end, my job was pretty easy. I just followed (Chris) Sutton and the rest of the fellas and … oh mate, what an amazing feeling.”
The 30-lap, 51km opener known as the Cancer Council Helpline Classic may not have counted towards the overall classification of the 2010 Santos Tour Down Under, but you wouldn’t have known it.
The furious finale came down to the new team on the block, Team Sky, which has been very much talking the talk of late, versus the winningest team of the 2009 season, HTC-Columbia, which throughout last year walked the walk to more than 100 major wins.
HTC-Columbia tried to challenge down the back straight, Henderson said. “But we just had too much horsepower left. Matt Goss actually snuck in the middle of our lead-out, which actually ended up helping us.”
It was a host of usual suspects who rounded out the top seven: McEwen (Katusha), Greipel (HTC-Columbia), Cooke (Saxo Bank), Brown (Rabobank) and Davis (Astana). Last year’s Tour Down Under champion was clearly left wanting, shell-shocked at the speed of the lead-out train from this new British outfit.
“They started the lead-out on the last lap, around the back straight there. The speed was so high we just couldn’t move out of the wheels. …” said Allan Davis. “Once we came round the corner there in the last 200 (meters), I tried to sort of get a little bit of a run-up on them. I got into a big headwind — there was a big headwind in the final straight up there – and there was just no chance today.”
Lance Armstrong had a strong showing when he jumped into a five-man move. Joining him were 2006 Tour champ Oscar Pereiro (Astana), Mikael Cherel (Française des Jeux), Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas). Last year, Armstrong said he was just “trying to stay on his bike, believe or not.” This year, he was doing a lot more than that and clearly the strongest in the move, turning over the 53×11 with enviable ease when drilling it on the front.
“I don’t know, I certainly felt better today than last year,” Armstrong mused, “but last year in this event I felt a little like a monkey screwing a football, too. It was not pretty last year.
“I felt liked I tested (the peloton) a little bit, and certainly felt more comfortable in the race. We had a few good weeks in Hawaii, so I know I’ve got a bit of power, but sometimes it’s better to be up on those small groups than to be back fighting with 100 guys for every wheel and every corner. It’s harder up there, but a little safer.”
Images courtesy Graham Watson