Australia’s Matthew Goss took full advantage of a late crash Sunday to claim a surprise victory in the Cancer Council Classic criterium preceding the Tour Down Under. Goss, one of the few non-sprinters tipped for overall success in the January 16-23 race, finished a hectic 30-lap street race ahead of HTC-Highroad teammate Mark Renshaw, with another Aussie, Robbie McEwen of RadioShack, in third.
“It’s a great start to the Tour Down Under,” said Goss. “Mark (Renshaw) did a perfect job. “There was a little incident in the second last corner which caused a bit of chaos, but we managed to miss that and get the win.”
HTC’s Mark Cavendish, a 15-time stage winner on the Tour de France who is making his race debut, had been in contention for the win until Team Sky’s New Zealander Greg Henderson, the criterium winner last year, hit the tarmac.
“I was on the wheel of Greg Henderson and I knew he was going to go down,” explained Renshaw. “The guys were just going too fast. I laid off a length and it paid dividends.”
The split left Cavendish and many other sprinters stranded, but allowed Renshaw to lead Goss all the way to the finish line where the Tasmanian had plenty of time to throw his hands into the air in triumph.
Although the Tour Down Under has often been won by sprinters due to relative lack of climbs, Goss aims to buck the trend. He can sprint and climb fairly well and comes into the race having won the Bay Crits series in Melbourne in December and having finished second to Jack Bobridge in the Australian road race championship. Despite the criterium does not count towards the race proper, which begins on Tuesday, Cavendish was buoyed by his teammate’s success.
“Renshaw was good with the accelerations, I was good in my accelerations and then we saw Gossy sprint in the end. That’s very exciting for the week (ahead),” said Cavendish.
The Isle of Man sprinter, whose duel with German rival Andre Greipel is expected to be one of the highlights of the race, played his own role in Goss’s win by not closing the gap to the front and allowing rivals to get back in contention.
“When Henderson crashed… I ended up on the outside of him and that puts you out of contention,” added Cavendish. “The peloton fragmented, I saw Greipel wasn’t in the front and if I had tried to get back and close the gap you don’t really want that, so I just told Gossy to go.”
Goss meanwhile said it was too early to start gauging his overall victory chances. “We will take it each day as it comes at the moment,” he added. “I do have have goals of the overall (honors in the Tour Down Under) but that’s going to come after the first few days when we sit back and assess it.”
Seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, who will end his impressive bike career here this week, said he was impressed by the speed of the peloton. “It was too fast for what I’ve been training. It was fast,” he told AFP. The legs were “not good at that tempo, but I didn’t expect that.”