Australian team changes from a joke to juggernaut

07/03/2013 12:00 AM

07/04/2013 12:08 PM

NICE, France – After the first stage of the Tour de France on Saturday, Orica-GreenEdge was the laughingstock of the peloton: Its team bus had become stuck on the finish line as riders descended upon Bastia, triggering a series of events that sent the race into chaos.

Three days later, after its second consecutive stage win, in which its leader, Simon Gerrans, took the yellow jersey, the Australian team has become the toast of the 100th Tour.

Gerrans wrested the overall lead from Belgian rider Jan Bakelants.

On a beautiful summer day in Nice, Orica-GreenEdge's riders were the fastest on Stage 4's 15.5-mile team time trial course around the Mediterranean city, narrowly beating teams such as Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Sky by three-quarters of a second.

Some of cycling's best-known television images may be of solo mountain breakaways and sprinters raising their arms after vanquishing rivals, but every rider is part of a nine-man team at this year's Tour de France, which ends July 21 in Paris.

The team time trial, which was last held at the 2011 Tour, pits each team's riders against the clock. Most teams Saturday had nine, except for those like the French team Cofidis, which had eight after Yoann Bagot abandoned Monday.

It is indeed a team effort, with riders taking turns at the front of the group, striving to keep a high pace going.

Clad in their team's white,blue and green jersey, Gerrans and his team surprised the field.

"We were by no means the favorite, but we're a well-balanced, strong team," said Gerrans, the sixth Australian to wear the yellow jersey as leader of the Tour.

"We thought that if everyone could play their role, if people didn't try to do too much or too little, we would have a chance to finish very close to the top."

A time trial is perhaps the only time professional cycling resembles golf. Riders or teams who finish early are left to watch their rivals complete the course. Orica went off toward the end of the afternoon, but there were still four teams behind it.

As the day concluded, though, with only RadioShack left on the course, the excitement was palpable.

"We did a great time trial; we're happy," Gerrans told French television as he waited for the final results.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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