Australia's Cameron Meyer of the Garmin-Cervelo team secured his first Tour Down Under crown Sunday following a dramatic last stage won by Britain's Ben Swift.
Meyer took an eight-second lead on fellow Australian Matthew Goss into the final stage of the race, a 90 km street criterium in which 16 bonus seconds were on offer.
And despite the efforts of Goss's HTC-Highroad team to reduce his gap at the two intermediate sprints, Garmin-Cervelo kept cool heads during a hectic 20 laps to keep Meyer in the ochre jersey by just two seconds.
"I'm absolutely shocked, but so excited at the same time," said Meyer after winning with the smallest margin in the race's 13-year history and succeeding German two-time winner Andre Greipel.
"It was such a close bike race, all I could do was cross my fingers... but a big thanks goes out to the team. Without them I wouldn't have won this."
At the finish, where Goss had hoped to collect a maximum 10 seconds for winning the stage, HTC-Highroad were nowhere to be seen as Swift led home Sky teammate Greg Henderson.
Goss finished third, missing out on taking back the jersey - which he wore from stage one through stage four - by one place.
Overall, Goss finished second with Swift moving up to third by virtue of the 10 bonus seconds he took for the stage victory, his second of the race.
"I'm obviously frustrated, I felt really good all week, I felt really good again today," said Goss, who lost the jersey after stage four when Meyer led home the race's only successful breakaway.
"I tried everything and the team did everything for me, but I just missed it in the end."
A five-man breakaway, instigated by Meyer's teammate Matthew Wilson, kept the chasing peloton at a distance for the first seven laps.
However HTC-Highroad closed the gap before the first sprint at lap eight, when Goss came over the line in second behind fellow Aussie Michael Matthews (Rabobank) to reduce his deficit on Meyer to six seconds.
Four laps later Goss's prospects dived when he failed to pick up any points at the second sprint, meaning the Tasmanian needed a second place finish to overcome Meyer.
And by the 19th lap his HTC-Highroad team began to pay for their earlier efforts, with only Mark Renshaw able to provide a wheel for Goss to follow in the final drive for the line.
After paying tribute to the efforts of his team, and Renshaw in particular, Goss admitted that being boxed in at the barriers on stage five had caused him a crucial moment's hesitation on the final drive to the finish.
"Two seconds off it... Renshaw was doing the perfect job, he has all week, I just went on the opposite side, I didn't want to take the risk of getting shut on the barrier again, it didn't work out unfortunately," added Goss.
Swift - who began the day with no chance of winning the race overall - admitted Sky had simply wanted to win the stage.
"We made a call today not to challenge for the intermediate sprints, and just go for the big one," said 23-year-old Swift, whose next big challenge is the world track cycling championships in March. "Fortunately, it paid off."
This week's race was the first on the International Cycling Union's (UCI) maiden WorldTour series, and where the peloton scored their first points of the season.
It was also Lance Armstrong's final professional bike race outside the United States, although the seven-time Tour de France champion finished on a whimper in 67th overall at 6:42 behind Meyer.
Cancer survivor Armstrong announced last October the Tour Down Under would be his final international race.
© AFP 2011
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