Graeme Brown won a closely-fought third stage of the Tour Down Under on Thursday, finishing just ahead of overall leader Allan Davis.
Davis retains the ochre leader’s jersey, with Brown now second overall and Stuart O’Grady in third.
The race was a chaotic affair, with Columbia’s defending champion Andre Greipel of Germany among nine riders who dropped out, most though injuries picked up in crashes. After just 15km Greipel smashed into a motorbike parked on the side of the road. As he hit the ground, his bike flew back into the peloton, taking down more riders.
Lance Armstrong, making his comeback at the Tour Down Under after a three-and-a-half year hiatus, then jumped into a lead group of 16 riders that broke free after 20km. Armstrong narrowly avoided a crash of his own after riding over a branch in the middle of the road.
Despite its quality, Armstrong's breakaway group was eventually reeled in by the Quick Step and Rabobank teams at the 100km mark. But despite the testing racing conditions, with high winds blowing debris into the road, the American appeared pleased that he’d been able to do some quality racing.
"We didn't get organised, but it was fun to try (the breakaway). I felt pretty good,” said Armstrong. “It was a strong group, so you had to have decent legs to even make it.”
After Armstrong's group was pulled in, the attacks came and went before young Australian Cameron Meyer, racing despite having to pop a dislocated shoulder back into place on Wednesday following a crash, flew off the front with Glen D'Hollander.
Meyer then left the Belgian in his wake and appeared to be surging to a possible win before the sprinters' teams eventually swallowed him up with 7km to race.
In the end, the collective efforts of Brown's Rabobank team delivered their first victory of the year.
"The guys rode for 80km to try and bring the break back, so I'm glad I could bring the win home for them," said Brown. "When I started winding it up, I felt pretty confident and just let it go."
Meyer, an accomplished track racer for Australia, is also one of many up and coming talents who is set for a glittering career on the road - a prospect he boosted no end by defying the pain of his injured shoulder.
"Crashing is just a part of bike racing and sometimes you've just got to forget about the pain and give it a go," he said. "It hurt, but it's my first Pro Tour race and it's in Australia. There's no way I was going to pull out."
German sprinter Andre Greipel was less fortunate and is set for three months on the sidelines after his dramatic crash.
A Columbia team statement said he was facing three months out after dislocating his shoulder and sustaining a deep cut on his elbow and cuts on his leg.
"He underwent minor surgery on the cut on his elbow and he’s scheduled to fly back to Hamburg tomorrow (Friday)," the statement said.
Australian Baden Cooke, who won the stage to Victor Harbor two years ago, suffered extensive skin abrasions and bruising and attended hospital. New Zealander Timothy Gudsell, of Francaise des Jeux, suffered a broken right collarbone, while his teammate Remy Di Gregorio suffered a tailbone injury. Swiss rider Michael Schar, of Armstrong's Astana team, left the race after receiving treatment for nerve damage from a cut on his lower leg.
© AFP 2009
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