Matt Goss of HTC-Highroad seized the spotlight in Australia today, or yesterday, or maybe tomorrow, with his sprint victory in Stage 1 of the Santos Tour Down Under his second win in a couple days.
First, let me start this post with a reminder that if you can't jump to conclusions based on winter races after a single day now, when can you? Whatever the STdU is (and no, it's not something to discuss with your doctor), it does tend to give us some brief insight into the handful of Europe-based riders taking it very seriously, of which there are three types that I can name: southern hemispherians in summer form; riders for whom the STdU overall or stages are makeable, important goals; and HTC. Goss, the Tasmanian Devil (that's not taken already, is it?) is the only guy who fits all three. So it makes sense that he's looking good at the moment.
The closest competitor on his wheel following a long, 200 meter sprint was the guy whose job he took at HTC, Andre Greipel. The Gorilla has left the occasional humility of HTC behind (21 wins doesn't get you the respect of your mates??) for a chance to show his full worth in Lotto colors. Unlike his expected season-long rivals, Tyler Farrar and Mark Cavendish, Greipel has at least been billed as racing to defend his crown, though I can't find any evidence of him saying something definitive to that effect, so who knows. Regardless, Greipel did contest the sprint, suggestingmore interest than Cavendish or Farrar, who rolled home calmly in the middle of the pack.
So... is Goss already superior to the man he replaced? Of course! [Remember, I said it was jump-to-conclusions-in-winter day.] On the flip:
Goss's performance "today" shows why he slips very nicely into the role vacated by Greipel at HTC-Highroad. Greipel was accused of winning "small shit races" and his record shows that while he devoured the races he was fed, small shit or not, Greipel's performances on bigger stages were below the level his win totals would have suggested. Good, sometimes very good, but nowhere near the clockwork killer he could be in sub-Pro Tour stage race sprints. As I've said, the man did his job, got a promotion, and the rest is yet to be determined (particularly after a couple days with a brand new leadout train).
But at age 24, Goss is something more interesting, and almost certainly more valuable, for HTC. He probably won't measure up to Greipel's level of regular success in the sprint races Cavendish doesn't want, but it's conceivable he would come close. He traded blows last year with Farrar in the Giro d'Italia, each man winning a stage head to head (with Goss missing a sprint on another Farrar win). The Tasmanian Devil has won stages in places like the DanmarkRundt and Tour de Wallonie, showing he can deliver in that role. So for him to expand his work to pick up Greipel's big 2010 targets should be no big deal.
The other thing it looks like Goss can do is ride effectively in the Classics. His win over Farrar at the end of the GP Ouest France-Plouay was a huge win, and not unlike his most recent success: a long, power sprint with an uphill profile. Strong kid. And while I'm not willing to translate that straight into success at De Ronde, it's a pretty good bet you'll see him around Gent-Wevelgem. Sure, Bernie Eisel is maybe a better bet there -- he did just win the thing -- but Eisel will once again shoulder a ridiculous amount of responsibility in Flanders, so it's a pretty big deal for HTC to have another guy who can either work with Eisel or take a few races off his hands.
I also suspect this works better with Cavendish. I like the Manx Missile enough, but even to his fans like me it's clear he's a Type A large-ego dude who doesn't appreciate a lot of competition from within. Or not from a German stage-sprinter. Culture aside (can I get a Tasmanian to Welsh translator?), the fact that Goss is a more complimentary piece to Cavendish means his alternate for the small shit races is also a guy Cav will genuinely appreciate for his non-overlapping talents in the one-day events. OK, that's brain-picking based on nothing, but hey, it's jump-to-conclusions-in-winter day. Just go with me here.
STAGE 1 NEWS EDIT WITH VO.mov (via tourdownunder)
Photo by Morne de Klerk, Getty Images Sport