Another celebratory chapter in Australian cycling was written overnight when Victorian Simon Gerrans snatched the yellow jersey in the 100th Tour de France thanks to a surprise victory for his Orica-GreenEDGE team in the 25km stage four team time trial in Nice.
Gerrans, 33, backed up from his victory in the 145.5km third stage from Ajaccio to Calvi on Corsica on Monday to become the sixth Australian to ever wear the race leader's yellow jersey — or maillot jaune — joining Phil Anderson, Stuart O'Grady, Brad McGee, Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans.
The significance of entering the history books with Anderson, the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey in 1981, was not lost on Gerrans. He was introduced to cycling by Anderson when he lived in the north-east Victorian town of Jamieson during his rehabilitation from a knee injury suffered in motocross.
"He was my first coach he and lent me a bike to get started in competitive cycling," Gerrans said.
"It was thanks to Phil that I took up cycling. It's pretty special to follow in the likes of Phil. He was the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey, and to be the latest Australian ... it's a pretty special feeling.
"[This feat] was a dream. I would have never imagined it to happen. It was a dream for me, a dream for the team. [There is] a lot of emotion. I want to keep the yellow jersey as long as possible, it's such a dream. I won off the back of a great work and again today [Wednesday], it was perfect work."
After Orica-GreenEDGE's team time trial victory, Gerrans now leads the Tour overall going in to Wednesday's 228.5 fifth stage, but from two of his teammates in Daryl Impey of South Africa and Switzerland's Michael Albasini. They are second and third overall, but at the same time.
In fourth place is Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) at 1sec, followed by Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Meanwhile, Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Briton Chris Froome (Sky) and Australian Richie Porte (Sky) are sixth, seventh and eighth overall at 3secs; Spain's Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) is 12th at 9secs and Australian Cadel Evans (BMC), who in 2011 became the first Australian to win the Tour, is 28th at 26secs after BMC's ninth place.
While Gerrans' lead is slim and he is not a rider with overall victory in his sights, the Orica-GreenEDGE team — in just its second year on the Tour — could still defend his yellow jersey until the Tour reaches the Pyrenees on Saturday for stage eight.
Considered a stage four dark horse, no one could have predicted the Australian team would win as well as it did on the flat and fast course — even if Orica-GreenEDGE's winning margin was a mere one second ahead of Omega Pharma-QuickStep and three seconds up on Sky.
The team's time of 25 mins 56.28secs came at an average speed of 57.841kmh, smashing the previous fastest average speed for a Tour team time trial. The previous record of 55.645km/h was clocked in 2011 when Garmin-Sharp team (sixth on Tuesday) won the 23km stage four team time trial at Les Essarts.
The Orica-GreenEDGE line up of Gerrans, Albasini, Impey and Australians Stuart O'Grady, Cameron Meyer, Brett Lancaster, Matt Goss and Simon Clarke and Canadian Svein Tuft were swept up in emotion once their victory was confirmed after the last starting RadioShack team crossed the line.
The team finished with six riders still together — Impey, Goss, Gerrans, Tuft, Albasini and Clarke in that order. But all nine rode strongly.
"[Monday's win] was really a fantastic team effort, and I said my win was really thanks to some great work by the guys and I was super thrilled to be able to finish that team work off and win the stage," an elated Gerrans said afterwards.
"Tuesday's team time trial victory takes it to another level. To actually win with the team together, everyone committed 100 per cent to the team time trial — there were no weak guys in the team whatsoever.
"To win with the whole team and to win the yellow jersey was a massive bonus. I am thrilled. I couldn't be prouder of the Orica-GreenEDGE team.
"We were by no means the favourite coming into [the] stage, but we knew we had a very balanced strong team and if everyone played their part and tried to not do too much, or too little, then we knew we were going to go very close.
"The plan was for our big strong guys — Brett Lancaster, Svein Tuft, Stuart O'Grady, Cameron Meyer, Daryl Impey, these sort of guys — to pull longer and stronger [at the front], and [for] the rest of us less-strong guys to basically keep the pace.
"And if everyone stuck to that plan we knew we were going to go very fast."