The longest climb of the day came straight after the neutral zone in Glen Osmond with the riders taking the Princes Freeway up into the Adelaide hills near Stirling. Riders were getting popped off the back of the main field in just a few kilometres as BMC controlled the pace at the front.
An early breakaway attempt from Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) and Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) lasted over the top of the uncategorised freeway climb and down through Aldgate but 15km into the stage they’d been brought back.
Orica-GreenEDGE was on the front of the main field, controlling the pace ahead of the first intermediate sprint at 25.5km — an intermediate sprint Simon Gerrans was desperate to win in order to claw back a few bonus seconds on race leader Cadel Evans.
Gerrans enjoyed an impressive lead-out from his team and jumped to take the three bonus seconds and five points in a classification he already leads. Gerrans’ teammate Matt Goss took second over the line while Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp), who rode so impressively yesterday to take second into Campbelltown, took the remaining bonus second.
With the intermediate sprint out of the way Orica-GreenEDGE and BMC seemed far happier to let a group get up the road. Five riders — Axel Domont (AG2R), Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), Cameron Wurf (Cannondale), Wes Sulzberger (Drapac) and Thomas Anderson (Giant-Shimano) — got away and held a two minute advantage by the time 37km had been covered.
After extending their advantage to roughly five minutes the lead group broke apart with Cameron Wurf and Axel Domont moving clear and the remaining three riders fading back towards the main field.
As the riders headed west towards Mt. Compass and the feedzone Wurf and Domont’s advantage started to gradually come down as BMC controlled the pace at the front for their leader Cadel Evans.
The day’s only KOM came after 95km and with the lead pair still enjoying an advantage over the main field it was Axel Domont that took maximum points over the top, followed by Cam Wurf. In the main field Adam Hansen sprung clear as he’s done on several occasions this week, taking four KOM points and ensuring he’ll wear the KOM jersey again on stage 5.
The pace up the climb, combined with strong crosswinds on the south-western run towards Carrickalinga, forced a split in the main bunch. In the front group of roughly 40 riders were the main contenders, including Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans and several of the big name sprinters — Andre Greipel, Jonathan Cantwell (Drapac) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale).
Missing were the likes of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), Matt Goss and Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), the last of whom reportedly mistimed a nature break and missed the split.
By the time the lead group had descended to Normanville (roughly 110km into the 149km-long stage), the two breakaway riders of Wurf and Domont were in their midst. In the chase group, Giant-Shimano was leading a spirited charge to try and get their sprinter Marcel Kittel back in the fold. But a short time later they sat up, the roughly-70-strong bunch enjoying a cruisey spin for the remaining 20km into Victor Harbor.
The day’s second and final intermediate sprint came after 116km as the riders turned south east towards their final destination. Orica-GreenEDGE turned up the heat in support of Simon Gerrans once again but it was Nathan Haas who stormed past the Australian national road race champion to take maximum points (five) and three bonus seconds.
Gerrans had to settle for two bonus seconds after crossing the line behind Haas, reducing the gap between he and Cadel Evans to just seven seconds.
Evans himself, resplendent in the race leader’s ochre jersey, had been looking comfortable in the run in to the second intermediate sprint, but a mechanical issue forced him out of the contest and necessitated a bike change.
With several teams coming to the front to work for their sprinters, the pace in the lead group increased as the finish line in Victor Harbor fast approached. Cameron Wurf put in a short-lived attack (after most of 100km in the breakaway, mind you) before Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates Jan Bakelants and Serge Pauwels tried to get away with 5km remaining and managed a small gap.
But with Lotto-Belisol determined to bring the race down to a bunch sprint, the two Belgians’ small advantage was erased with just 600m remaining in the stage.
After chasing down the escapees Lotto-Belisol continued the hard work, leading out Andre Greipel who took a comfortable win and a record 15th stage victory at the Santos Tour Down Under. Greipel’s teammate Jurgen Roelandts made it a Lotto-Belisol one-two while Elia Viviani took the final place on the podium.
Simon Gerrans crossed the line in fourth place and missed out on a time bonus. But there was little more he or his team could have done. They controlled the early race and ensured Gerrans took the maximum time bonus at the first sprint point. They did similar at the second but were upstaged by Haas. And they weren’t far off the mark in the final sprint either.
It would have taken a Gerrans win in both intermediate sprints and the finale today to have won back the ochre jersey and even if he had, the general classification would still have come down to tomorrow’s stage-ending climb up Old Willunga Hill Road, as it does now.
Tomorrow’s stage promises to be a great showdown between Evans and Gerrans. Chances are we’ll see the latter heading out in search of the intermediate sprints again because if it’s left to the final climb up Willunga, Gerrans will need to find eight seconds on Evans — either at the finish or in win bonuses — or rely on time bonuses in Sunday’s race around the streets of Adelaide.
Meanwhile Nathan Haas is on the charge and a real chance of a overall podium, given he’s just nine seconds behind the winner of stage 2, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), in third place. We’ve seen four terrific stages at the Santos Tour Down Under so far this year and that trend will almost certainly continue tomorrow.