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Richie Porte’s first ever victory at the Santos Tour Down Under today was an emphatic one. His Sky teammates delivered him perfectly to the base of Willunga Hill where the Paris-Nice winner attacked and rode away to a comfortable victory. Behind him, the leader’s ochre jersey was changing hands once again, leaving the bike race precariously balanced in the favour of Simon Gerrans ahead of tomorrow’s final stage.
After an initial flurry of attempts to establish a breakaway on today’s stage it was the foursome of Jens Voigt (Trek), Mikhail Ignatyev (Katusha), Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) that finally got away and started building a sizeable lead.
After 17km they already had 4:45 over the main field, prompting BMC to come to the head of affairs and keep an eye on things. Unlike yesterday’s stage Orica-GreenEDGE didn’t seem too worried about controlling the break to give Simon Gerrans a run at the first intermediate sprint. Instead the escape was allowed to continue building a lead and with 36km of the 151.5km stage completed the four riders had a touch under 9 minutes between them and the peloton.
But it didn’t take long for Orica-GreenEDGE and Sky, among others, to start bringing the deficit down as the leaders started the second of three laps around McLaren Vale, Willunga, and Aldinga Beach.
The first intermediate sprint came after 63km and it was Mikhael Ignatyev who took the honours ahead of Trentin and Voigt. As Cadel Evans and his BMC squad enjoyed a free ride back in the main field, Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE, Lampre and Garmin-Sharp spearheaded the chase from behind.
After 76km, with half the race completed, the leaders had 5:00 over the chasing peloton. A further 12km up the road the gap was down to just 3:30 as yesterday’s stage winner, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) took up the chase for his teammate and KOM classification leader Adam Hansen.
The second and final intermediate sprint point was fast approaching at the 103km mark and while the leaders’ advantage was being eroded, they would still have enough time up their sleeves to take all points (and bonus seconds) on offer.
Ignatyev led his companions through just as he’d done at the first sprint point, while Lobato and Voigt picked up the remaining points and time bonuses.
With 120km of the race completed, the breakaway riders had completed their three laps of the McLaren Vale/Aldinga Beach circuit and it was time to head to Willunga for the first of two climbs up the now-famous Willunga Hill.
Back in the main field a few soft punches were being thrown by Ruben Plaza Molina (Movistar) and Wes Sulzberger (Drapac) on the lower slopes of Willunga Hill but nothing really stuck as Garmin kept the tempo nice and high for Nathan Haas.
Jens Voigt, meanwhile, was working hard to keep he and his two breakaway companions away as the time gap continued to fall. Voigt was first over the top of the 3km climb with Ignatyev and Trentin just behind. In the main field Axel Domont (AG2r) attacked and beat KOM classification leader Adam Hansen and Nathan Haas to the top. Domont’s six KOM points and Hansen’s four put the two on level pegging in the climber’s race after Domont’s efforts in the breakaway on yesterday’s stage.
The peloton caught the three breakaway riders as they descended Range Road with 16km remaining in the race. Orica-GreenEDGE took to the front to control things for Simon Gerrans before yesterday’s second-place-getter Jurgen Roelandts moved off the front and opened up a small (and ultimately shortlived) advantage.
At this stage the lead group consisted of roughly 70 riders, the rest having been shelled by the ferocious pace on the first climb of Willunga Hill.
As the riders headed south for a fifth visit to the town of Willunga, Jens Voigt — one of the key figures in the day’s breakaway — decided to try for some more TV time. It was ultimately a futile move, but one that the fans by the roadside certainly appeared to appreciate.
Voigt was caught shortly after the final climb started as BMC took control of the race. The high pace on the approach to the climb and on the lower slopes ensured that the lead group was torn apart and it took all of a couple hundred metres for the big hitters to emerge.
With 2.2km to go Wes Sulzberger (Drapac) attacked and it was the race leader, Cadel Evans, that marked the move. One hundred metres later Evans was on the front of the bike race.
The high pace of Porte allowed the Tasmanian to open a slight gap on Evans, while there was daylight between the ochre jersey and the chasers. While Porte powered towards a memorable victory, Evans was caught by Gerrans and the increasingly-impressive Diego Ulissi.
Ulissi attacked from the group of three but was quickly covered. And then Evans himself attacked, and he too was brought back into the fold.
While Porte rounded the final bend and raised his arms in celebration, Evans tried one final time to break clear of Ulissi and Gerrans. The move proved unsuccessful and might even have cost Evans the overall lead.
Ulissi powered around the final bend with Gerrans in tow, while Evans wasn’t able to match their speed. The Italian crossed the line in second place, 10 seconds behind Porte and with the same time as Gerrans. Robert Gesink (Belkin) continued his impressive form to finish fourth ahead of Darryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) while Cadel Evans finished in sixth place, four seconds behind Ulissi and Gerrans.
By picking up a four-second time bonus for third place, in addition to the four seconds he finished ahead of Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans now moves back into the overall lead, just one second ahead of Evans. Ulissi sits third overall after another fantastic performance, four seconds behind Evans. And Richie Porte, who picked up a 10-second time bonus for his win moves up into fourth place, 10 seconds behind Gerrans. Nathan Haas rounds out the top five a further 17 seconds back.
Neither Axel Domont nor Adam Hansen were able to claim any further KOM points on the final climb, leaving the two locked on 28 points. With his 1st place on the Category 1 Menglers Hill climb back on stage 1, Adam Hansen wins the KOM classification on a countback.
Meanwhile Simon Gerrans has a virtually-unassailable lead in the points classification (not that he’ll be too focused on that). And in the Young Rider classification, Jack Haig (UniSA/Australia) put in a stirling performance to mark his nearest challenger Carlos Verona Quintanilla on the final climb and ensure he’ll wear the white jersey into the final stage.
They say that offence is the best form of defence but it could be argued that Cadel Evans (BMC) took that adage one pedal stroke too far on Willunga Hill today. The race leader appeared to attack one too many times, leaving himself vulnerable to a final jump by Ulissi and Gerrans who were able to open up a time gap. Had the three riders crossed the line with the same time Evans would still be leading the bike race.
Instead, Evans now goes into the final stage as the underdog. To win, he’ll have to find a way to feature in the intermediate sprints and/or the final sprint on the 85km circuit race around the streets of Adelaide. That’s far easier said than done given Orica-GreenEDGE’s clear determination to lead Simon Gerrans to a third Santos Tour Down Under title.