Porte climbs to stage 5 win in the Tour Down Under, Dennis retains overall lead

by Matt de Neef


Richie Porte (Sky) has won stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under for the second year in a row after leaving his rivals behind on the slopes of Willunga Hill.
Only Rohan Dennis was able to respond when Porte put in repeated attacks on the final climb, but eventually the elastic snapped for Dennis and Porte rode away to victory.
But Porte’s lead across the line wasn’t enough to give him the overall lead in the race. Dennis will go into the final stage with a two second lead and, barring a major incident, will win the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under.

ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – Today’s race-defining stage of the Tour Down Under began in the wine-region town of McLaren Vale south of Adelaide, with the riders facing a total of 151.5km.

The horrible crash that marred the end of stage 4 saw the startlist reduced by four with Kenny de Haes (Lotto Soudal), Olivier de Gac, Lorenzo Manzin (both FDJ.fr) and Travis Meyer (Drapac) not able to take the start.

From the start in McLaren Vale the riders headed south towards Willunga to begin the first of three, 40km circuits that included a north-bound stretch along the coast past Aldinga Beach.

A nine-rider escape group was nullified quickly after the start but within 3km the day’s main breakaway had been established. Jack Bobridge (UniSA-Australia), wearing the polka dot jersey as the leader of the KOM classification, was again the main aggressor, starting the move that was later followed by Greg Henderson (Lotto Soudal) and Jordan Kerby (Drapac).

The peloton soft-pedalled its way through the opening kilometres, allowing the three leaders to build a gap of 5:35 after 30km of racing — their maximum advantage and the biggest breakaway of this year’s Tour Down Under.

Soon enough BMC started to take the pacemaking seriously, bringing the gap down well inside five minutes with 50km of racing completed.

The leading trio of Kerby, Henderson and Bobridge continued to work well together in the lead-up to the day’s first intermediate sprint at Snapper Point after 63.4km. They crossed the line in that order, none of the riders sprinting for the time bonuses or points in the sprint classification.

After 73km of racing the three leaders had pushed the gap back out to five minutes but the resurgence would be short-lived. After 85.5km of racing, in the town of Willunga, the three leaders began the third and final lap of the beach circuit, their advantage down to 4:24.

It was with roughly 60km to go that BMC started to chase in earnest once more. With 50km to race the gap to the three leaders was down to 3:26 and the BMC chasers were being supported by LottoNL-Jumbo.

The second and final intermediate sprint of the day, also at Snapper Point, came 48.1km from the finish. Again the three leaders didn’t fight one another for the sprint points, Henderson crossing the line first ahead of Bobridge and Kerby.

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After more than 100km in the breakaway Jordan Kerby was showing signs of fatigue and eventually dropped off the back with 44.5km left to race. The intensity in the main field, thanks largely to BMC and Tinkoff-Saxo, was starting to increase and with 33km left to race — and the three circuits just about finished — the gap was down to three minutes.

The gap to the two leaders — Henderson and Bobridge — was down inside two minutes with 27km left to race and with little more than a kilometre to the start of the first of two ascents of the 3.5km Willunga Hill climb.

The race’s fourth visit to Willunga for the day signalled the start of the climb for the two riders in the breakaway. Henderson gave his companion a hand-sling as the road ramped up (see below), and Bobridge was away, leading the race on his own. He’d set off in the day’s breakaway in search of KOM points and with a little more than a minute on the Tinkoff-Saxo-led bunch at the bottom of the climb, the South Australian looked set to hold on until the top.

Bobridge dug deep on the climb as Astana took up the chase in the now-climbing main field. Henderson was swept up on the climb by an ever-thinning peloton but out in front Bobridge was holding steady. He crossed the line with a 40-second advantage, ensuring he’d hold on to the KOM classification … assuming Rohan Dennis didn’t win the stage.

Bobridge’s solo break came to end with 20km left to race when he was absorbed by a reduced peloton of roughly 40 riders. As the riders bombed down Penneys Hill Road and made their way back towards Willunga the race looked set to be decided on Willunga Hill.

That was until Astana’s Lars Boom took advantage of crosswinds on the way into town and split a group of eight riders off the front of the race. Boom, Dario Cataldo and Luis Leon Sanchez represented Astana, Arnold Jeannesson and Jeremy Roy were there for FDJ.fr and BMC had Peter Stetina, Cadel Evans and race leader Rohan Dennis.

Sensing the opportunity to break the race apart before the final climb, and with Sky’s Richie Porte having missed the move, most of the group (including Evans) worked together to open the gap. Rohan Dennis, however, wasn’t pulling a turn in the lead group, having learned his lesson in this race three years ago.

“In 2012 I jumped off the front with three others and it was a bit of a mistake and in the end I paid the price at about 1.5km to go,” Dennis said. “So I had that in the back of mind [today]. I kept looking back and looking back to see where [the peloton was].

“‘Those guys back there, especially Richie, will be sitting sweet, not pulling, and they’re going probably going to catch us at the bottom of the climb. If I’m doing more work now, what’s the point?'”

With Orica-GreenEdge chasing hard, the catch was made with 4.5km to go and it was all about Willunga Hill once again.

As the reduced peloton hit the start of the climb in Willunga, with 3.5km to race, it was Simon Clarke on the front. Sky’s Geraint Thomas took over with 3.1km to the finish and led the bike race with Orica-GreenEdge’s Daryl Impey in tow until 2.2km to go.

Impey, in the red jersey of points classification leader, was still in contention with 1.7km to go as his teammate Cameron Meyer set the pace. At this point barely 20 riders made up the lead group.

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With BMC holding the top two spots in the general classification, it was inevitable that Richie Porte would have to attack if he wanted to win the stage and the Tour Down Under overall. That attack finally came with 1.2km left to race, Porte bursting up the left-hand side of the road with Cadel Evans scrambling to get into his slipstream. Rohan Dennis was able to mark the move as well, as too was Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who sat third on GC going into the stage.

Just 100m up the road, with 1.1km left to race, Porte kicked again, shaking everyone off his wheel except the ochre jersey of Rohan Dennis. Dumoulin and Evans drifted slowly out of contention as the two leaders powered towards the line.

“I actually felt pretty comfortable when he (Porte) first went,” Dennis said after the stage. “But Richie sort of went – in hindsight – probably a little bit too late, because really he had better legs than me. I will have to thank him for that.”

Porte looked in control while Dennis was at the limit just trying to hold the Tasmanian’s wheel. And then, with about 400m to go, he couldn’t. Dennis cracked and Porte sensed his opportunity. He kicked again, desperate to put as much time into Dennis by the finish as he could.

Richie Porte crossed the line first to take back-to-back wins on the Willunga stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. Behind him, it took Rohan Dennis a further nine seconds to cross the line. Having held a 15-second advantage over Porte going into the stage, and having earned six bonus seconds for second place, Rohan Dennis had done enough to hold on to the GC. Just.

“To be honest, I thought ‘shit I’ve lost it’. I got told probably two or three minutes later that I’d kept [the lead] by two seconds,” Dennis said. “I went from being somewhat depressed to overwhelmed in 0.1 of a second.”

History shows that Porte will find it extremely difficult to collect bonus seconds in tomorrow’s final stage and move into the overall lead.

“I know it’s going to be hard,” Porte said. “Rohan’s obviously shown today that he’s a fighter. I think he’ll fight to the death tomorrow — he’s an Adelaide boy.”

After finishing fourth on the stage Cadel Evans drops down to third on GC, 20 seconds behind Dennis, while Tom Dumoulin and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) round out the top five. Fernandez was third on the stage, seven seconds behind Rohan Dennis.

Daryl Impey did enough to hold on to the lead in the points classification and Jack Bobridge’s impressive ride in the breakaway earned him another stage in the polka dot jersey. Rohan Dennis leads the best young rider classification but the jersey will be worn on the final stage by Tom Dumoulin. Greg Henderson was awarded the most competitive rider and Movistar moves into the lead in the teams classification.

Tomorrow’s final stage of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under is a 90km circuit race through the streets of Adelaide.

Click the links below for links to reports from previous stages in the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under.

Photo gallery

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Race results

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