Steele von Hoff wins crash-marred sprint on stage 4 of the Tour Down Under

by Matt de Neef


Steele von Hoff has won stage 4 of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under, sprinting to victory in Mount Barker ahead of Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) and Wouter Wippert (Drapac).
A crash 150m from the finish line saw many riders hit the tarmac but the overall lead of Rohan Dennis (BMC) was not affected.
In fact the top three places on GC remain unchanged after stage 4, but Daryl Impey moves up to fourth overall thanks to bonus seconds accrued during the stage.

ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – Stage 4 began in the seaside suburb of Glenelg in Adelaide’s west, and after a 7km neutral zone the riders headed south down the coast towards Sellicks Beach.

There was the usual flurry of attacks in the opening kilometres as a host of riders tried to get themselves into the day’s long breakaway. But with BMC seemingly unhappy with the composition of the groups that went up the road, the team of the race leader chased the breaks down and reset the race several times.

One of Marcel Kittel’s workhorses Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) crashed in the action-packed opening stages, abandoning the race a short time later.

After 23km of racing stage 1 winner Jack Bobridge (UniSA-Australia) tried his hand at establishing a breakaway and he was joined by Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEdge), Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and Cedric Pineau (FDJ.fr).

BMC let the group go, despite the firepower contained within it, and the four leaders started to build a lead. Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) tried to join the break but a second puncture for the day put paid to his chances of bridging the gap.

After 37km of racing, on approach to the day’s only KOM, the four leaders’ advantage reached its maximum of 2:25. On the second category Sellicks Hill KOM, after 44.2km, Bobridge claimed the maximum 10 points unchallenged, propelling himself back into the lead in the KOM classification.

His job done for the day, Bobridge sat up and started drifting back to the main field as the race headed inland. While Bobridge was being absorbed by the peloton, the three remaining leaders were forging on, their advantage hovering around 2:25.

But it wasn’t long until cooperation ceased in the break and their time in the sun was done. The BMC-led peloton caught the leaders 77km into the stage and with 67km still to race.

With the peloton all back together and two intermediate sprints still to contest, bonus seconds were up for grabs for the riders keen to move up the general classification. Daryl Impey capitalised on the opportunity, taking three bonus seconds (and five sprint points) ahead of Sky’s Luke Rowe (two seconds, three points) and Etixx-Quick-Step’s Mark Renshaw (one second, two points) at the first sprint in Ashbourne with 54.9km to go.

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An easing of the pace after the first intermediate sprint allowed another breakaway to get up the road. Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Maxim Belkov (Katusha) built a lead of 45 seconds with 49km left to race while BMC, Orica-GreenEdge and Giant-Alpecin took it easy on the front of the main field.

As the riders passed through the town of Strathalbyn, heading north towards their final destination of Mount Barker, the three leaders had an advantage in excess of two minutes. That lead would peak at 2:24 with 35km left to race but with Lampre-Merida working hard at the head of affairs the gap was soon to be eroded.

Maxim Belkov took out the final intermediate sprint in Macclesfield, ahead of Tleubayev and Serry. Meanwhile, back in the bunch, news was filtering through that Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) had been shed from the peloton.

In the UniSA-Australia team car, director sportif Dave Sanders was sending a message to Steele von Hoff.

“As soon as we heard through the radio that Kittel was dropped I knew that now was my time,” von Hoff said after the stage.

The three leaders had less than a minute with 25km still to race and with 20km to go Tleubayev had been dropped and the gap was down to 43 seconds. With Movistar doing the chasing for stage 2 winner Juan Jose Lobato the race was destined to come back together very shortly.

Team Sky took over chasing duties with 10km to go and one kilometre later the break was caught.

In the town of Echunga, 8.6km from the finish, the riders turned right and began a short but steep climb. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar) managed to break clear, opening a small gap, but with Orica-GreenEdge chasing hard for Impey the escape was to be short-lived.

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Orica-GreenEdge and IAM Cycling shared the pace-setting duties in the final five kilometres with Trek Factory Racing, Lotto Soudal and Etixx-Quick-Step also finding their way to the front of the bunch. But in the final sprint it would be the UniSA-Australia national team that would make the most of the fast finish.

Wouter Wippert opened a decisive lead after hitting the front with 200m to go but it was the late run of Steele von Hoff that would win the day. The Australian criterium champion jumped off Wippert’s wheel and flew up the right-hand side, opening up a race-winning lead. Daryl Impey followed von Hoff, leaving Wippert to hold on for third place.

Only seven riders crossed the finish line in the front group after a crash with 150m to go brought down a large bunch of riders. Those that didn’t crash were caught up behind the carnage and were forced to wait before continuing to the finish.

The victory is the biggest of Steele von Hoff’s career and it comes just weeks after winning the Australian national criterium champion for the second consecutive year. The victory is more than significant for von Hoff who is riding for the British Continental squad NFTO this year after being let go by Garmin-Sharp at the end of 2014.

“It’s been a fantastic start to the year,” von Hoff said. “Hopefully it’s all progress to try and get me back up to the WorldTour.

“This is my biggest [victory] yet. It’s fantastic,” von Hoff said. “To win a stage at Tour Down Under, my favourite race of the year, I couldn’t be happier.”

Von Hoff’s victory makes it two stage wins in four days for the UniSA-Australia team, a national squad whose impact on the Tour Down Under is usually limited to being represented in breakaways. But this year, with several former WorldTour riders on the team, not to mention some great emerging talents, the team has been a major player in the race.

Apart from Steele von Hoff and Rohan Dennis — the later maintaining his overall lead ahead of the queen stage of the race — the biggest winner on the stage was Daryl Impey. Six bonus seconds for finishing second, plus a further three bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint, see the South African move from 10th overall to fourth. Impey will now wear the red jersey of the points classification leader.

Jack Bobridge takes over the lead in the KOM classification after his efforts in the breakaway, while Rohan Dennis leads the best young rider classification (although Tom Dumoulin will wear the white jersey again tomorrow).

BMC still leads the team classification and Cedric Pineau was awarded the most competitive rider for his efforts in the early breakaway.

Tomorrow’s penultimate stage of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under is almost certain to determine the overall classification. The 151.5km stage takes the riders from McLaren Vale to the top of Willunga Hill via two ascents of the 3.5km climb.

Click here to see our report from stage 1 of the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under, here for stage 2, and here for stage 3.

Photo gallery

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Race results

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