Impey takes fragile Tour Down Under lead as Nizzolo wins stage 5

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VICTOR HARBOR, Australia (CT) – Everything looked to be going to plan for Mitchelton-Scott. Daryl Impey had snagged enough time bonuses at the intermediate sprints to take the overall lead from Richie Porte. The Aussie team had torn the race apart on the final climb, leaving just 10 riders out front — three of them from Mitchelton-Scott. They’d opened a lead of around 20 seconds with 10km to go. In short, they’d put Impey in a perfect position to win the stage, a 10-second time bonus, and, in all likelihood, the race overall.

But then a big chase group full of sprinters caught back on with 6km to go and Mitchelton-Scott’s perfect day became a little bit less perfect.

They tried to lead Impey out for the sprint but it was always going to be a tall order. Giacomo Nizzolo (NTT) took line honours from a group of 55, sprinting off the wheel of Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) who lost his sprinter Caleb Ewan. Simone Consonni (Cofidis) was second while stage 1 winner Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) rounded out the podium.

Nizzolo’s win comes four years after he finished third in the same finish at the 2016 Tour Down Under.

“At the team presentation I picked this stage — I thought it could suit me quite well,” said the Italian. “Of course, with this climb it was not sure to be a sprint, but I had a great team around me today and they waited for me on the climb.

“I lost a few seconds at the top and then they brought me back. And once I was in the final kilometres they supported me as well and everything worked well.”

It was Lucas Hamilton that did the damage on the final climb, his infernal tempo dislodging the vast majority of the field.

“It was always the plan to try and split it up there and try and get rid of the fast guys to give Daryl more of a chance in the final,” Hamilton said. “Unfortunately it just didn’t quite pay off. The group behind obviously had a lot of teams trying to bring it all back together.”

It had been a strong lead group. Hamilton, Impey and Simon Yates for Mitchelton-Scott; Richie Porte from Trek-Segafredo; Rohan Dennis and Dylan van Baarle for Ineos; Diego Ulissi for UAE-Team Emirates; George Bennett for Jumbo-Visma; and Dries Devenyns and Mattia Cattaneo for Deceuninck Quick-Step. With the calibre of the riders up front, it seemed possible they would hold off the chase.

“I think that was sort of the perfect size,” Hamilton said of the lead group. “Any bigger you might not have worked as well together. I think Richie obviously didn’t want it to go to the line with Daryl being the favourite out of that group.

“But yeah, I think it was the perfect group. And if that wasn’t gonna work, I don’t think it was [ever] gonna work. It was just a little too far to the finish.”

While Mitchelton-Scott’s grand plan for the stage didn’t come together, Impey will still wear the ochre leader’s jersey into the final stage. He started the day three seconds behind Porte then moved to within one second, courtesy of two bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint. At the second sprint, he was even more successful, taking three bonus seconds and moving two seconds clear of Porte.

He would have liked more time at the finish, of course, but the South African remains optimistic.

“I think the whole week we’ve been trying to obviously get into the lead here and to put myself in a position tomorrow where it’s achievable to beat Richie,” Impey said after donning the leader’s jersey. “Two seconds is gonna be really tight and close, but we’ve given ourselves the best chance possible.”

While Impey has chased time bonuses at intermediate sprints all week, he isn’t planning to tomorrow. Instead he’ll be “all in on the hill”.

That hill, of course, is Willunga. Porte has won there six years in a row and will be very hard to beat again tomorrow. It’s not just the possibility of Porte opening up a time gap by the finish line that his rivals have to worry about, it’s the 10-second time bonus on the line.

Impey is aware that he’s unlikely to beat Porte on Willunga. Perhaps the best he can hope for is second place, on equal time. Even then Porte’s time bonus would be four seconds greater than Impey’s, enough for Porte to win his second Tour Down Under.

If intermediate sprints are indeed off the table, then Impey’s chances of a third-straight title are all but over. But as Impey points out, the team does have another option: Simon Yates. The Englishman was third on Paracombe on stage 3, and sits fourth overall at 13 seconds. Could Yates win the stage with enough time to win the race overall?

“I think there’s probably one guy in this bike race who can follow Richie and it’s going to be Simon,” Impey said. “Who knows, we could win the stage and that could bring the overall, or I could hang on. So I think we’re in a nice position.

“The boys have ridden incredibly hard all week and done an amazing job. And like I said: win, lose or draw, we know at the end of the race tomorrow, we’ve given it everything.”

To Porte, all of tomorrow’s ifs and buts come down to a pretty simple equation: “I think if we can win the stage then we will win the race.”

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