Porte Soloes to Victory in Tour Down Under; Gerrans Reclaims Race Lead
Following Porte across the line ten seconds later was Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) while Gerrans was third.
The anticipation and tension was palpable on the start line of today's Queen stage that began in McLaren Vale, criss-crossed the region's celebrated vineyards and swept along a spectacular Fleurieu Peninsula coastal circuit before turning left to contest two ascents of Willunga Hill and the hiltop finish line. The race attracted 125 thousand fans who set up picnics, eskies and sun lounges along the length of the course.
2011 Tour de France champion, Cadel Evans, began the day with a seven second lead but at the end of the 151 kilometre stage Gerrans had grappled back the overall lead thanks to his third place time bonus and a six second gap back to Evans on the line. He is now a mere one second ahead of the BMC Racing Team leader. Ulissi remains third overall at five seconds.
"All the way up the climb, I always knew what I had to do," said Gerrans who was protected all day and kept out of the wind by his team mates so he could be fresh for the final showdown. "I needed to save energy for the very last part.
"Earlier on, we had Matt Goss at the front, then Daryl (Impey) and Simon (Clarke) looked after me. It’s a dream result to get the jersey back," he explained. "I've got a fantastic team here, we've seen it today, and they've been great all week."
Gerrans claimed the lead on the same stage in 2012 and went onto win the Tour for the second time, the first win coming in 2006. He held the race lead earlier this week after winning the San Remo Pasta Stage 1 but Evans took over with his Thomas Foods Stage 3 victory in Campbelltown.
"It’s only by one second though, actually it’s one second more than two years ago (against Alejandro Valverde) but it’s still going to be tight and nervous tomorrow," said Gerrans who is hoping to have a third Santos Tour Down Under crown in his possession at the end of tomorrow's final day of racing. "I’m very pleased to be back in the lead."
The big mover of the day however was the Tasmanian Porte who began 33 seconds down in tenth overall but his winning assault has moved him up to fourth on the overall, ten seconds behind Gerrans.
The 2013 Paris-Nice winner rode away from his rivals in front of a huge crowd that packed the three kilometre climb to the finish.
"This result is more than I hoped for," said Porte who was ten seconds in front when he crossed the line. "It was a very stressful day with crosswinds but I had my team doing incredible work for me.
"Ian Stannard, Bernhard Eisel, Luke Rowe, the Classics’ guys... I just had to sit in their back pocket all day. I panicked a little bit and Stannard said he’d drop me at the right place."
Once Stannard delivered Porte into position he pounced breaking clear in the last 1500 metres of the Willunga Climb to clinch the win.
"I wasn’t exactly surprised to drop Cadel Evans off, I was disappointed the other day after the Corkscrew Climb (Thursday) (because) I started badly positioned.
"Not taking anything away from Cadel, I could have played a little bit better. Winning here means everything for me. Sky is such a great team. It’s a great way to repay them for the belief they have in me."
BMC Racing Team Sports Director, Allan Peiper says it will take something special to overtake Gerrans now.
"No, it's not over, but if you got to come from behind, it's a little bit difficult in a criterium," said Peiper. "We will discuss our options tonight to see what we come up with."
This morning jovial German Jens Voigt was seriously warming up just minutes before the start signalling an early attack from him was imminent. Sure enough within the first few kilometres Voigt bounded off the front with Russian Mikhail Ignatyev (Katusha), Spain's Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) and Italian Matteo Trentin.
The quartet gained a handy lead as they raced the first of three laps that swept out along the scenic seashore of Aldinga Beach and Snapper Point. The lead increased to more than nine minutes as the leaders sliced through buffeting winds blowing any hopes of Gerrans grabbing bonus seconds on Evans in the Adam Internet intermediate sprints.
On the second lap, at the 63 kilometre mark, the quartet in front contested the first of the two sprints at Snapper Point with Ignatyev taking the top points ahead of Trentin and Voigt.
Back in the peloton Orica-GreenEDGE had been joined by Team SKY on the front and the pace lifted as they started the chase down the breakaways.
"When the break went away, I spoke with Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE), and I said we want to go for the stage win, and you guys want the GC, so we each put a guy on the front to bring the gap down," said Porte's team mate Gerraint Thomas. "It was all about keeping Richie (Porte) out of the wind and out of trouble.
"I saw his attack. It was good to see him dancing away, and you could see that Cadel (Evans) was struggling a little bit. It was every man for himself."
The double team strength chase saw the gap to the leaders at the half way mark down to under four minutes.
The second sprint at Snapper Point also went to Ignatyev, the 2044 Olympic Games points race champion, ahead of Lobato and Voigt. Lobato dropped back to the peloton but the remaining three rode on with Voigt claiming the maximum Skoda King of the Mountain points over Williunga the first time trailled by Ignatyev and Trentin. Leader of the climber's classification, Australian Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) rode across for fifth place points to make sure he kept hold of the green and white polka dot jersey but he's tied on points with Frenchman Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale) who was just ahead of him.
"It’s really good to be the king of the mountains here," said Hansen who also jumped up into the top ten and now sits eighth overall. "I’m a bit surprised that I made it.
"It wasn’t my priority but I decided to go for it the first time up Willunga Hill. Jurgen Roelandts led me out but I didn’t want to go full gas against the AG2R rider (Axel Domont) who was sprinting for KOM points as well.
"It’s very nice to get the jersey."
Meanwhile in front Voigt kicked again in the final ten kilometres in a desperate bid to steal a win but the stakes were too high for the overall contenders Voigt was reeled in at the foot of the final ascent.
But the 42 year old, the oldest man in the, did earn the Europcar Most Competive Rider award.
"When we got caught after breaking away attacked again, but what else should I do? Just disappear?" Voigt asked. "I didn’t have to work for a leader or anything and I wasn’t gonna win the stage against the favourites, so I thought I’d better do it in style, put on a show, entertain the people.
"But actually, it could have worked as well, had those guys laughed and said ‘oh!, this is just Jens, he’s an old man with number 42 on his back, like his age, let him go’. And then, with a good lead, I wouldn’t have been caught again."
Gerrans also leads the Adam Internet Sprint Classification by 19 points from Ulissi.
In the "Cycle Instead" Best Young Rider category 20 year old UniSA-Australia's Jack Haig finished 20th on the stage and remains 1:19 ahead of Spaniard Carlos Verona (Omega Pharma - QuickStep) his nearest rival for the honour.
"I saw him at the end of the climb the first time, after which I was left with no team-mate while he had his whole team with him.," said Haig. "So I was just hanging on to the wheels. I pushed myself so hard. It scared me racing in the wind like this.
"In the final climb, I was pretty tired," said Haig. "I had to go really deep but I just marked Carlos all the way up."