Tour Down Under Results - Stage 6
Astarloza wins Tour Down Under
After 735 kilometres and six days of racing the outcome of the 2003 Jacob?s Creek Tour Down Under came down to the final, frantic sprint across the line in today?s stage over 90 kilometres of the four kilometre Adelaide City Council Circuit.
Seven of the remaining 88 riders in the field began the day within nine seconds of the overnight leader, Mikel ASTARLOZA (ESP - AG2R Prevoyance), forcing some of the most hotly contested sprinting in the history of the race as the fast men did battle for bonus seconds on offer in the SA Lotteries intermediate sprints and at the finish.
"It is amazing to think that these superb athletes could do battle day after day over hundreds of kilometres and go into the final stage with so little time separating them," said Ms Belinda DEWHIRST, General Manager, Australian Major Events. "They have turned on a fabulous show for the 465 thousand local, interstate and international fans who have lined the route this week to cheer them on."
"To have it all come down to the final day - we couldn't ask for a better end to one of the most successful Jacob?s Creek Tour Down Under events yet," said Ms DEWHIRST welcoming the announcement by the State Government that the event would be staged in South Australia until 2009 . "We look forward to more of the same in the coming years as the Tour continues to hold South Australia spellbound every January."
ASTARLOZA wore the leader?s yellow jersey after officials yesterday resorted to a count-back of previous stage places to split he and Denmark?s Lennie KRISTENSEN (CSC) who were tied on time after 645km of racing over five days. But breathing down their necks were Giampaolo CARUSO (ITA - ONCE Eroski) at four seconds, Stuart O'GRADY (AUS - Credit Agricole) at five seconds, Paolo LANFRANCHI (ITA - Ceramiche Panaria - Fiordo) at seven seconds, Xavier FLORENCIO (ESP - ONCE Eroski) at seven seconds and Patrick JONKER (AUS - UniSA) at nine seconds.
The AG2R team plan was to gobble up the bonus seconds to protect ASTARLOZA?s lead and they did it in style.
On the first sprint at the 36 kilometre mark ASTARLOZA?s team mate and three time Tour de France stage winner, Jaan KIRSIPUU, surged across the line with his Estonian compatriot and AG2R team mate Erki PUTSEP second. O'GRADY claimed third and a one second time bonus moving him ever closer to the leader.
"We really decided yesterday to go for it at any price," said KIRSIPUU after the stage. "Stuart (O'GRADY) was the real danger."
All eyes were waiting for the next sprint to see if home town hero O'GRADY could pull off a third fairytale win. He had done it before in 2001 when he went into the final stage equal on time with German Telekom rider Kai HUNDERTMARCK but trailing on a count back. On that day he claimed the bonuses needed to take the overall win by a mere two seconds.
Could he do it again? 60,000 fans lining today?s route were willing