André Griepel of Lotto-Belisol today took his 15th career stage win in the Santos Tour Down Under, winning the Stage 4 sprint in Victor Harbor. Simon Gerrans of Orica GreenEdge picked up five bonus seconds on the stage to cut the deficit to race leader Cadel Evans to just seven seconds ahead of tomorrow’s crucial summit finish at Old Willunga Hill.
Evans had begun the day 12 seconds clear of Gerrans, and with 10 bonus seconds on over for the first man across the line on tomorrow’s stage and the second and third placed riders picking up six and four seconds respectively, the final day’s sprinter-friendly circuit in Adelaide on Sunday could still see the overall victory up for grabs.
With sprint rival Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano missing in the finale after an earlier split in the peloton, Greipel powered to victory, with team mate Jurgen Roelants second and Cannondale’s Elia Viviani third, the latter coming with a late burst to deny Gerrans, who finished fourth, a further four bonus seconds.
"I was always confident that I’d win something here. In the inaugural criterium in Adelaide and in Stage 1, I just made mistakes but that can happen in sprinting," Greipel said after his win.
"Before today’s stage, I thought this would be the first day for a sprint. Coming first and second says enough of the great work our team Lotto-Belisol has done today.
"It was nervous all along, Orica-GreeenEdge had six guys at the front of the bunch but we put pressure on them after the intermediate sprint,.
"I know the area of Victor Harbor pretty well. I know the last climb too. It’s quite open to the wind. The way we rode as a team makes it a well deserved win," he added.
Orica-GreenEdge had chased down an early three man break to set up Simon Gerrans to take a maximum three seconds at the day’s first intermediate sprint to help try and close the gap on race leader Evans.
After that, two riders – Cannondale’s Cameron Wurf and Axel Domant of AG2R-La Mondiale – went on the break, but they too were swept up ahead of the second intermediate sprint, where Gerrans took another two seconds.
The pace Orica-GreenEdge forced to reel in the escapees, together with crosswinds, caused a split in the field with Kittel among those distanced.
Ahead of the finish, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Serge Pauwels and Jan Bakelants went on the attack, but they were brought back inside the closing kilometre as Lotto-Belisol set up Griepel for the win.
"Today it went pretty well with the time bonus I was after," reflected Gerrans, who is seeking to become the first man to win the Tour Down Under three times.
"Our plan was to chase the first breakaway if it was within reach before the first intermediate sprint, and if not, we’d target the second.
"We eventually managed to do both. I’m pretty happy with that."
Commenting on the sprint finish, he said: “It would have been great to finish one place higher and get more time bonus but a flat bunch sprint finish isn’t my speciality.
"With two stages to go, the race for the overall win remains wide open. The race is far from won."
Evans retains the race lead, but saw his advantage over Gerrans slashed by almost half.
"It’s been a nervous day with the wind and Orica really took control of the race putting the whole team [on the front] for the intermediate sprints," he said.
"The first one didn’t go favourably for me and the second one was even worse.
"Looking at the numbers, we have four stages favourable to Orica and two for me, so numbers-wise it’s not in my advantage but of course Willunga will be important," he continued.
"Certainly if Orica keep going for the intermediate sprints they can eat away at seven seconds pretty quickly.
"It’s certainly not my area of expertise and Simon is good in the sprints and has a very, very good team for that... but we’ll see what happens on the way to Willunga.
Speaking of tomorrow’s penultimate stage, he said: “With the finish line at the top I think everyone is going to be looking at Willunga of course, and it goes back into my area of racing and experience.
"Of course to win the race I’m going to have to do something pretty special there."
Here’s a video report on the stage from GCN’s Daniel Lloyd, including race footage.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.