Simon Gerrans of Orica-GreenEdge goes into tomorrow’s final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under with a lead of just 1 second over BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans following a hard-fought Stage 5 of the race that saw Team Sky’s Richie Porte triumph on Old Willunga Hill.
Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi finished second, ten seconds down on Porte, with Gerrans third, and the two-second time bonus he secured plus the six-second time gap on the line [the results below suggest four seconds, presumably an error - ed] put the Australian champion back into the ochre jersey.
Evans had initially attacked on the climb before being overhauled by Porte. Gerrans and Ulissi seemed to have been distanced by Evans but overhauled him towards the top of the ascent.
The former world champion and 2011 Tour de France winner was unable to stop the race lead slipping away, finishing sixth.
"All the way up the climb, I always knew what I had to do," Gerrans reflected. "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. I've got a fantastic team here, we've seen it today, and they've been great all week."
The summit finish at Old Willunga Hill was first used in the 2012 edition of the race, and Gerrans, winner here last year, has a unique relationship with it.
He was second to Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde on the same ascent in 2012, but moved into the race lead on countback, the riders being tied on time.
Referring to his race lead, he said: "It’s only by one second though, actually it’s one second more than two years ago but it’s still going to be tight and nervous tomorrow."
"I’m very pleased to be back in the lead," added the 33-year-old, who is seeking to become the first man to win the race three times.
Team Sky and Orica-GreenEdge combined to chase down the day’s break and a late solo attack from one member of that group, Trek Factory Racing’s Jens Voigt which earned him the Europcar Most Competitive Rider award for the second time this week.
Like Gerrans, Porte praised the role his team-mates had played today. "This result is more than I hoped for," he said. "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."
That place turned out to be halfway up the 3km climb, with Porte riding away to victory.
"I wasn’t exactly surprised to drop Cadel Evans off, I was disappointed the other day after the Corkscrew Climb [on Thursday’s Stage 4] [because] I started badly positioned.
"Not taking anything away from Cadel, I could have played a little bit better [on Thursday].
“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."
Evans, who will line up against Porte in May’s Giro d’Italia, has only the slimmest of chances of gaining the two seconds that would enable him to overhaul Gerrans tomorrow and give him his first win in the race, as BMC Racing sport manager Allan Peiper acknowledged.
"No, it's not over, but if you got to come from behind, it's a little bit difficult in a criterium," he said. "We will discuss our options tonight to see what we come up with."
With the final stage taking place on a sprinter-friendly circuit in Adelaide, those options seem decidedly limited, and Evans himself acknowledged that he’s put at a disadvantage by the composition of his and Gerrans’ respective teams.
"The race isn't over, but we are going against a team that is specifically designed for this race,” he explained.
“We don't have a pure sprinter here. The difference between first and second and maybe even third on GC could come down to the intermediate seconds.
“So if you don't come here with a lead out team and sprinters, it becomes quite difficult to achieve."
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.