Nearly 120,000 fans were treated to fireworks today at the Tour Down Under as BMC Racing’s Cadel Evans launched an attack in a bid to win the overall title, only to be caught by Caisse d’Epargne’s Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez, the 2005 champion, who who the stage. André Greipel of FTC-Columbia retains the race leader’s ochre jersey.
Today’s route took the peloton 148km from the coastal resort of Snapper Point through the McLaren Vale vineyards before finishing in Willunga after two laps of the Old Willunga Hill. On the second of those laps World Champion Evans went on the attack, accompanied by the Tasmanian rider, Wesley Sulzberger of Francaise des Jeux.
The latter faded as Evans neared the top of the climb, sending the crowd wild as they cheered him on, unmistakeable on the rainbow jersey, but Valverde and Sanchez overtook him as they looked to propel the latter into the overall race lead.
As it was, Sanchez, who won the race in 2005, didn’t quite reach those heights but his ten-second bonus for winning today’s stage was enough to see him jump from 20th to second, 11 seconds behind Greipel, who had been supported over the final climb by team-mates Michael Rogers, Matthew Goss and Hayden Roulston as HTC-Columbia sought to keep him in the race leader’s ochre jersey.
Luke Roberts of Milram ended strongly to reach the escapees and finish second, with Valverde third and Evans fourth.
“The truth is we went out for the general classification (overall race lead) today and I must give thanks to my team they did a great job, especially Alejandro Valverde," said Sanchez.
“I had to finish in front of Cadel Evans over the line and when it got down to it Alejandro Valverde put it right on the line, he was very generous in his work and I was able to beat Cadel Evans over the line but unfortunately Greipel was not far enough behind," he added.
Evans acknowledged that he had taken a gamble by going on the attack on the climb, given the presence of Sanchez, but decided to take the risk anyway.
"It was an interesting position on the climb, of course, when you have two Caisse d'Epargne riders, one's a very fast finisher and the other's a strong finisher, it put me in a difficult situation," he said.
"The last thing I wanted to do was lead Sanchez out for the stage, cause he's breathing down my neck on GC, but so was the entire peloton so I thought better to play for something than lose everything," Evans explained.
Meanwhile, Race Director, Mike Turtur, said that excitement of the day’s racing was unparalleled in history of the tour, saying: “That is the best stage we have had in the race… because of what was at stake… the jersey being held by Greipel (Andre), the possibility of Cadel (Evans) taking the jersey and then the passion and the desire for guys to win a stage like Sanchez – I think it just had everything, I mean you couldn’t have scripted a better day."
“On the climb, the reaction of the people was sensational and when they heard that Cadel was at the front and making a bid it was unreal,” he continued, adding “I have not experienced a climb like that other than at the Tour de France it was just unbelievable, there is thousands up there, apparently people were camping up there last night”.
With tomorrow’s final stage taking place on a closed circuit through the streets of Adelaide, Greipel, who won the race two years ago, looks set to become only the second rider to win the Tour Down Under twice, the other being hometown hero Stuart O’Grady.
But Team Katusha’s Robbie McEwen, back from the injury that ruled him out for most of the last season, will also be eyeing a stage victory tomorrow as he looks to leapfrog Roberts and Sanchez for the second step on the podium.
Greg Henderson of Team Sky led the chasing peloton in nine seconds behind Sanchez, but slips to sixth overall after finishing ninth today, 24 seconds down on Greipel.
Talking about Greipel struggling on the final climb, Henderson reflected: "We initially dropped him [Greipel] and I thought: this might be a good situation. But then I looked behind, and fifty metres back there were four or five [HTC-Columbia] guys pacing him up. I waited for them and jumped on. They've got a very good team, no question."
Tomorrow’s final stage will be broadcast live in the UK on Sky Sports 1 from 2.30am.
Stage 5 Results
1. Luis Leon Sanchez, Caisse d’Epargne
2. Luke Roberts, Milram
3. Alejandro Valverde, Caisse d’Epargne
4. Cadel Evans,BMC Racing
5. Peter Sagan, Liquigas
6. Markus Fothen, Milram
7. Sebastien Rosseler, Team RadioShack
8. Cameron Mayer, Garmin-Transitions
9. Greg Henderson, Team Sky
10. Fabio Sabatini, Liquigas
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.