Santos Tour Down Under Stage 4: Oscar Freire wins sprint, Martin Kohler back in race lead

Three-time world champ takes first win of final season, Greipel misses split to lose leader's jersey

by Simon_MacMichael   January 20, 2012  

Oscar Freire has claimed the first victory of what he insists will be his final season on the road, and his maiden win in Katusha’s colours, by taking Stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under in Tanunda. With the peloton splitting on the climb of Menglers Hill, race leader André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol was missing from the finale, and BMC Racing’s Martin Kohler is back in the leader’s jersey for the third time this week.

Three-time world champion Freire, now aged 35, has been plagued by breathing problems in recent years, and has had surgery on his sinuses.

However, in winning today from Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s Gerald Ciolek and RadioShack-Nissan-Trek’s Daniele Bennati, the former Rabobank rider sent out a sign that he is determined to end his career on a high – a fourth victory in Milan-San Remo and challenging for gold in the Olympic road race are his two big targets.

"It was a difficult finale," said Freire afterwards. "I knew I had a really good chance to win. The race was hard [so] it was better for me. I'm happy to score the team's first victory of the year after joining Katusha," he added.

That split on Menglers Hill meant that 50 riders were left to contest the finish, resulting in a reshuffle of the general classification, with Kohler now leading by two seconds from Rabobank’s Michael Matthews, with Freire third on the same time.

Ciolek is fourth, six seconds off the lead, and there are another 40 riders between eight and twelve seconds behind Kohler ahead of tomorrow’s decisive Stage 5, which features a summit finish on Willunga Hill.

Those include Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Simon Gerrans of GreenEdge and former world number one Alejandro Valverde of Movistar in his first race since returning from a two-year doping ban.

"I didn't expect to be back in the lead but we dropped Andre Greipel on the climb and then we were riding hard to make the gap bigger," reflected Kohler.

"Tomorrow there will be ten or fifteen riders contesting the win at the top of Willunga Hill. It's going to be very hard and I don't know if I can keep this lead or not but I'm already happy with what I'm doing here.

"Our team BMC feels at home with all the support we get but of course we are the team of Cadel Evans," added the Swiss rider.

Matthews, world under-23 road race champion in 2010, is one of those with his sights set on taking the race lead on Willunga Hill.

"The jersey I want is ochre and I'll try to get it tomorrow," insisted the 21-year-old. "It's unfortunate that I missed it today by only two seconds. [But] not having the jersey today takes a lot of pressure off you but it's also better to be ahead of everyone else."

The pace was high from the start of the 130km stage in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood, and it was only after the first intermediate sprint, won by Greipel, that a four-man break managed to get clear, comprising Uni SA’s Jay McCarthy, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Ruben Perez, AG2R’s Biel Kadri and Katusha’s Gatis Smukulis. 

The peloton had swept up the escapees by the time Menglers Hill approached, with the pace causing the peloton to fracture as the riders headed up the ascent.

One of the riders in the front group, Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, finished fourth to move into the lead of the Jayco Points classification from Greipel.

"I just try every day to move up on overall GC,” said the Norwegian. “It's nice to have the sprint jersey. "I didn't expect it but that's not the one I'm looking for, I want to win the jersey of the overall classification.

"My team mate [Geraint] Thomas gave me a great lead out but I came off his wheel a bit too early. The battle is still very open."

Tomorrow’s 151.5km stage begins in McLaren Vale and features two ascents of Old Willunga Hill, the second also marking the first summit finish in the 14-year history of the race.

Santos Tour Down Under Stage 4 result

1  FREIRE, Oscar           Katusha                     3:08:34
2  CIOLEK, Gerald          Omega Pharma-QuickStep  All at same time
3  BENNATI, Daniele        RadioShack-Nissan
4  BOASSON HAGEN, Edvald   Sky Procycling
5  MATTHEWS, Michael       Rabobank
6  ROJAS, Jose Joaquin     Movistar
7  ROBERTS, Luke           Team Saxo Bank
8  KOREN, Kristijan        Liquigas-Cannondale
9  LAGUTIN, Sergey         Vacansoleil-DCM
10 HAUSSLER, Heinrich      Garmin-Barracuda
11 ROY, Jérémy             FDJ-BigMat
12 MORENO, Javier          Movistar
13 PAUWELS, Serge          Omega Pharma-QuickStep
14 REYNES, Vincente        Lotto-Belisol
15 GUTIERREZ, José Ivan    Movistar
16 BELKOV, Maxim           Katusha
17 GERRANS, Simon          GreenEDGE
18 SULZBERGER, Bernard     UNI SA-Australia
19 THOMAS, Geraint         Sky Procycling
20 VAN AVERMAET, Greg      BMC

Overall Standings after Stage 4

1  KOHLER, Martin         BMC                         15:03:34
2  MATTHEWS, Michael      Rabobank                     at 0:02
3  FREIRE, Oscar          Katusha 
4  CIOLEK, Gerald         Omega Pharma-QuickStep       at 0:06
5  GERRANS, Simon         GreenEDGE                    at 0:08
6  BENNATI, Daniele       RadioShack-Nissan 
7  BOASSON HAGEN, Edvald  Sky Procycling 
8  BAKELANTS, Jan         RadioShack-Nissan 
9  VORGANOV, Eduard       Katusha 
10 DENNIS, Rohan          UNI SA-Australia             at 0:09