André Greipel takes 13th career stage win in Santos Tour Down Under, Geraint Thomas keeps lead
Team Sky rider keeps out of the crashes ahead of tomorrow's decisive summit finish
André Greipel has won his second stage of this year’s Santos Tour Down Under, the thirteenth of his career, taking him ahead of Robbie McEwen as the most successful rider in the history of the race. The closing kilometres were marred by several crashes as the peloton headed towards the finish in Tanunda, with the wind giving rise to nerves. Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas keeps the overall lead ahead of tomorrow’s crucial penultimate stage, which finishes on Old Willunga Hill.
As Greg Henderson, Greipel’s final leadout man, peeled off to launch him for the sprint, Roberto Ferrari, in his first race for Lampre Merida, tried to get on the German’s wheel but the latter had too much power for him and won convincingly. Saxo-Tinkoff’s Jonathan Cantwell was third, with British 22-year-old Andy Fenn of Omega Pharma-Quick Step coming fourth.
"There was a bit of crosswind and then the headwind in the last two kilometres, it was pretty messy," reflected Greipel. "The team did a good job to keep in the front. We did the perfect leadout again. We work good together. It's just nice to have those team mates.
Asked whether he would look to take his tally to fourteen stages in Adelaide on Sunday, the final day of the race, Greipel joked:"First I am thinking about the air conditioning in the hotel. Tomorrow I will try to rest and then think about Sunday."
Inside the final kilometre came the third and most serious crash in the closing stages, bringing down around 15 riders. Worst hurt were Graeme Brown of Blanco Pro Cycling and Bernie Sulzberger of UniSA-Australia, who were taken to hospital for precautionary x-rays on, respectively, a wrist and finger.
With that crash taking place inside the final 3 kilometres, riders involved won’t have lost any time, but it was the prospect of such a chute and the potential for injury that saw race leader Thomas keep safely out of harm’s way towards the front of the bunch.
Earlier in the stage, the Welshman had tried to pick up bonus seconds that would have extended his slender 5-second lead over Blanco’s Tom-Jelte Slagter, but was thwarted as the Dutch rider’s team countered Sky’s move.
"Everyone was thinking about the crosswind sections. It was quite stressful," explained Thomas. "I am used to a bit of argy-bargy, so I am used to that. Graeme Brown was sent up there [at the intermediate sprints] to get those seconds and he did.
"We thought we may as well have a go because it didn’t require fighting for positions. It was worth trying. I didn’t lose anything but I didn’t beat Graeme Brown so there was no change at the end of the day.
"It’ll come down to the second time on Willunga Hill tomorrow," said the Welshman. "I’m confident because the boys will be able to support me to the finish."
With 20 riders within a minute of the race lead, however, including a number of strong climbers, they are likely to have a fight on their hands.
Australian under-23 time trial champion, Damien Howson, who has dreams of one day winning the rainbow jersey in that discipline, had a day to remember, spending more than 115 kilometres alone out in front of the peloton with reigning road world champion Philippe Gilbert, whom he said afterwards was “a hero of mine.”
The latter, whose overall hopes ended with a crash on Wednesday, had initiated the move 3 kilometres after the start in Modbury, Howson following. They were eventually swept up 6 kilometres from the end, and shared the combativity prize for the day.
"Since I crashed, I’ve lost all chances of doing well on GC," commented Gilbert.
"That means what’s left of the race now means mostly training for me. Yesterday I tried to win the stage but today I knew there was no chance to avoid a bunch sprint, so it gave an opportunity to break away.
"I’m used to doing one breakaway like that in the early part of the season every year. It’s good to go deep into my reserve and work towards my goals of the Ardennes classics.
"We got a maximum of 3:30 lead, it was not enough but it gave me the chance to discover a very talented young rider, Damien Howson who gave me good turns during our ride."
Santos Tour Down Under Stage 4 result 1 GREIPEL, André Lotto Belisol 3:02:52 2 FERRARI, Roberto Lampre-Merida All at same time 3 CANTWELL, Jonathan Saxo-Tinkoff 4 FENN, Andrew Omega Pharma-Quick-Step 5 MARKUS, Barry Vacansoleil-DCM 6 KITTEL, Marcel Argos-Shimano 7 RENSHAW, Mark Blanco 8 van HUMMEL, Kenny Vacansoleil-DCM 9 DEMARE, Arnaud FDJ 10 LODEWYCK, Klaas BMC 11 CHEREL, Mikael AG2R La Mondiale 12 GUARDINI, Andrea Astana 13 STEEGMANS, Gert Omega Pharma-Quick-Step 14 HUNTER, Robert Garmin Sharp 15 VON HOFF, Steele Garmin Sharp 16 SUTTON, Christopher Sky Procycling 17 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 18 HENDERSON, Greg Lotto Belisol 19 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi 20 BAUER, Jack Garmin Sharp Overall Standings after Stage 4 1 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 12:59:09 2 SLAGTER, Tom Jelte Blanco 0:05 3 MORENO BAZAN, Javier Movistar 0:06 4 HERMANS, Ben Radioshack Leopard 0:08 5 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi 0:15 6 IZAGIRRE, Ion Euskaltel Euskadi st 7 BAUER, Jack Garmin Sharp st 8 MACHADO, Tiago Radioshack Leopard st 9 HANSEN, Adam Lotto Belisol st 10 BENNETT, George Radioshack Leopard st