Tom-Jelte Slagter of Blanco Pro Cycling is set to win the Santos Tour Down Under after wresting the race lead from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas on the penultimate stage’s summit finish at Old Willunga Hill. Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Gerrans celebrated Australia Day by taking the stage win ahead of Slagter.
With a number of riders within striking distance of the race lead this morning, Edvald Boasson Hagen had made sure that Thomas remained in touch as several riders played their cards on the two ascents of Old WIllunga Hill.
Slagter, who had started the day 5 seconds behind Thomas, was sitting on the Welshman's wheel, and made his move once the Team Sky man had been isolated, attacking with around 500 metres left of the climb as his rival started to tire.
The Blanco ridrer quickly reached the two riders ahead of him, Gerrans and Movistar’s Xavier Moreno, only the Australian able to respond as he caught them.
Last year, on the first summit finish here, Gerrans had been pipped to the line by Alejandro Valverde, though the GreenEdge rider would take the race lead by the slenderest of margins, sealing his overall victory the following day.
Today, with Thomas back down the hill and Slagter guaranteed the race lead by virtue of bonus seconds alone, the win belonged to Gerrans.
"It was absolutely fantastic, the crowd today was bigger than a stage at the Tour de France, really there were people around the whole course today cheering us on, it was a great atmosphere," said Gerrans afterwards.
"Obviously I was pretty disappointed to drop out of contention on stage two for overall and I had one chance to really make up for that and that was today so I’m rapt.
"To win here on Australia Day, it’s a fantastic feeling and a big thanks to my Orica-GreenEdge team mates they waited in line for me today so it was great to finish it off.”
Describing his decisive move, Slagter said: "With 600 metres to go, I’ve seen Simon Gerrans going fast with a Movistar rider.
"I could have just gone for third place as long as I had a gap over Geraint Thomas but I wasn’t sure about the seconds. I wanted to win the stage and make a gap on GC.
"I preferred to have my adversaries as far behind as possible," he said. "For the stage win, Gerrans was fast but it doesn’t matter really.”
Poised to win the opening WorldTour race of 2013, the 23-year-old, who on Thursday took his first ever pro victory, said: "It’s an incredible feeling!"
"I never won a pro race before and I’ve a stage here this week, second today with the jersey and I have enough of a lead to believe that I can my win the first WorldTour race of the year tomorrow."
"It comes from such great team work. I’m really proud to show this team to the world. It looks like the real beginning of my career even though the season is long."
Reflecting on losing the leader’s jersey, Thomas said: "The legs just went with 500 metres or so to go. All the boys did a great ride. Eddy (Boasson Hagen) did a great turn.
“I should have swung over and let someone else do a turn, but I ended up doing all the work. I was a bit empty then.
"Gerro [Simon Gerrans] came past me and it was a bit too fast to get on his wheel. Then I got stuck out in the wind and I just went backwards with about 400m to go and lost the whole thing.
“It might not look like I was panicking, I was giving it everything, but there wasn't much coming out.
"Afterwards, you're pretty gutted because you wanted to win. For the first race of the year, we started with a bang and ended with a bang, the wrong kind of bang.
"It's been a good week, a good start of the year." With a thought for those of us back in the UK, he added: "At least it's not snowing."
Early in the stage, seven riders including the Vacansoleil-DCM pair Thomas De Gendt and Tomasz Marczynski had got away on three loops of a circuit that skirted the coast, the race coming back together as it headed onto two laps of the closing circuit including Old Willunga Hill where the stage, and the overall, would be decided.
Santos Tour Down Under Stage 5 result 1 GERRANS, Simon ORICA GreenEDGE 3:36:25 2 SLAGTER, Tom Jelte Blanco st 3 MORENO BAZAN, Javier Movistar 0:10 4 IZAGIRRE, Ion Euskaltel Euskadi 0:12 5 MACHADO, Tiago Radioshack Leopard 0:13 6 KELDERMAN, Wilco Blanco 0:16 7 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi st 8 VALLS FERRI, Rafael Vacansoleil-DCM st 9 PIETROPOLLI, Daniele Lampre-Merida st 10 HERMANS, Ben Radioshack Leopard st 11 VEIKKANEN, Jussi FDJ 0:21 12 ELISSONDE, Kenny** FDJ st 13 SANTAROMITA, Ivan BMC 0:23 14 BAUER, Jack Garmin Sharp 0:25 15 ROJAS GIL, Jose Joaquin Movistar st 16 MOINARD, Amaël BMC 0:27 17 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 0:28 18 AMADOR, Andrey Movistar 0:32 19 BENNETT, George Radioshack Leopard st 20 WELLENS, Tim** Lotto Belisol 0:38 Overall Standings after Stage 5 1 SLAGTER, Tom Jelte Blanco 16:35:33 2 MORENO BAZAN, Javier Movistar 0:13 3 HERMANS, Ben Radioshack Leopard 0:25 4 IZAGIRRE, Ion Euskaltel Euskadi 0:28 5 THOMAS, Geraint Sky Procycling 0:29 6 MACHADO, Tiago Radioshack Leopard st 7 IZAGIRRE, Gorka Euskaltel Euskadi 0:32 8 PIETROPOLLI, Daniele Lampre-Merida st 9 KELDERMAN, Wilco Blanco st 10 VEIKKANEN, Jussi FDJ 0:37
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.