- Adelaide 19 – 26 January 2014
'Andre the Giant' stands tall in Tanunda
Andre Greipel entered the record books today the most prolific stage winner in the 15 year history of the Santos Tour Down Under. The German powerhouse thundered across the line to notch win number thirteen in the town of Tanunda.
It's Greipel's third win this week. He grabbed glory in Sunday's People's Choice Classic, the curtain-raiser for the Tour, before equalling the 12 stage wins record of Australian star Robbie McEwen in the L'Oreal Men Expert Stage 1 on Tuesday in Lobethal.
Today he unleashed a burst of speed that none of his rivals could match at the end of the 126.5km Bupa Stage 4 from Modbury to the Barossa town.
"There was a bit of crosswind and then the headwind in the last two kilometres, it was pretty messy," said Greipel. "The team did a good job to keep in the front. We did the perfect lead out again. We work good together. It's just nice to have those teammates.
"First I am thinking about the air conditioning in the hotel," said the two time Santos Tour Down Under champion when asked whether he can add to his tally in Sunday's final stage, traditionally decided in a bunch sprint. "Tomorrow I will try to rest and then think about Sunday."
He crossed the line in a time of 3:02:52 ahead of Italian Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Queensland's Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff).
"I was well positioned on Andre Greipel’s wheel," said Ferrari. "I’ve fought a lot to be there but he was clearly superior. My head is ready for winning but I lack a bit of power still.
"Finishing second sucks but I have to take it as a good result for now," Ferrari said.
But the fast and furious finishing burst was marred by a crash 750m from home that brought down around 15 riders.
"We were all fighting for position in the last three kilometres," said Cantwell. "It was important to have good position. My third place goes to the team. I stayed in the right-hand gutter.
"There was a crash with about one kilometre to go, but I was already ahead of that. When it came to the sprint, I got a little boxed in. I couldn't open up until 150 metres to go. I came through super-fast. Who knows, maybe with another couple metres I could have improved by a position or two.
"I am happy with third in a WorldTour race," said Cantwell. "The team is in great spirits. I am going to save my energy for Sunday."
Australians Graeme Brown (Blanco) and Bernie Sulzberger (UniSA-Australia) were amongst those who crashed and both will have precautionary X-rays later today at Sportsmed SA, Brown for an injured wrist and Sulzberger a finger.
Under race rules riders who crash or are caught up in a crash in the final three kilometres of the stage are awarded the same time as the bunch they were with when the crash occurred and after officials had adjusted times and accounted for all the riders it was Welshman Geraint Thomas of Sky Pro Cycling who again donned the Santos Tour Down Under ochre leader's jersey.
"RadioShack is strong. Blanco and Movistar have two guys. They will all be coming pretty hard at the bottom. I am a bit tired now, it's the first race of the season," said Thomas. "I am going to give it everything, hopefully that will be enough."
His margin over Blanco's Tom-Jelte Slagter remains a mere five seconds with the young Dutchman still in the lead in the Cycle Instead Young Rider competition.
"It’s been a crazy end of stage today," said Slagter. "It was stressful because of the wind. Graeme Brown did an awesome job to take one second away from Geraint Thomas. He (Brown) is a big team player. It’s a pity that he badly crashed."
130 riders rode from the grassy start line at Civic Park, Modbury this morning and it was reigning world champion, Philippe Gilbert, (BMC) who got the action underway with an attack in the opening kilometres. Reigning Australian under 23 time trial champion, Damien Howson (UniSA-Australia) went with him and the pair rode strongly at the front to set up a lead that stretched to around three and a half minutes.
"Since I crashed, I’ve lost all chances of doing well on GC (overall)," said Gilbert referring to the crash on stage 2. "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," said Gilbert of his young breakaway companion.
At Humbug Scrub the 20 year old Australian collected the maximum ten points for the category two Skoda King of the Mountains climb that came 30.2km into the stage. While local hero Jack Bobridge grabbed the third place points to move into the lead in the climber's classification.
"My first goal is to help “TJ” (Slagter) to win the Tour," said Bobridge. "Secondly, the KOM is something possible to take. My form is coming, but very slowly, you can’t rush form.
"I’ve been sick yesterday so hopefully tomorrow I’ll have a good day and we’ll get the maximum result up Willunga Hill."
In the two Jayco intermediate sprints of the day it was Gilbert who grabbed the top points. He led Howson over the line at Mt Pleasant (80.6km) and again at Springton (89.3km).
Back in the bunch Australian Graeme Brown sprinted over the top of Tour leader Thomas to prevent him from grabbing the one second bonus for third place and increasing his lead over Brown's team mate Tom-Jelte Slagter.
"Everyone was thinking about the crosswind sections. It was quite stressful," said Thomas. "I am used to a bit of argy-bargy, so I am used to that. Graeme Brown was sent up there to get those seconds and he did.
"We thought we may as well have a go (at the intermediate sprints) 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," Thomas predicted. "I’m confident because the boys will be able to support me to the finish."
Greipel has reclaimed the lead in the Jayco Sprint Classification sitting on 30 points, one clear of Thomas while Gilbert's efforts in the lead today has moved him to 28 points and third in the sprint ranking.
Gilbert and Howson shared the Europcar Most Competitive Rider honours for the stage which was some consolation for being reeled in by the peloton just six kilometres from the finish.
"It was a huge honour to be away with Philippe Gilbert but it was also a very tough day," said Howson who placed third in the under 23 time trial at last year's road world championships. "Philippe is someone I look up to. He’s a hero of mine. He’s the current world champion. To be part of a breakaway with him was great.
"We had a very small chance of making it to the finish but racing is sometimes unpredictable, so you can only try. Hopefully a few people will have taken note of what I did today and today’s breakaway is something for the future."
Earlier in the day Australian Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) was forced to abandon the race due to illness which means 129 riders will start tomorrow's Jayco Stage 5.
The so-called 'Queen' stage of the race travels 151.5 kilometres from McLaren Vale where the vines meet the sea and will take in the scenic coastal vistas of the Fleurieu Peninsula before heading to the finish atop Old Willunga Hill which the riders will climb twice.
Today also saw six-and-a-half thousand recreational riders taking part in the annual Bupa Challenge Tour presented by The Advertiser that kicked off early in the morning and took the participants over the same route as the professionals in the Santos Tour Down Under.