Article by: James Raison from The Lead,
Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) has taken his second victory in as many days at the Tour Down Under in South Australia, out-sprinting Ben Swift (SKY), and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo). His lead has now stretched to 13 seconds.
“He’s got this race by the scruff of the neck,” said Robbie McEwan after the stage.
Stage 4 of the TDU left the suburban Norwood Parade café and shopping strip 3km east of Adelaide, heading across the Fleurieu to the seaside town of Victor Harbor, 80km south of the capital of South Australia.
Orica-GreenEdge shut down all attacks until the first hotly-contested sprint point taken by the expertly led-out race leader of Simon Gerrans over former race leader Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) and Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge).
Three riders broke clear soon after, with Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Patrick Shaw (UniSA), and David Tanner (IAM Cycling) stretching their lead to nearly four minutes ahead of the Orica GreenEdge led peloton behind.
Then 50km from the finish the teams began organising for the final chase.
Patrick Shaw took the next sprint point, over an indifferent Gougeard, and Tanner shaking his head at the unnecessary attack crossed third. They were returned to the peloton at the start of the Crows Nest Climb.
BMC’s Danilo Wyss applied the pressure on the Crows Nest Road climb, a steady stream of riders dropping off the back. Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge) ushered race-leader Gerrans up the side of the bunch, shadowed by second placeman Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff). Impey found himself leading the climb soon after.
Richie Porte (BMC) attacked, followed by climber’s jersey wearer Sergio Henao (SKY) who took the KOM points.
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Only 50 riders remained in the front group after the climb. A crash at the back of the leading bunch reduced that number again. Julien Arredondo (Trek-Segafredo) had to pick himself up off the road for the second stage in a row.
Lieuwe Westra (Astana) mounted a brief attack with 10km to go but returned to the bunch soon after. Team SKY, again, lined up on the front of the stage inside the last 10km, as they have almost every stage.
SKY led into the stretch with their man Ben Swift perfectly placed. Impey, again, pulled Gerrans into a textbook position, peeling off as the sprint began. Gerrans was patient, appearing to easily gap Swift and Nizzolo. He raised his fists in victory as the men following him desperately threw their bikes at the line. McCarthy crossed the line fourth, holding onto second overall.
“They’re really making my life as easy as possible,” Gerrans said of his team after the race.
With two more stages, including Old Willunga Hill in the famous McLaren Vale wine region, he’s well aware that the race isn’t over yet though.
“I still have to be very attentive. There’s still a heck of a lot of work to be done,” he said.
But McEwan said he “can’t see him losing the race from here”.
Tomorrow’s queen stage leaves from McLaren Vale, 40km south of Adelaide, finishing after two ascents of Old Willunga Hill, a place where Gerrans launched a race winning attack two years ago.
Defending champ Rohan Dennis (BMC) has already laid out his plan to “try to isolate him [Gerrans]” on the first climb. Then “it’s a cross wind leading into Willunga after that so tactics are going to play a big part of tomorrow, then just pure guts.”
What were they thinking?
At this point it’s clear the SKY boys have all their eggs in the wrong basket. The SKY train has been at the front of the race for Ben Swift in the final kilometres of three stages, and the pre-race People’s Choice classic criterium, but with no results. Meanwhile Sergio Henao is fourth overall, 28 seconds down, but the Columbian climber could conceivably rise to second with a strong performance tomorrow. Time to throw everything behind your Columbian sensation.