Richie Porte (BMC) won his third consecutive Willunga Hill stage, overpowering Sergio Henao (SKY) and Michael Woods (Cannondale Pro Cycling), while race leader Simon Gerrans finished eighth, 17 seconds later.
Robbie McEwan described Stage 5 of the Tour Down Under as “a battle of wills on Willunga Hill.”
The queen stage of South Australia’s festival of cycling started at the winemaking town of McLaren Vale, but unlike the spectators, the riders wouldn’t be sampling the dry red wines the area is famous for producing. Instead, the riders could look forward to 150kms spanning from the vineyards to the sea, while ‘enjoying’ two 300m ascents straight up Old Willunga Hill in quick succession.
It was Lars Boom (Astana), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Pim Ligthart(Lotto-Soudal) and Reinhardt Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data) who escaped, as Orica GreeEdge settled the following peloton.
Orica GreenEdge’s Michael Hepburn again set the pace, as they sheltered Gerrans further back in the bunch and the breakaway continued to stretch their advantage. Previous race leader and Orica GreenEdge sprint sensation was the consummate teammate, taking a long turn on the front for his team leader.
he break was the strongest of the TDU so far, all men worked and their advantage was six minutes with 50km to go. Neither sprint point was contested by the breakaway, the four leaders were happy keep rhythm.
“I’m giving the break a chance,” said Robbie McEwan.
The peloton was nervous with 30km to go, they trailed the break by 4 minutes. Ag2r La Mondiale, Cannondale, SKY, Giant-Alpecin, Trek-Segafredo and Tinkoff all took turns to push the pace hard at the front.
They started the first ascent of Old WillungaHill two minutes down on the leaders, and Peter Kannaugh (SKY) applied the pressure. Rensburg attacked the break, and summited the climb first, but was soon caught by the breakaway. BMC pushed the pace hard behind, trying to pressure Orica GreenEdge.
The break conceded before the final ascent of Old Willunga Hill, led by SKY. Soon the field was in single file as Geraint Thomas inflicted pain on the front. Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and then 19-year old Lucas Hamilton (UniSA) tried attacks, but both were shut down by Daryl Impey’s (Orica GreenEdge) relentless pace setting.
Richie Porte made his annual Willunga Hill move with 1km to go, followed by Woods and Henao as an isolated Gerrans led the peloton behind. Porte tried everything to shake Henao, launching multiple attacks. The Columbian cracked within the final 400 metres, Porte gapped him and pushed for the line. His celebration was muted, the hard effort written all over his face.
“I never expected that one,” said Richie Porte, slumped over his bars.
“The BMC guys were absolutely incredible. It’s always nice to win in Australia. Three in a row, I’m really happy.”
The thick, deafening crowd on the ascent made Porte comment that “it does feel like riding the Tour De France up this climb”.
Porte has clawed himself to second overall, but concedes victory to Gerrans with tomorrow’s stage likely to be a bunch sprint.
“I couldn’t sprint out of sight on a dark night,” said Porte.
Race leader Gerrans looked just as exhausted as Porte.
“Wow that was a tough finish,” said Gerrans. “The calibre of climber in this race made that final ascent extra tough.”
Gerrans showed no sign of complacency ahead of the final stage.
“Hopefully that’s enough. One stage to go, and anything can happen, but I’d rather be ahead than behind,” he said.
Gerrans leads the race by 9 seconds over Porte, and 11 seconds over Henao.
The final Stage 6 of the TDU is 20 laps of a 4.5km street circuit through the centre of Adelaide and around the world famous Adelaide Oval, the home of cricket in Australia. It’s a day for the sprinters, but it’s far from easy with 20 ascents of a steep but short effort on Montefiore Hill to sting their legs.
What were they thinking?
There are 17 teams on the pro tour that didn’t sign Daryl Impey. What were they thinking? While Gerrans takes the race victory, the MVP of the Tour Down Under is Impey. He’s set up three victories for his teammates (including the pre-race People’s Choice classic) and was the last man left for Gerrans on the Willunga Hill climb. Not to mention, cushioning Simon Gerrans as the two men crashed on Stage 2. That’s dedication! The South African deserves a holiday. Might I suggest South Australia? It’s lovely this time of year.
Author:JamesRaison Photos: Santos Tour Down Under/Regallo
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