Greipel Powers to Stage 4 Victory in Tour Down Under 2014
Evans went into the stage with a 12 second lead over fellow Australian and rival Simon Gerrans but at the end of the day that had been whittled down to seven seconds due to a concerted assault by the GreenEdge team.
Precious seconds were on offer early in today's stage that departed from the cosmopolitan Adelaide suburb of Unley and headed out through the Adelaide Hills to the beautiful Fleurieu Peninsula for a 149 kilometre stage with 115 thousand fans treated to some sensational racing action.
The first Adam Internet intemediate sprint was contested at Echunga, 25km into the stage which meant the pace was on from the start with the contenders anxious to claw back time on Evans.
Gerrans was set up superbly by his team mates and claimed the maximum three seconds to close his deficit on Evans to nine seconds. His GreenEdge team mate, Matt Goss, was second ahead of Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) who claimed a one second bonus.
"Today it went pretty well with the time bonus I was after," said Gerrans. "Our plan was to chase the first breakaway if it was within reach before the first intermediate sprint, and if not, we’d target the second.
"We eventually managed to do both," said Gerrans. I’m pretty happy with that."
After the furore of the early pace Frenchman Axel Domant (AG2R - La Mondiale) and Australian Cameron Wurf (Cannondale) eventually rode clear and at one stage were more than four minutes ahead of the peloton.
The only Skoda King of the Mountain climb of the day was at at the 96 kilometre mark at Myponga where Domant took ten points ahead of Wurf. Not long after Australian Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) led the chasing group across to add four points to his tally and hold onto the green polka-dot jersey for another day.
Crosswinds and an energetic chase split the peloton with around 40 riders, including the main overall contenders, riding into the front group. The fact the second Adam Internet sprint of the day at Yankalilla, 30 kilometres from the finish, was fast approaching also added intensity to the pace with Team GreenEdge hoping Gerrans would score another bonus.
He did, but not the mamimum because Garmin-Sharp steered Haas through to steal the three seconds. Gerrans had to settle for second place and two seconds while Italian Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) grabbed a one second bonus.
Bike trouble struck for Evans just before the sprint but after a bike change, and with assistance from his team mates, he rejoined the leaders.
"It’s been a nervous day with the wind and GreenEdge really took control of the race putting the whole team (on the front) for the intermediate sprints," said Evans. "The first one didn’t go favourably for me and the second one was even worse.
"Looking at the numbers, we have four stages favourable to GreenEdge and two for me, so numbers-wise it’s not in my advantage but of course Willunga will be important," said Evans of tomorrow's Queen stage that ends atop Old Willunga Hill. "Certainly if GreenEdge keep going for the intermediate sprints they can eat away at seven seconds pretty quickly.
"It’s certainly not my area of expertise and Simon is good in the sprints and has a very, very good team for that.... but we’ll see what happens on the way to Willunga. With the finish line at the top I think everyone is going to be looking at Willunga of course, and it goes back into my area of racing and experience.
"Of course to win the race I’m going to have to do something pretty special there."
Gerrans tried to grab more seconds on Evans at the finish but just missed out placing fourth across the line.
"It would have been great to finish one place higher and get more time bonus but a flat bunch sprint finish isn’t my speciality," said Gerrans. "With two stages to go, the race for the overall win remains wide open. The race is far from won."
Meantime Greipel, who was pipped for the win in Sunday's People's Choice Classic and was second again in the San Remo Pasta Stage 1, had earmarked today as his and he was piloted to the finishing straight by the Lotto-Belisol express. Right behind him was team mate Jurgen Roelandts from Belgium with Italian Elia Viviani (Cannondale) third.
"I was always confident that I’d win something here. In the inaugural criterium in Adelaide and in stage 1, I just made mistakes but that can happen in sprinting," said Greipel.
"Before today’s stage, I thought this would be the first day for a sprint," said the German champion who in 2012 also won the stage into Victor Harbor and holds the event record for the most stage wins. "Coming first and second says enough of the great work our team Lotto-Belisol has done today.
"It was nervous all along, Team GreenEdge had six guys at the front of the bunch but we put pressure on them after the intermediate sprint," Greipel explained.
"I know the area of Victor Harbor pretty well. I know the last climb too. It’s quite open to the wind. The way we rode as a team makes it a well deserved win," he said.
It was a bonus that Roelandts held on for second place.
"I was a bit nervous with 8 kilometer to go because we had all the pressure to win," said Roelandts. "We hit that last chicane with André in perfect position and after leading him out, I sat up a bit, but when I saw no one coming around me, I restarted my sprint to finish second.
"That's always nice for the points and the confidence, knowing the work over the winter has paid off."
Lotto-Belisol had more reason to celebrate with Adam Hansen doing the hard yards for Greipel but still managing to hold on to the Skoda King of the Mountain category. But he admits his aim now is a high overall place (he is currently sitting in 12th place).
"To win with André is why we’re here and today was our big goal with him," said Hansen. "I just stayed near him as much as possible during the stage and did my job when attacks went in the final hill. I closed the gap to the attackers and made sure I had my guys in a good position to lead André out.
"He’s one of the best sprinters in the world so we always believe in him to be able to win," said Hansen.
20 year old UniSA-Australia rider, Jack Haig, had a fabulous day in the saddle finishing with the lead group to grab the Cycle Instead Young Rider jersey.
"With all the crosswinds, it was a question of staying out of the gutter. The bunch split and I was the only young rider up there I think. Anyway the kid from FDJ [Kenny Elissonde] wasn’t so I take the jersey over from him," explained Haig. "I have a really good chance to win this jersey tomorrow because I’m a good climber.
"This is my first Santos Tour Down Under, it’s amazing!"
The Europcar Most Competitive Rider for the stage was awarded to Wurf who says his ride was motivated by past events.
"What happened in the Giro (Tour of Italy) last year (was) every time I went into a breakaway, Elia Viviani got a good result, so he did today too." said the former rowing champion.
"I attacked again in the final climb to get the sprint trains disorganised. I was hungry today because I was very disappointed yesterday to not get the position I wanted up to Corkscrew climb."
"With Jens Voigt as part of our race roster, we also have a bit of a competition running for being the rider who attacks the most," explained Wurf of Team Trek Factory Racing who scored yesterday's Europcar Most Competitive Rider award.