Tour Down Under stages 3-5

You could be forgiven for thinking the race leader’s ochre jersey is something of a hot potato. Having passed from Andre Greipel to BMC’s Martin Kohler on stage two, the powerful German sprinter reclaimed it with victory in stage three, only to hand it back to the Swiss rider the following day, who then relinquished it in turn to GreenEDGE’s Simon Gerrans. The Aussie will now defend the jersey in tomorrow’s final stage in the heart of Adelaide.

Stage 3: Greipel rules the sprint (again)

Two out of three for Greipel

Andre Greipel completed an hat-trick of 2012 wins as he edged out Yauheni Hutarovich at Victor Harbour. The German’s second win of the race moved him back into the ochre jersey, displacing erstwhile leader Martin Kohler.

A routine flat stage waved goodbye to a familiar locale, Unley (making its 11th appearance as a start town in only the 14th edition of the race) before predictably ending in a bunch sprint. Equally unsurprising was the well-timed acceleration of Greipel, who benefitted from the hard work of Rabobank and Sky in lining out the peloton in preparation for the final gallop.

It was Sky whose train, working for Edvald Boasson Hagen, led under the 1km banner. Rabobank’s Mark Renshaw blinked first, making his jump too early and inadvertently reverting to his former role of lead-out rather than featured sprinter. Boasson Hagen launched off the back of the Aussie, but he in turn was jumped by Hutarovich, only for Greipel’s devastating kick to ease him past the Belarusian by half a wheel. The ten-second bonus for the stage win moved Greipel back into ochre, eight seconds ahead of Kohler.

Greipel dedicated his win to Jurgen Roelandts, who suffered a fractured vertebra in the 15-man crash near the end of Tuesday’s opening stage.

This victory is for Jurgen Roelandts, who’s giving us his support from the hospital. Although we have three injured riders, we still have a great team.

The most important point of today’s race was the one kilometre to go mark, I asked my guys to put me there in fifth or sixth position, and they did.

Earlier in the day, a four-man break consisting of Katusha’s Eduard Vorganov (who had featured in stage one’s day-long break), Vacansoleil’s Thomas De Gendt (a stage winner at both Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse last year), RadioShack’s Jan Bakelants and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Matt Brammeier had raced 5½ minutes ahead of the main bunch, only to be pulled back with more than 40km remaining.

Despite some attempted attacks, a couple of roundabouts and a right/left chicane inside the final kilometre, there was to be no denying the sprinters – and in particular Greipel – their day. The Gorilla’s timing was again impeccable, but Hutarovich (one of a small handful of sprinters to have claimed Mark Cavendish’s scalp, at the 2010 Vuelta) was not far short of victory himself with a strong final kick.

Renshaw’s disappointing fourth-place finish seemed to be the result of poor timing – he went too early in blustery conditions on the final straight. He will doubtlessly come good eventually, but he is showing that the transition from the world’s best lead-out man to an elite sprinter in his own right is not necessarily straightforward.

VeloVoices’ man to watch, Steele Von Hoff of UniSA, had a ringside view of the finish, finishing 16th on the day.

Stage 3 result

1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 3:21:55

2. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-Big Mat) same time

3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

4. Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) s/t

5. Robbie McEwen (GreenEDGE) s/t

Stage 4: Freire rolls back the years

Freire celebrated his first win in Katusha colours (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Three-time world champion Oscar Freire used all his experience and power to claim his maiden win for Katusha in Tanunda, and a first WorldTour victory since the 2010 Milan-San Remo. Meanwhile Andre Greipel was one of many riders shelled out of the back of the peloton on the climb of Menglers Hill 23km from the finish, as he ceded the lead back to Martin Kohler.

For once, no early break was allowed to escape as the sprinters’ teams focussed on the three-second bonus available at the first intermediate sprint after just 25km. Greipel pipped Rabobank’s Michael Matthews extend his overall lead to 11 seconds.

After that a group of four was allowed to build a lead of 4½ minutes. As usual, UniSA-Australia made their presence felt, as Jay McCarthy was joined by Gatis Smukulis (Katusha), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Blel Kadri (AG2R). However, they were easily chased down and consumed by the onrushing peloton at the foot of Menglers Hill.

With first GreenEDGE and then Movistar forcing the pace at the front on the climb, the peloton quickly split in two, with Greipel labouring in a large group trailing a lead bunch of around 50 riders. They briefly attempted to chase back on, but soon gave up and would eventually soft-pedal in nearly eight minutes down.

BMC drove the lead peloton into the final kilometre, looking to solidify Kohler’s position, but in a scrappy finish Omega’s Gerald Ciolek tried an early flier in an attempt to catch everyone by surprise. However the wily Freire simply followed the wheel of RadioShack’s Daniele Bennati as he gave chase before catapulting himself past both of them to win by a bike’s length.

Freire said after the stage that he knew the difficult finish might play into his hands:

It was a difficult finale. I knew I had a really good chance to win. The race was hard (so) it was better for me. I’m happy to score the team’s first victory of the year after joining Katusha.

Kohler now leads Matthews and Freire by the slim margin of two seconds. In all, just 12 seconds separate the top 45 riders, including key contenders such as Edvald Boasson Hagen and Alejandro Valverde.

Our man Steele Von Hoff had a tough day, finishing 75th in the secondary peloton, 7:45 down. He slipped to 63rd overall, 7:57 behind Kohler.

Stage 4 result

1. Oscar Freire (Katusha) 3:08:34

2. Gerald Ciolek (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) same time

3. Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan Trek) s/t

4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) s/t

5. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) s/t

Stage 5: Movistar set up Valverde for return win

Valverde won on a stage profile perfectly suited to him (image courtesy of Movistar)

Movistar produced the perfect team performance to deliver Alejandro Valverde to victory atop Old Willunga Hill and move him up to second on GC. He shares the same time with new leader Simon Gerrans, who ended the queen stage in pole position to deliver an overall win for GreenEDGE on home soil in their WorldTour debut.

The race’s penultimate stage featured a familiar loop around McLaren Vale and Willunga, but with one new added wrinkle – a first ever summit finish on the summit of Old Willunga Hill.

An early breakaway of six riders, including Vacansoleil’s Thomas De Gendt (again) and GreenEDGE veteran Stuart O’Grady (who hails from Adelaide), established a lead of 8½ minutes before the peloton, with Movistar and the BMC team of overall leader Martin Kohler to the fore. With the course climbing Willunga Hill twice in the final 30km, the break’s advantage was rapidly whittled down. The peloton was within two minutes at the base of the first ascent, and by the time Garmin-Barracuda’s Australian Nathan Haas crested the summit first his lead was down to 50 seconds. He was soon absorbed by the pack.

With first RadioShack and then Movistar, with support from Sky, setting a fierce tempo, the peloton split to leave an elite selection of about 25 riders to contest the final climb. The group included Valverde, flanked by a phalanx of Movistar teammates, Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Michael Rogers, RadioShack’s Tiago Machado, Rabobank’s Michael Matthews and the ochre jersey of Kohler, hanging on grimly near the back of the group.

Around four kilometres from the summit, a four-man attack briefly established some daylight between themselves and the lead group, from which UniSA’s Rohan Dennis – who recently won both the under-23 time trial and road race at the Australian National Championships – launched a brave attempt for solo victory. As the chasing pack gradually ramped up their pursuit, Kohler finally fell out of the back, the defence of his ochre jersey over.

Gerrans (seen here racing for Sky) leads Valverde, but only on count-back (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Movistar, however, had one final card still to play as Javier Moreno put in a heroic effort to drag Valverde and six others across the gap to Dennis, overhauling the young Aussie just after the 1km flag. With Valverde biding his time on his compatriot’s wheel, it was Gerrans who opened up the sprint. The move initially appeared decisive, but Valverde dug in and rode round the outside of Gerrans on the final left-hander to claim victory and the maximum ten bonus seconds.

The difference between first and second for the Spaniard was a critical eight-second swing that put him level on time with Gerrans at the top of the GC, although the Aussie assumed the ochre jersey after counting back earlier stage results.

Albeit on exactly the type of finish which suits his punchy style best, this was a stunning victory for both Valverde and Movistar on his return from a two-year suspension for his involvement in Operacion Puerto. It is a result which will polarise the cycling community though. Whatever you think of Valverde – and opinion is divided here at VeloVoices Towers – he is undoubtedly a supremely gifted rider who will go on to win more races this year and potentially challenge at the Grand Tours.

Valverde acknowledged his status as a love-or-hate rider, telling Cycling Weekly:

There will be some that are happy and some that are not.

He also expanded on his feelings about getting the first win of this second phase of his career under his belt:

It’s been an [excess of] emotions, being able to show off all the fury I was keeping inside … I couldn’t resist tears at the finish. From a sentimental value, I’d say this is the most special victory in my career. This victory is dedicated to all the team, because they supported me 100%, and especially to Xavi Tondo [the Movistar rider who was killed in a freak training accident last year].

I was anxious to come back racing and also looking forward to getting my first win. More than the pressure from the crowd, it was pressure from myself to get back to winning ways. I was desperately awaiting it and I got it on the first real opportunity I had, so it tastes so good.

Steele Von Hoff crashed near the beginning of the first climb of Old Willunga Hill, but climbed back on and finished safely in the gruppetto nearly 17 minutes down. He dropped to 78th overall, 24:37 behind the leaders.

The battle for the ochre jersey will now be decided on the outcome of time bonuses in tomorrow’s criterium stage, which comprises 20 laps of 4.5km around Adelaide city centre. Gains of up to three seconds are on offer at the two intermediate sprints at the end of laps eight and 12. A further ten, six and four seconds are available for the first three across the finish line.

Tactically, GreenEDGE will be happy to let an early break go to mop up the sprint bonuses, but Movistar are unlikely to allow this to happen. They will hope to set up Valverde to gain at least the one second he needs to leapfrog Gerrans at one of the intermediates (preferably the first) before allowing a break to go. They will then have to recover in an attempt to set him up for the final sprint too. GreenEDGE can afford to ride more defensively. As long as they do not allow a break to get too far up the road – and they can probably count on some of the other sprinters’ teams to support any chase – they only really need to focus on Valverde. Machado, third at eight seconds back, is no sprinter, and with Rogers and Dennis fourth and fifth at 14 seconds they realistically have no more than a theoretical chance of overall victory.

Whatever happens, the closing laps of tomorrow’s final stage will be fast and furious, with a fierce battle for the glory of one last stage victory likely to overshadow the overall in the gallop to the finish. Put your money on Andre Greipel for the stage and Gerrans for the overall.

Watch out for our post-race round-table summary on Monday.

Stage 5 result

1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 3:45:48

2. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) same time

3. Tiago Machado (RadioShack Nissan Trek) +0:02

4. Michael Rogers (Sky) +0:04

5. Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Australia) +0:07

General classification

1. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) 18:49:24

2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) same time

3. Tiago Machado (RadioShack Nissan Trek) +0:08

4. Michael Rogers (Sky) +0:14

5. Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Australia) s/t

Links:

Stages 1 & 2

Tour Down Under preview

Tour Down Under website

Climb profiles and 3D maps on cyclingthealps.com

6 thoughts on “Tour Down Under stages 3-5

  1. Sheree says:

    According to Valverde’s team mate, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Movistar won’t contest GC tomorrow as it’s not a sprinter’s team! Sandbagging? No, I don’t think so. He’s right, Valverde’ll try and grab bonus seconds early on, if it’s at all possible, and then finish in the bunch.He’s proved his point. Movistar have their first win of the season and it’s GreenEDGE’s to lose.

    • Not entirely sure I believe that statement. Movistar certainly aren’t a sprint team and they are massive underdogs but I can’t believe they won’t at least give it a try, even if they have to press-gang Rojas into playing the role of lead-out. If they can catch out GreenEDGE at an inter then one second is enough and they will then hope Greipel and co block out the finish bonuses. All it takes is a puncture or other mechanical.

      Having said that, I am 99% sure Gerrans will finish tomorrow where he starts – in ochre.

    • More motivated AND far better suited to a sprint. They have the experience of O’Grady, the power of Goss and some serious time trial engines in the mix too. Plus I would take Gerrans to beat Valverde in a flat sprint 19 times out of 20, at least. Gerrans should win, but all sorts of things can go wrong, so I find it difficult to believe Movistar won’t at least ensure they crank up the pressure to keep them honest.

  2. Hey faithful readers, get over to our Facebook page and take our Alejandro Valverde poll (www.facebook.com/velovoices). One lucky participant will be chosen and will receive the hobnobs of their choice (along with some quality teabags). Free biccies on Facebook, Free biccies on Facebook ….

  3. Pingback: Tour Down Under stage 6 & round-table | Velo Voices

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