January 22, 2016 (Victor Harbor, Australia) – Gerrans easily held off Great Britain’s Ben Swift (Team SKY) with Italian Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Segafredo) third at the end of the 138km BUPA Stage 4 which set off from the popular Adelaide shopping precinct of Norwood and headed up Norton summit and along the Fleurieu Peninsula to the coastal town on Victor Harbor.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with that,” said Gerrans after his victory. “A lot of people would be surprised, myself included, that I can beat some top sprinters and get a back-to-back victory at the Santos Tour Down Under.”
Gerrans, whose 2015 season was marred by injury, has worked hard to be in form for this year’s event and his bid to claim a fourth Santos Tour Down Under title.
“We had a really good run in to the finish,” said Gerrans praising the way his team supported him during the stage. “They really make my life as easy as possible.
“I’ve got a few Tours Down Under under my belt now (and) I do know that finish quite well, as does Daryl [Impey] who led me out, that really worked out in our favour,” said Gerrans who won on the same finish into Victor Harbor in 2014.
The atmosphere was buzzing today with 115 thousand fans turning out to cheer on both the professionals and the almost six thousand recreational cyclists who set off early this morning to ride the stage route in the BUPA Challenge Tour.
The race peloton was put under pressure early when Astana’s Lieuwe Westra launched an attack on the steep climb up Norton Summit, which came in the opening kilometres of the stage. As riders struggled to stay in touch at the back, a small group joined Westra in front but their lead was shortlived and by the 15 kilometre mark the race was back together.
Orica GreenEdge did their job controlling the pace to set Gerrans up for a shot at a time bonus at the first iiNet intermediate sprint of the day at Mylor, 27.6 kilometres into the stage.
Gerrans repaid their good work to hold off major rival Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) with Gerrans’ team mate, Daryl Impey third. The sprint win edged Gerrans a further one second clear of McCarthy in the battle for the Santos Ochre Leader’s Jersey.
That sprint and the stage win, that came with a ten second time bonus, means he is now 14 seconds ahead of compatriot Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) and 26 seconds ahead of 2015 race champion and local hero Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) who crossed the line eight seconds behind the lead group.
“I’ve increased my lead but I’ll still have to be very attentive before Willunga Hill tomorrow,” said Gerrans referring to the Queen Stage that has traditionally decided the tour winner. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Fourth across the line today was McCarthy, who wore the Santos Leader’s Jersey before Gerrans, has retained his lead in the iiNet Sprint Classification and remains the top ranked Europcar Young Rider.
“The team has kept me out of the wind all day ad I’m very luck to have them around me,” said the young Australian. “I was also always going to try and get bonus seconds as well but I just didn’t have it… on the line.
“I have pretty good legs to be up there, just a little bit more and I could be on the podium,” said a frustrated McCarthy. “I have to be realistic, the guys who finished second (Swift) and third (Nizzolo) are very fast.”
McCarthy admits Gerrans’ win today has made it harder for his rivals but refuses to concede the race.
“It’s definitely difficult for me on GC (overall) now but I’ll give my best tomorrow,” he said. “Obviously it’s a hard day tomorrow (but) I have to back up and go for it again. We’re still there so we might as well keep trying.”
Orica-GreenEdge Sport Director Matt White agrees the race is not yet won despite the increased leading margin.
“Enough to win?” queried White. “No, but someone has to gap ‘Gerro’ on Willunga to win.
“It’s a ten second bonus to win, so someone only has to gap him by four seconds, so it’s far from over.”
Earlier in the day, once the battle was over for the intermediate iiNet sprint bonuses, it was time for the opportunists to try their luck. Australians David Tanner (IAM Cycling) and Pat Shaw (UniSA-Australia) headed off the front along with Frenchman Alexis Gougeard (AG2R La Mondiale).
They gained a decent lead of almost six minutes before Orica GreenEdge stepped up the tempo to reduce the margin. The trio contested the second iiNet intermediate sprint at the 101 kilometre mark with Shaw the first across the line in Goolwa ahead of Gougeard and Tanner.
But any hopes of victory for the leading three were soon dashed as BMC Racing, Tinkoff and Orica GreenEdge drove the pace hard to reel them in before the category 2 Subaru King of the Mountain climb neat Point Elliot, 20 kilometres from the finish.
“It’s been a disappointing Tour for us so far,” said Tanner who was named the Alpecin Most Competitive Rider of the day. “Especially I’ve been disappointed with myself. The team hasn’t really achieved what we hoped to achieve.
“We knew the first part of the race would be really hard. It was a really hard tempo and I was hoping to get in a breakaway with six or seven strong guys,” Tanner explained. “It’s always a bit of a chance you take but I thought why not, but unfortunately only three of us got in the breakaway and it didn’t work out, that’s the way it is.”
The pace on the climb saw some riders spat out the back as Colombian Sergio Luis Henao (Team SKY) led the way to collect top points and increase his lead in the Subaru King of the Mountain competition. Tasmanian Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was second over the summit with Lucas Hamilton (UniSA Australia) third.
“The mountain classification is always something important for us, Colombians, so as there was a climb I sped up to score some points and increase my lead ahead of the Queen stage,” said Henao who is fourth overall, 28 seconds off the race lead and will target tomorrow’s stage in a bid to win overall honours. “Willunga Hill is a hard climb that requires a lot of strength. We don’t have many occasions left so tomorrow we’ll attack to try and win the race.
“We’ll give it all to go into the last day in the best possible situation.”
“He is climbing very strong, and we will try to beat the Australians here,” said Henao’s team director Kurt Asle Arvesen. “It is not easy.”
BikeExchange Stage 5 is set to be a classic Santos Tour Down Under showdown on the steep slopes of Willunga Hill which the riders will race over once before climbing it again to a hilltop finish.
“Willunga isn’t the hardest climb in the world, so there won’t be massive gaps, but we’ll try,” said Porte. “The race isn’t over yet. He (Gerrans) has a comfortable lead, but we’re not going to give up.”
1. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE 3:13:59
2. Ben Swift (Gbr) Team Sky
3. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek – Segafredo
4. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Tinkoff
5. Leigh Howard (Iam Cycling)
6. Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (RSA) Team Dimension Data
7. Sergey Lagutin (Rus) Team Katusha
8. Aleksei Tcatevich (Rus) Team Katusha
9. Nathan Haas (Aus) Team Dimension Data
10. Enrico Battaglin (Ita) Team Lotto Nl – Jumbo
55. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale
72. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek – Segafredo
GC after Stage 4
1. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEDGE 13:41:58
2. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Tinkoff 0:14
3. Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:26
4. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky 0:28
5. Steve Morabito (Sui) FDJ
6. Ruben Fernadez Andujar (Esp) Movistar Team
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale 0:32
9. Rafael Valls Ferri (Ita) Lotto Soudal 0:36
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing Team
69. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Trek – Segafredo 9:59