January 23, 2004 – With only nine seconds separating second through 12th place (in the overall), it was a pretty safe bet that the fourth stage of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under would be characterized by aggression and anxiety.
Starting on the outskirts of the city with a 12-mile 550-meter climb from Unley to Echunga, the first attack of the day came from Navigators Insurance's Ciaran Power. The strong solo effort launched a series of attacks that would continue without rest for the next 40 km. Most active in the assault were Power and AG2R's master of the podium, Jaan Kirsipuu. The Estonian sprinter was clearly focused on a stage win today, and his push to separate himself from Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke was finally successful in the hills surrounding the ethnic German community of Hahndorf. Thirteen riders went clear including Kirsipuu's teammate and defending champion Mikel Astarloza, Credit Agricole's Herve and Lequartre, Domina Vacanza's Cardellini and Secchiari, Vansevenant and Gates for Lotto-Domo, Lovkist for FDJ, AustraliaÃs Hilton Clark, and Ciaran Power for Navigators, with Bankgiroloterij and Quickstep represented as well. The group worked well together, and with Panaria and race leader Patrick Jonker's UniSA teams riding tempo, the gap hovered around two minutes. A short climb about 30 km from the finish started the action from the leaders, as a series of attacks from the AG2R duo finally launched Astarloza, and spilt the lead group in three.
With Power in the third group, the situation did not look good for the Navigators squad, and when the front two groups joined, Kirsipuu launched the definitive solo effort. With 25km to go, his gap to the main field was 3:40, and with team leader David McKenzie's GC position at stake, the Navigators Insurance Team took control. In concert with the Bankgiroloterij lads, the two teams opened full throttle, and immediately started bringing the leaders back. First came Power's group, and then with 4km remaining the chasers were all absorbed, leaving Kirsipuu alone. The big blue train pushed on, and was now gaining the support of the sprinters teams, FDJ and Lotto-Domo. Kirsipuu succumbed at 800 meters, and McEwen roared to the line for his second stage victory in front of Aurelien Clerc and Cooke, with McKenzie finishing in fifth for the Navigators squad. It was a very solid day for the team, showing a great deal of confidence and coordination in taking control of a seemingly desperate situation late in the race. The team really missed having their Russian sprinter Vassili Davidenko, who certainly would have been in the mix with the sprinters, but Aussie McKenzie proved he could step up to the sprinters role with a fine effort at the finish.
1. Robbie McEwen (AUS) Lotto-Domo, 141km in 3:18:51 (42.5kph)
2. Aurelien Clerc (SWI) Quick Step-Davitamon
3. Baden Cooke (AUS) FDJeux.com
4. Allan Davis (AUS) Team Australia
5. David McKenzie (AUS) Navigators Insurance Cycling Team
1. Patrick Jonker (AUS) UniSA
2. Robbie McEwen (AUS) Lotto-Domo, 1.38
3. Philippe Gilbert (BEL) FDJeux.com, 1.39
9. David McKenzie (AuAUSs) Navigators Insurance Cycling Team, 1.48