Another day of the Santos Tour Down Under, another Drapac-lead breakaway. After Will Clarke’s two days in the sun it was Travis Meyer’s turn to fly the flag for Australia’s only ProContinental team and 9km into the stage he was joined by Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Jens Voigt (Trek).
Together the foursome worked to establish a lead of little more than two minutes as they sped north east out of Adelaide.
The first intermediate sprint of the 145km stage came after 38.7km and it was Travis Meyer who jumped clear of his fellow escapees to take the five sprint points and the three bonus seconds. Grivko crossed the line second with Cousin taking the final points on offer.
The second and final intermediate sprint of the day came just 15km later in Williamstown. This time it was Grivko who moved away to claim maximum points while Meyer and Cousin rounded out the top three.
At this point, with the leaders’ advantage hovering around the two minute mark, Andriy Grivko became the virtual leader on the road. But there would have been little concern in the main field — the break was well and truly within reach and with the tough Corkscrew Road climb still remaining, the big hitters were sure to have him covered.
The gap had dropped below the two minute mark as the leaders made their way east from Williamstown to Springton but with 50km to go it was back out above two minutes. Jens Voigt was doing the majority of the pacemaking while Jerome Cousin was struggling at the back of the breakaway. The elastic eventually snapped for the Frenchman and he fell away, the peloton eventually swallowing him up.
In the main field it was Matt Goss and Michael Matthews controlling proceedings for their Orica-GreenEDGE teammate and race leader Simon Gerrans.
With 32km to go Goss and Matthews were still on the front with Astana, Sky and Lotto-Belisol all represented as well. And with 25km to go the riders turned on to the fast and flowing Gorge Road for the downhill run towards the day’s only categorised climb.
At one time it looked like the break might have reached the Corkscrew Road climb with a slight advantage but with the peloton riding hard down Gorge Road the gap was reduced very quickly.
With 20km remaining in the stage and 10km to the start of the KOM the gap was 1:30 but two kilometres later the deficit had been slashed in half. Travis Meyer got dropped from the breakaway roughly 18km from the finish and when the remaining two riders, Jens Voigt and Andriy Grivko, were caught there was just 17km to go.
Cannondale took to the front, and so did Sky and then it was a free for all, all teams fighting for position ahead of the left-hand turn on to Corkscrew Road for the one and only climb of the day.
As the peloton hit the climb, unwanted bidons were discarded left and right, riders keen to rid themselves of any unnecessary weight for the climb ahead. BMC’s Steve Morabito took to the front as the road tilted up with Cadel Evans sitting pretty in second wheel. The winner of last year’s Corkscrew stage, Geraint Thomas looked threatening behind Evans.
In the space of a few hundred metres of climbing the roughly 100-strong peloton was reduced to just 25 riders as the leaders twisted and turned toward the summit, the select group getting ever smaller.
With 8.7km to go in the stage Cadel Evans hit out from behind his BMC teammates and took matters into his own hands. Richie Porte (Sky) managed to hold Evans’ wheel but the race leader, Simon Gerrans, was a little further down the hill, all chasing left to him.
After 700m spent riding with his Sky adversary, Cadel Evans opened up a bit of a gap on Porte while Gerrans took up the chase behind. Gerrans caught Porte 300m later and together they continued to work at the advantage of Cadel Evans. But there was no stopping the winner of the 2011 Tour de France.
With a couple hundred metres left in the climb, Evans changed into the big ring before powering over the summit of the climb with a 15 second advantage over the two men he shared the Australian road nationals podium with barely a week before.
Behind Porte and Gerrans a chase group of nine riders had formed and by the time the descent began they’d caught the pair ahead. Evans, meanwhile, was descending towards a stage victory, presumably benefiting from the fact he and his BMC team had ridden the Corkscrew descent no fewer than seven times in the lead-up to today’s race.
Evans’ lead flucatuated slightly on the 7km run in to the line but when he crossed the line to win his second Santos Tour Down Under stage he did so 15 seconds ahead of the 12-strong chase group.
Garmin-Sharp’s Nathan Haas lead the bunch home, picking up his first WorldTour points ahead of yesterday’s winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), KOM classification leader Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Simon Gerrans in fifth place. Richie Porte finished safely in the lead group, in 11th place.
With his commanding win Cadel Evans goes to the head of the general classification, a handy 12 seconds clear of Simon Gerrans. Diego Ulissi, who finished in the chase group today, holds on to third place a further three seconds back.
In his post-race interview Evans seemed less interested in the stage win he’d just managed and more focused on the general classification. From here the onus is back on Simon Gerrans and others to attack Evans when it comes to stage 5 on the slopes of the famous Willunga Hill climb. If today’s stage is anything to go by, Saturday’s race will be one to remember.
Before that though the race heads to Victor Harbour where the fastmen will get a chance to show their wares. For Evans and co. at the top of the GC, it’s a day to sit in, stay out of trouble and save their energy for Saturday’s tussle for the overall lead.