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After a great lead-out by Impey, Gerrans held off Swift and Nizzolo in the reduced bunch sprint that decided stage 4 of the Tour Down Under; the Australian extended his overall lead by scoring a total of 13 bonus seconds

Photo: Sirotti

GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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SIMON GERRANS

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TOUR DOWN UNDER

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22.01.2016 @ 12:52 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) put himself in the perfect position to take a record fourth overall win in the Tour Down Under when he became the first rider since André Greipel in 2010 to take back-to-back stage wins in the race. When the fourth stage was decided in a reduce bunch sprint, he got a perfect lead-out from Daryl Impey and managed to hold off renowned sprinters Ben Swift (Sky) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek), thus increasing his overall lead to 14 seconds over Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) who had to settle for fourth.

 

Going into the Tour Down Under, there were several question marks surrounding the name of Simon Gerrans. After his horrendous 2015 season and a failed Nationals campaign, some were questioning whether he would be able to realistically challenge for a record-breaking fourth win in the race that has been his happiest hunting ground.

 

After four days of racing, he has firmly silenced his critics and now finds himself with such a big lead that it seems that only bad luck in tomorrow’s queen stage can realistically prevent him from winning the race again. After he won yesterday’s first big GC day, he proved the versatility that makes him such an exciting bike ride when he emerged as the fastest in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 4 and so make it two wins in a row.

 

In fact, Gerrans could have made the hattrick if it hadn’t been for that unfortunate tumble on stage 2 when the 2014 Liege champion found himself in the perfect position to win the uphill sprint in Stirling. As Caleb Ewan won the opening stage, Orica-GreenEDGE have completely dominated their home race at an unprecedented level.

 

Today’s stage was always going to be a tricky affair for the Australians which had two cards to play. On one hand, they could try to set up Caleb Ewan for a second sprint win but a late climb which summited just 19.8km from the finish also offered the chance to get rid of the sprinters and go for more bonus seconds and a possible stage victory for Gerrans.

 

Gerrans had already added to his lead in the first intermediate sprint where he crossed the line in first ahead of second-placed Jay McCarthy and teammate Daryl Impey and after things had briefly calmed down, the risk of crosswinds had made it a nervous day and the early 3-rider break was swallowed up with 24km to go, just as the peloton was about to hit the key climb.

 

As they hit the slopes, Giant-Alpecin, BMC and Tinkoff were lined out on the front but it was the American team that decided to make things hard. After Peter Velits had taken a short turn, Danilo Wyss took over and the Swiss champion strung things out completely, sending lots of riders out the back door.

 

Wyss rode strongly on the front until 20.km remained when Peter Kennaugh took over for Sky that wanted to create a selection to set of Swift for a sprint win. When he swung off, the pace briefly went down but Orica-GreenEDGE didn’t want the sprinters to return and it was Impey who hit the front to create a further selection.

 

As they approached the summit, Richie Porte (BMC) tried to sprint for the KOM points but he was easily passed by KOM leader Sergio Henao (Sky), with Lucas Hamilton (UniSA) and Impey next acoss the line. The South African immediately returned to the front to prevent anyone from rejoining the peloton while a small crash further back in the group brought down Julian Arredondo (Trek), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) and the Lampre-Merida air of Luka Pibernik and Manuele Mori

 

Sky had no intentions of allowing the sprinters to rejoin the group and so Ian Stannard and Kennaugh hit the front hard. A second group still managed to get back but sprinters like Ewan, Wouter Wippert, Mark Renshaw, Steele von Hoff, Adam Blythe and Marko Kump would never make it back.

 

With 16km to go, Jesus Herrada (Movistar) made a solo move but Stannard and Kennaugh kept him under control, bringing him back with 12km to go. Two kilometres later, Lieuwe Westra (Astana) gave it a go but he would only stay away for one kilometre.

 

Stannard and Kennaugh rode on the front until they entered the final 5km where Alberto Bettiol came through to take a big turn for Cannondale. When he swung off, Kennaugh again hit the front, followed by teammates Geraint Thomas and Swift.

 

The British champion ended his work with less than 3km to go where Katusha moed to the fore with Tiago Machado and Sergey Lagutin both taking turns. The latter led the peloton under the flamme rouge but his sprinter Alexei Tsatevich was nowhere to be seen.

 

Sky again proved their impressive lead-out skills when Thomas won the battle for the front position and he safely led Swift through the tricky turns inside the final kilometre. McCarthy managed to push Impey and Gerrans into fourth and fifth while Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Giacomo Nizzolo were next.

 

Impey probed that he is one of the best lead-out men in the business as he passed Thomas and brought Gerrans into the perfect position. Swift had to slot into third behind the race leader who could start his sprint from the perfect position. The Brit failed to come around and Gerrans had plenty of time to celebrate his second stage win.

 

Nizzolo had been unfortunate that Rojas was unable to maintain his speed and he had to make a first sprint to rejoin the leaders, leaving him with no energy for the final dash to the line and a disappointing third place. McCarthy missed out on bonus seconds by crossing the line in fourth.

 

By picking up a total of 13 bonus seconds compared to McCarthy’s two, Gerrans now leads his compatriot by 14 seconds. A split in the peloton meant that Rohan Dennis lost 8 seconds and now finds him 26 seconds adrift in third.

 

Gerrans now only faces one big challenge in tomorrow’s queen stage which includes the traditional two times up the Willunga Hill. After a flat start, the riders will tackle the 3km climb twice in the finale, first with 22.4km to go before they descend to the bottom of the ascent and go up it again to reach the finish at the top.

 

A possible windy stage

After yesterday’s big GC stage, it was back into flatter terrain for stage four which brought the riders over 138km from Norwood to Victor Harbor. The first five kilometres were up a tough, uncategorized climb but the rest of the stage was mostly flat, with the change of crosswinds always preeminent in the area. However, the riders faced a 4km climb in the finale, with the summit coming just 19.8km from the finish. From there it was a short descent and a flat run to the finish in Victor Harbor.

 

After the very hot start to the race, it had been raining overnight and there was a risk of thunderstorms when the riders gathered in Norwood. Marcus Burghardt (BMC) was missing as the German had been diagnosed with a broken elbow after his crash yesterday.

 

Lots of attacks

The tough start set the scene for some aggressive racing and there were lots of attacks right from the beginning. Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) was one of the first riders to give it a go but Orica-GreenEDGE kept things firmly under control as they had their eyes on the intermediate sprint.

 

Westra and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) were the next to give it a go but the Dutchman quickly left the Italian behind. Instead, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) made the junction while Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) made a failed attempt to also join the move.

 

Gerrans wins the sprint

Orica-GreenEDGE were riding on the front and the fast pace sent several riders out the back door. The Australians could not prevent Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) from joining the break and later Arredondo and Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) also got across. However, as the terrain got flatter, the Trek rider droped back to the peloton and after 16km of racing, Orica-GreenEDGE had brought the front group back.

 

The attacking continued as LottoNL-Jumbo and Dimension Data were all active but Orica-GreenEDGE didn’t give anyone an inch. Hence, it was still together at the sprint point after 27km of racing where Gerrans beat McCarthy and his teammate Impey, with Michael Woods (Cannondale) being left empty-handed in fourth.

 

A break is formed

After the sprint, the attacking started again and a move with riders from UniSA, Trek and Ag2r briefly surged clear before the right composition was found. Gougeard was again part of the action and was joined by David Tanner (IAM) and Patrick Shaw (UniSA) and they had a 2.10 advantage as they entered the final 100km.

 

The peloton took a breather after the fast start which allowed Nizzolo to rejoin the peloton after a puncture and all the riders who had been left behind, to get back to the bunch. Meanwhile, the break extended their advantage to a maximum of 5.45 with 95km to go.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE in control

Orica-GreenEDGE again started to work with the duo of Michael Hepburn and Michael Albasini and they slowly reduced the gap to 3.15 with 87km to go. They kept it around 3.30 for a while and it was 3.37 when they entered the feed zone with 75km to go.

 

After the lunch, Luke Durbridge joined forces with his teammates on the front and they reduced the gap to just 2.45 with 65km to go. Durbridge again disappeared but instead all the GC teams moved into position as riders started to get nervous.

 

A nervous peloton

Orica-GreenEDGE still set the pace but lots of teams were riding next to them as everyone wanted to be in a good position. As they entered the final 50km, the faster pace had brought the gap down to 2 minutes as Cannondale were very visible in the front end of the peloton.

 

BMC now hit the front with Alessandro De Marchi before more teams again lined up next to them. Cannondale and BMC dominated for a few kilometres while the escapees continued to lose ground and the gap was only 1.45 with 40km to go.

 

The break is caught

Shaw accelerated to lead Gougeard and Tanner across the line in the final intermediate sprint with 37km to go where it looked like Tinkoff had miscalculated the number of escapees as Adam Blythe and McCarthy surged ahead. Cannondale took over the pace-setting, with the gap now down to 55 seconds before the fight for position again intensified.

 

BMC, Lotto Soudal and Tinkoff rode on the front when the peloton entered the final 30km with a 50-second deficit before the Russian team took complete control with Manuele Boaro. With 25km to go, Tanner sat up and a few hundred metres later, Boaro led the peloton past Shaw and Gougeard before BMC took control on the climb and set the scene for the finale.

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