Oscar Freire won his first race with new team Katusha today in Tanunda, South Australia, on the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under. The three-time World Champion sprinted clear of a select group and cycling’s youth: Gerald Ciolek, Mike Matthews and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
“It was a difficult final, which was better for me. I won because the race was made hard,” Spain’s Freire said. “I’m happy to bring the first victory to my new team.”
Freire left Dutch team Rabobank after nine years and failing to receive a decent contract offer. The Spaniard, 35, found home with Russia’s team Katusha, where he will likely close his career this year.
He won the World Championships in 1999, 2001 and 2004
“You can never rule him out,” Sky’s Geraint Thomas said. “Eddy and I were talking about which sprinters were in the group, then we said, ‘Oh, yeah, Oscar.’ Then he goes and does that.”
“We know Oscar, he’s takes advantage, staying there until the last moment to jump,” Daniele Bennati added. “I thought I had a great sprint, I pulled back a lot of metres on Ciolek but Freire was there for the win.”
Bennati’s RadioShack team and BMC Racing led the sprint. BMC worked to distance race leader André Greipel after Menglers Hill and to give its rider, Swiss Martin Kohler the overall lead. Kohler gained time bonuses in an escape two days ago, when Will Clarke won in Sterling.
Sky had Mick Rogers, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Thomas in the lead group of around fifty riders. Thomas led the sprint for Boasson Hagen and let Rogers rest for tomorrow’s stage to Willunga Hill.
“The last five K went so fast, then we could see the final K sign,” Thomas explained. “I got him up to Ciolek’s wheel, and then Eddy went. I think he just didn’t quite have the gas.”
“It was hard up the last climb, but I got up there,” said Boasson Hagen. “There’s still some stages left.”
Sky’s Norwegian has a chance to win the stage and possibly the overall tomorrow. The race features its first hilltop finish since it began in 1999. Other favourites include Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Kohler counts himself out.
“There will be 10 to 15 riders contesting the win tomorrow,” Kohler said. “It’s going to be very hard.”
Today, after several attempts on the stage’s first climb, four riders moved free. Their advantage never grew over five minutes with Garmin and Greipel’s Lotto team working behind. They caught the four around five kilometres before the Menglers Hill, or 30 kilometres to race.
Bennati was only able to manage second behind Freire. Boasson Hagen finished fourth and outside the top three spots for bonus seconds.
“I would have liked to have those seconds,” Boasson Hagen added. “I will just have to try to get up there tomorrow.”
Boasson Hagen is eight seconds behind Kohler in the overall classification.
“We are used to him being pronominal all the time,” Thomas said of Boasson Hagen. “He’s not 100 per cent, though; he’s looking to be good in Paris-Roubaix.”
“It’s quite frustrating, we just want to win. We’ve been close a few times.”
Tour Down Under 2012, stage four: Norwood to Tanunda, 130km
1. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha in 3-08-34
2. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
5. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank
6. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar
7. Luke Roberts (Aus) Saxo Bank
8. Kristijan Koren (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
9. Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM
10. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Barracuda all same time
19. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at same time
105. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 7-45
124. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 14-16
125. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Sky at 14-16
Overall classification after stage four
1. Martin Kohler (Swi) BMC Racing in 15-03-34
2. Michael Matthews (Aus) Rabobank at 2 secs
3. Oscar Freire (Spa) Katusha at 2 secs
4. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 6 secs
5. Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge at 8 secs
6. Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan at 8 secs
7. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky at 8 secs
8. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 8 secs
9. Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha at 8 secs
10. Rohan Dennis (Aus) UniSA-Australia at 9 secs
48. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 5-52
87. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 14-45
122. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 26-53
125. Alex Dowsett (GBr) Sky at 29-43
Andreas Klier takes up the chase for Garmin-Barracuda
Brit Andrew Fenn
Oscar Freire takes his first win for Katusha
Martin Kohler moves back into race lead
Tour Down Under 2012: Related links
Tour Down Under 2012 stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Grepel wins stage three and takes lead
Stage two: Clarke catches top teams napping in Tour Down Under
Stage one: Greipel wins
Down Under Classic: Greipel opens Down Under with win
Tour Down Under 2012: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index