Welshman Geraint Thomas survived a hectic and crash-marred finale at the Tour Down Under today and will take the leader’s jersey into tomorrow’s queen stage to Old Willunga Hill.
The race is not yet won though and team Sky will have to be especially vigilant on Saturday. Handy climbers Tom Slagter (Blanco), Javier Moreno (Movistar) and Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard) are all within 10 seconds of the race leader and will be looking to strike ahead of Sunday’s criterium finale.
Andre Greipel won his second stage of the tour on the back of an unmatched lead-out from his Lotto-Belisol teammates to surpass Robbie McEwen’s race stage win record of 12.
British sprinter Andy Fenn finished the 126.5km race to Tanunda in fourth with Omega Pharma-Quick Step showing faith in the 22-year-old and moving to the front of the peloton inside the final 10km.
Greipel finished about a length ahead of Giro d’Italia stage winner Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) with Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff) third.
“There was a bit of a crosswind to the end and with the headwind the last two kilometers was pretty messy,” Greipel said of the run to the finish.
“The team did a good job to keep me in the front. With the headwind it wasn’t easy but we waited as long as possible and I think we did the perfect lead-out again.”
Former Milan-San Remo champion Matt Goss and his Orica-GreenEdge pilot Daryl Impey were involved in a mass crash some 700m from the finish did not contest the bunch sprint.
Tour de France stage winner Tyler Farrar was unlucky and appeared to be held up in a separate four-man pile-up within the final 2km.
The race, up until the finale, was relatively straightforward.
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and under-23 world time trial bronze medalist Damien Howson (Uni SA-Australia) comprised the main break of the day and rode together for most of the race. The peloton did not allow the escapees more than a three-minute advantage however and both Gilbert and Howson sat-up with 8km as sprint teams began to organise at the front.
Sky, with the assistance of the sprint teams, helped control the pace throughout the day. Graeme Brown prevented Thomas from collecting time bonuses at the sprint primes and in doing so protected teammate Slagter’s position in the overall standings.
“[Brown’s] team-mate is second overall so he was sent up to try and stop me getting those seconds, which he did,” said Thomas.
“We thought we may as well have a go and it wasn’t a full-on sprint. It only started from about a k out so it didn’t take too much out of me. We tried but it’s all going to be down to Willunga tomorrow.”
The in-shape Thomas captured the leader’s jersey on Wednesday when he won the second stage after clearing the short but sharp Corkscrew climb solo.
Meanwhile, Garmin-Sharp is now down to five riders with two days of the tour remaining. Australian Rohan Dennis is suffering from viral meningitis and did not start the race. Nathan Haas has also been forced to withdraw due to illness.
The 15th edition of the Tour Down Under continues tomorrow with the penultimate 151.5km stage to Old Willunga Hill, which the peloton will tackle twice.
Tour Down Under 2013, stage four: Modbury to Tanunda, 126.5km
1. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) 3-02-52
2. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida)
3. Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff)
4. Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)
5. Barry Markus (Vacansoleil-DCM)
6. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)
7. Mark Renshaw (Blanco)
8. Kenny van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM)
9. Arnaud Demare (FDJ)
10. Klaas Lodewyck (BMC)
General classification after stage four
1. Geraint Thomas (Sky) 12-59-09
2. Tom Slagter (Blanco) at 5secs
3. Javier Moreno (Movistar) at 6secs
4. Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard) at 8secs
5. Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel Euskadi) at 15secs
6. Ion Izagirre (Euskaltel Euskadi)
7. Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp)
8. Tiago Machado (RadioShack Leopard)
9. Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol)
10. George Bennett (RadioShack Leopard)
Philippe Gilbert and Damien Howson
Andre Greipel takes the stage win