Andre Greipel of Germany regained the lead of the Tour Down Under with yet another powerful sprint display which gave him his 10th career stage win of the race yesterday.
Lotto-Beliso rider Greipel, a former two-time winner of the season’s first WorldTour event, gave up the ocher jersey to Swiss time trial champion Martin Kohler of BMC after Wednesday’s uphill finish at Stirling.
However, the German moved back into pole position after outclassing Belarussian Yauheni Hutarovitch of FDJ and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky with a powerful drive to the line at the end of a 134.5km stage from Unley to Victor Harbor.
Already victorious in the pre-race criterium on Sunday, Greipel won the opening stage on Tuesday, when he also lost valuable teammate Jurgen Roelandts to neck injuries in a 15-rider pileup.
In Roelandts’ absence, Greipel relied on his other teammates — and duly finished off the job in style, but he was quick to try and lift stricken Roelandts’ spirits.
“This victory is for Jurgen Roelandts, who’s giving us his support from the hospital,” said Greipel, who won his first Tour de France stage last year and finished third at the world championships. “Although we have three injured riders, we still have a great team. The most important point of today’s race was the 1km to go mark, I asked my guys to put me there in fifth or sixth position, and they did.”
Hutarovitch, whose FDJ team are making their return to cycling’s top flight, thought his sprint was enough for the win.
“It was a mad finish, because of all the roundabouts, the wind and the sheer speed,” said Hutarovitch, who finished third in Tuesday’s sprint. “I went for it with 200 to go and until 20 to 30 meters to the finish I was still leading and thought I had it. Then I just saw Greipel powering past me. I’m encouraged, because I’ve been among the best sprinters in the race, but I would still have preferred to win.”
Thanks to the 10 bonus seconds he picked up for his win, Greipel now has an eight-second lead over Kohler, with Rabobank sprinter Michael Mathews in third, 12 seconds back.
GreenEdge all-rounder Simon Gerrans, the new Australian champion, is fifth, 16 seconds back, with Boasson Hagen on the same time.
Boasson Hagen has come close to beating Greipel twice so far, but his latest bid was hampered by some misfortune.
“I was a bit boxed in in the last couple of hundred meters, so it was hard to get through. A Rabobank guy came on the left side, forced me out into the wind and after that it was too hard to pass,” the Norwegian said. “And when I got to the finish, I realized I had a puncture, so that didn’t help.”
The race continues today with a 130km ride from Norwood to Tanunda.
However, the potential race decider will likely be tomorrow when the fifth stage finishes on Old Willunga hill, which should fully test the climbing abilities of the sprinters who want to win the race.
Greipel, for example, has all but given up hope of a third overall triumph, saying: “I’m happy to be in the lead again, but the time bonus doesn’t matter really because the Willunga stage is too hard for me.”