Australian champion Simon Gerrans took possession of the Tour Down Under leader’s jersey in a dramatic fifth and penultimate stage won by Spaniard Alejandro Valverde yesterday.
Heading into today’s 90km race around Adelaide, Gerrans, of GreenEdge, is on the same time as Movistar team leader Valverde, with Portugal’s Tiago Machado of RadioShack-Nissan in third 9 seconds back.
In a thrilling end to the 151.5km stage from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, Valverde pipped Gerrans in an uphill sprint for the finish line.
While Gerrans will now look to hand nascent Australian team GreenEdge their maiden UCI WorldTour victory, Movistar were celebrating a stylish win for Valverde on what is his first race since returning from a two-year doping ban.
“It’s fantastic, it’s a pretty special moment for GreenEdge. In our first WorldTour outing, to have the lead going into the last stage is pretty good,” Gerrans said.
Arguably the most decisive stage of the race, Stage 5 starred with a dozen riders still in contention to succeed last year’s winner, Cameron Meyer.
However, with the peloton climbing Willunga twice and finishing on the summit for the first time, the going got tough once some leading teams began setting the pace after cresting the summit.
Valverde’s Movistar outfit were alert to the danger and had bodies up at the front when RadioShack-Nissan hit full gas in a bid to drop rivals and put their challenger, Belgian Jan Bakelants, in position.
Their efforts soon had the bulk of the peloton dropping off the back, with Gerrans and many other contenders, holding on for dear life in a 25-man group which had a minute’s deficit to a small group of leaders.
Left with no teammates, Gerrans did well to stay on the wheels as the chase group accelerated on the way to the foot of the climb in preparation for the final, 3.5km climb to the line.
After the last remnants of an earlier six-man breakaway were reeled in, the final 2km saw young Australian Rohan Dennis and Portuguese Machado make a late bid for victory.
However, they were overtaken in the final kilometer as the anticipated duel between Gerrans and Valverde materialized, the returning Spaniard pipping the new Aussie champion to the line in a finish which had the crowd in raptures.
By virtue of his better combined finishes than Valverde in previous stages this week, Gerrans took the leader’s ochre jersey. However, Valverde was delighted with his first victory since winning the Tour of Romandie — one of many wins in 2010 to be annulled because of his doping ban.