Germany’s Andre Greipel avoided two late crashes to win the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under in the Barossa Valley town of Tanunda yesterday, breaking the record for the most stage wins in the race’s history.
Greipel charged home after another perfect lead-out from his Lotto Belisol team to win his 13th stage of the Tour, one ahead of Australia’s Robbie McEwen.
The German equaled McEwen’s record with his win in the opening stage on Tuesday and was just as dominant as he won yesterday by a bike length from Italian Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Australia’s Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff) in a mass sprint.
Welshman Geraint Thomas (Sky Procycling) finished safely in the peloton to maintain his lead in the general classification, five seconds ahead of Dutchman Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) and six clear of Spain’s Javier Moreno (Movistar).
The race was marred by two crashes inside the final 2km. The first brought down four riders, while the second, just under a kilometer from the finish, involved 15 cyclists.
Blanco’s Graeme Brown was taken to hospital with a suspected broken wrist, while fellow Australian Bernie Sulzberger was having scans on a possible broken finger.
“The team did a good job to keep me in front and keep me out of trouble,” Greipel said. “When you hear there are so many crashes, you are just happy no-one from your team was injured.”
The 126.5km stage started from the northern Adelaide suburb of Modbury in much cooler conditions than Thursday’s heatwave, with temperatures hovering at about 24oC for much of the day.
World road race champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), who started the day 2 minutes, 53 seconds behind Thomas in the general classification following a crash on the second stage, launched an attack as soon as the riders cleared the 500m neutral zone.
He was joined immediately by young UniSA rider Damien Howson, with the pair quickly opening a two-minute break on the peloton.
By 50km the gap was up to just over three minutes, but the peloton never allowed them to get any further ahead and as the race approached 20km to go the advantage was down to just 60 seconds.
Eight kilometers from the end they were finally caught and the race was back together.
Gilbert said because Wednesday’s crash put him out of contention he thought he would use the remaining stages for some training.
“For me the race was finished because I lost a lot of time, so I thought I would make some sort of effort, treat it like training,” Gilbert said, adding that he never thought he would win the stage. “I knew we had no chance [on the break] because there was only one other rider, but we had a nice ride today. I told him [Howson] after 5km that when it’s two guys against the bunch, we don’t decide [how far ahead we get], the bunch decides. We understood that it was three minutes — we knew we’d never have more.”
With 5km to go the teams began to jostle for position and bring their sprinters to the front. Orica-Greenedge were first to attack, but they were quickly followed by Sky.
However, Lotto Belisol made their move up the inside and there was no stopping them, Greipel swooping past his final lead-out rider Greg Henderson and pulling away.