In cycling, time is precious, and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) wasted very little time in stealing back five critical seconds from two bonuses along stage four of the Tour Down Under – a stage won by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who holds the all-time record for stage victories at the race.
Gerrans took a three-second time bonus at the first intermediate sprint, before adding two more seconds after finishing second to fellow Australian Nathan Haas, who is running fourth overall, at the second – and final – intermediate sprint on Inman Valley Road in Yankalilla at the 116.6-kilometre mark.
"Yes, it would have been great to get a few more bonus seconds on the finish line today, but unfortunately I finished in fourth place so just outside the bonuses," said Gerrans, a two-time overall winner and the reigning Australian national champion. "In saying that, we got a couple of seconds out on the road to tighten things up just a little bit more and as I've said time and time again, this race is won by seconds. I'm going to take every opportunity."
When asked about his level of confidence after Friday's stage, Gerrans quickly responded by saying: "Put it this way - I'm feeling five seconds more confident after today's stage than I was beforehand."
Evans, who nearly came off his bike after having what appeared to be gear issues, which later forced a bike change, was unable to respond to Gerrans' attack and thus hold on to valuable seconds.
"It’s been a nervous day with the wind and Orica really took control of the race by putting the whole team [on the front] for the intermediate sprints," said Evans, who is riding the Tour Down Under for the first time since 2010. "The first one didn’t go favourably for me and the second one was even worse."
Evans says that looking at the numbers, the Orica-GreenEdge team has four stages ideally suited to their strengths on this year's route, while he has only two. "Numbers-wise it’s not in my advantage," he said while wearing the ochre leader’s jersey for the second day in a row. "But of course Willunga [on the penultimate stage] will be important."
Orica-GreenEdge team director Matt White told Cyclingnews that "this race is far from over. We were on a mission to get bonuses. We identified the first one quite easy and pulled the string and won that one. The second one was a bit tricky and caught the bunch napping and drove 25km to bring the break back and put Simon in position to win [valuable time]."
With the bonuses, Gerrans now trails Evans by seven seconds and is within striking distance of the lead ahead of stage five and its infamous Willunga Hill finale.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it is decided on Sunday," said White. "But at the end of the day, if we are going to win the [race], Simon has to beat Cadel on Willunga tomorrow."
Gerrans shared White’s sentiments about Sunday’s stage six potentially being the deciding factor, but claims the outcome of Willunga will be critical to the overall result.
"It can definitely be lost on Willunga Hill, but not necessarily won," Gerrans said. "It could definitely come down to the final stage on Sunday.
"Cadel really has to get rid of me tomorrow," added Gerrans, who won Willunga’s uphill finish last year and finished second in 2012. "I don't think he's going to want to go into the final stage with only a seven-second advantage."
Gerrans said that Evans will not be the only rider going for a stage win. If Evans does attack, Gerrans knows that he will have to try to get by him on the line and grab more bonus time.
"I have every faith in my guys, I have a lot of confidence in Orica-GreenEdge that they'll be able to do the job," Gerrans said of Willunga Hill. "I've never raced it against a guy of Cadel's caliber. But I'm confident I'm going to give it 100 per cent and if that's not good enough tomorrow, it's not good enough. But we are going to throw everything we have at it."