A ten-second time bonus on the line for winning along with three seconds from winning the first of two intermediate sprint points also saw Gerrans extend his lead over Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff) to 14 seconds, and 26 seconds to defending champion Rohan Dennis (BMC).
A late split in the finale saw overall rivals Richie Porte (BMC), Michael Woods (Cannondale) and Dennis concede eight seconds to Gerrans, adding to what was already a successful day in the saddle.
“I've increased my lead but I'll still have to be very attentive before Willunga Hill tomorrow. There's still a lot of work to be done,” Gerrans said after his win.
Saturday’s queen stage up Willunga Hill is the major obstacle in the path of Gerrans’ quest for victory but with his significant time buffer, the 35-year-old can play a defensive card on the three-kilometre climb. While Gerrans is in the enviable position of leading the race ahead of the penultimate stage, Orica-GreenEdge sports director Matt White believes the race is far from a foregone conclusion.
“Someone has to gap Gerro on Willunga to win,” said White. “It’s a 10-second bonus to win, so someone only has to gap him by four seconds, so it’s far from over.”
“The jersey has changed hands many times up Willunga hill so we will still have our work cut out for us,” Gerrans added. “It’s not in my interest to attack at all, I’ve really got to try to defend this jersey. It’s up to the other guys to drop me and get a bit of time on the climb now but the way my team is riding and supporting me, it gives me a lot of confidence going into tomorrow.”
One of Gerrans’ major threats on the climb tomorrow will be the man who has won the stage on the last two occasions, Porte. Gerrans missed the race last year due to injury but in 2014 was just 10 seconds behind the BMC rider who explained he and Dennis will fight tooth and nail for the win.
“We will see tomorrow what happens. Willunga isn’t the hardest climb in the world, so there won’t be massive gaps, but we’ll try. The race isn’t over yet. [Gerrans has] a comfortable lead, but we’re not going to give up,” Porte said
At 28 seconds, the leader of the king of the mountains classification Sergio Henao, also poses a threat to Gerrans’ lead the Sky rider announced his intentions to swap polka dots for ochre.
“The mountain classification is always something important for us, Colombians, so as there was a climb I sped up to score some points and increase my lead ahead of the queen stage. Willunga Hill is a hard climb that requires a lot of strength. We don’t have many occasions left so tomorrow we’ll attack to try and win the race. We’ll give it all to go to the last day in the best possible situation.”
In 2014, Gerrans won the race by a mere second over Cadel Evans while in 2012, he won the race on placings over Alejandro Valverde. Should Gerrans' lead by cut to a handful of seconds after the hill top finish, he and Orica-GreenEdge are experienced enough to know what it takes to defend a slender lead on the Adelaide city criterium circuit.