Thomas' lead not secure ahead of Queen stage
Changes to the course for this year's edition of the Santos Tour Down Under were expected to shake-up the general classification prior to the final showdown on Old Willunga Hill but with the queen stage next on the list, the GC remains tightly packed.
The race has been far from a wait-and-see approach, but it appears the tour winner will most likely be determined at the conclusion of the penultimate stage. The rider who wears the ochre jersey on the final circuit race around Adelaide is unlikely to be pushed off the top step.
The climb over Corkscrew Road looked to have split the field wide open but considering the events of the day, the general classification could have been even tighter.
A number of pre-race favourites saw their GC chances crumble after day 2 however, the strength of Sky Procycling and it's race leader Geraint Thomas appears to be on the front foot. Thomas however, knows that anyone who's within the top placings could win the tour and that may just play into his advantage.
Thomas didn't have a complicated answer for how he would handle the 151.5km stage. He would of course rely on his dependable team but also the ambitions of those who also want to put their stamp on the race's outcome.
"As long as I'm empty by the top then that's all I can really do," said Thomas.
"Ride flat our up Willunga and try and hold the jersey, I think it's pretty straight forward really. Just, full gas!"
Thomas tried to gain some extra seconds ahead of the queen stage by contesting the two intermediate sprints on Stage 4 but he was pipped by Graeme Brown (Blanco) on both occasions. Brown was protecting the second-place position of teammate Tom-Jelte Slagter who is just five seconds behind the Sky rider.
"Today [post Stage 4] we thought we may as well have a go," said Thomas about sprinting for a one-second bonus on two occasions during the day.
The top-20 riders are separated by just 32 seconds and the top 13 are squeezed together by just 0:15 seconds. Apart from Slagter there are dangerous riders including third-place Javier Moreno (Movistar) and Ben Hermans (RadioShack Leopard) less than 10 seconds behind Thomas. Throw in a pair of Euskaltel-Euskadi riders in Gorka and Ion Izagirre plus Jack Bauer (Garmin Sharp) and young rider George Bennett (RadioShack Leopard), his teammate (and third overall in 2012) Tiago Machado and there's some serious contenders for the top spot and minor placings. Adam Hansen is Lotto Belisol's unexpected GC rider and Blanco also has under-23 rider Wilco Kelderman inside 15 seconds.
There is a host of others who could make an impact and those with high-hopes for a stage result will also make life difficult for the Sky team. There's everything to ride for tomorrow and with nine teams represented within that 15-second spread, tactics will be everything.
"If somebody goes full-on at the bottom and everyone watches each other you can gain 20 seconds, but I think the guys from 15 seconds behind and above, they are going to be the ones stood here tomorrow with the jersey. If they lost time up the corkscrew it would have to be quite a big turn-around to suddenly ride off the front for 30 seconds," Thomas said.
"I think it's more the teams. RadioShack are strong, Blanco are strong and obviously the two Euskaltel guys so it's more not getting drawn into chasing everyone down. It's not just me who wants to win this race. If I am a bit isolated I think I've got to look to other guys to do a bit as well. It could be quite easy for me to get carried away and try and bring everything back and then get jumped at the top and time bonus and lose everything. I think we have to play it a bit smart."