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Meyer, Goss and Matthews all in contention ahead of final day
The general classification lead in the Tour Down Under has changed just once on the final day in its 12 year history. On Sunday HTC-Highroad's Matthew Goss and and Rabobank's Michael Matthews have the chance to usurp compatriot Cameron Meyer of Garmin-Cervelo.
It's a mouth–watering proposition. In total, there are 16 seconds in time bonuses up for grabs between the intermediate sprints and the race win. For the first time since 2008, the time gap between first and second place heading into Sunday is less than 10 seconds, with Meyer and Goss separated by just eight seconds.
Next best, at 10 seconds, is Rabobank's Laurens ten Dam, but as a climber, he surely won't figure when it comes to tomorrow's final stage – a drag race around the flat streets of the city of Adelaide.
Instead, Rabobank will be laying their cards on the table for Michael Matthews, who is 12 seconds behind and the reigning under 23 world road race champion.
All three riders are Australian, with Goss the old man of the bunch at 24 years of age, while Meyer is 23 and Matthews just 20.
There have been more than a few very close Tour Down Unders but in order to find the last time the overall lead changed hands on the final day, you need to look back to 2001 and Stuart O'Grady's second title at the Adelaide race, when he put two seconds on Kai Hundertmark.
Farrar gets a chance at redemption
Garmin-Cervelo's top sprinter Tyler Farrar admits this has been far from an ideal week for him. A harsh northern hemisphere winter meant his training regime wasn't as good as he would have liked heading into his debut at the Australian World Tour race.
A crash on stage two ruined his best chance of being in contention for the general classification but the thought of a 90km dash around the city has the five-time Grand Tour stage winner feeling motivated on two fronts.
"It's always motivating to go for the win but now it's going to come down to the time bonuses tomorrow so hopefully I can get in the mix and stop Goss from picking up too much time," he told Cyclingnews, following news of the narrow lead his teammate would carry into the sixth and final stage.
"We're a professional team and we've all ridden together for a while now and we know each other pretty well. We came here to try and do a good race and that's what we're doing."
Meyer will take a lot of confidence from the role his American teammate played to allow him to retain the ochre jersey at Willunga saying Farrar "swapped off the front so well today - normally it's me doing that.
"The team rode beautifully and rode to the tactics we set at the start of the day. I'm confident - the legs are good and I hope it works out well tomorrow so we still have the jersey."
Michael Matthews doesn't do things quietly. He can be spotted dancing something he calls the ‘Melbourne shuffle' before the start of a stage – much to the delight of his team, and has earned the nickname ‘Bling' because he sports the odd piercing and tattoo.
When he took out stage three between Unley and Stirling, he did so in style. Matthews had time to sit up and savour the win and his on-bike dance was coined the ‘Bling boogie'.
Matthews was comparatively reserved when it came to talking about his chances of stealing overall victory on Sunday.
"I'm feeling good coming in to the final stage in fourth position," he said. "I'll have a go but I'll definitely be a bit tired tomorrow after today's stage."
Rabobank's team captain for the event Graeme Brown is wary of putting any unnecessary pressure on the rising star and continued his recent trend of keeping the talk to a minimum but remained quietly confident of a good result.
"Of course we can [win]," the four-stage winner of the Tour Down Under told Cyclingnews. "Anything is possible!"
Brown told Cyclingnews prior to this year's race that he and Tom Leezer would be combining with a new speed man.
"We've got another young neo pro here called Coen Vermeltfoort, who from the reports I've got from Tom Leezer who's been training with him for the last month, he's just being going unreal – the numbers he's been putting out in sprints are just phenomenal," Brown said.
The pre-race favourite
Matthew Goss is having a really good summer on home turf. The Tasmanian has been busy but he said earlier in the week that the results had been worth it.
A meagre two week break was all that separated Goss' participation in the World Championships in Geelong from his pre-season preparation. His form has held solid through overall victory at the Jayco International criterium series in Victoria where he narrowly defeated Matthews. The following week Goss finished second to Jack Bobridge in the national road titles at Mt Buninyong, before he took out the Tour Down Under prelude, the Cancer Council Classic.
Goss reeled in another four seconds of time on stage five to close the gap to Meyer after he finished the stage in third position behind Matthews and Movistar's Francisco Ventoso.
"You've got to take a bit of good out of it," Goss said of the queen stage. "We still got a few seconds back on Cam so the gap's less tomorrow. So we'll try... there's 16 seconds in bonuses tomorrow so it's still doable."
In his HTC-Highroad teammates, Goss has one of the best, if not the best lead-out trains in the business. That, along with his form over a short, flat course should give Goss the edge.
"I'm feeling good. The sprints are there. My legs are good - I wasn't really in trouble at Willunga. I felt pretty comfortable. Tomorrow's going to be a bit better than today I think."