BMC Racing ended stage 3 of the Tour Down Under without a stage win or lead in any of the four classifications but will head into Saturday’s queen stage up Willunga Hill with Rohan Dennis third on GC and Richie Porte, who has won the stage for the last two editions, in tenth place.
Having placed third on stage 2, Dennis went one better in Campbelltown, narrowly losing the stage to Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) in a photo finish.
"It is a little bit disappointing. I thought I did a great sprint but Gerrans, you can't take anything away from him. He's a class act, he hasn't won Liege, won Tour de France stages and beaten guys like Sagan for nothing. I really have to take my hat off to him," Dennis said at the team van following the stage.
“I didn’t want to go too far in the red. I was in the red when Richie was on the front. I said, ‘Don’t wait … just go.’ Then when Henao and a couple of other guys attacked I thought, ‘You know what … ride to your tempo and watch my power’ and thought I was well above what I should be able to hold, and thought, ‘Don’t go any deeper, it will come back.’”
Dennis’ win on stage 3 of last year’s race set up his overall victory at the Tour Down Under. Now sitting third on overall classification, five seconds in arrears to Gerrans, Dennis added that he will look to match his second place on Willunga Hill to secure the first back-to-back victory.
“Last year I won at Paracombe and Richie didn't, and he pumped me on Willunga. Different day, different story. I think it's going to be really close after Willunga. It's going to go down to the wire and I think if we don't get ten seconds up on Gerrans on Willunga before the last criterium, they're going to go for the primes in the middle.”
While Dennis is currently better situated to challenge for the overall victory, early surges on the climb from Porte eliminated several GC threats and suggested last year’s runner-up will again be a rider to watch on Willunga.
“Rohan was fantastic today and was so close to Gerro, so it's a good sign for our team. I felt comfortable. I didn't come into the climb in the best position but Alessandro De Marchi moved me up into a good position. The signs are quite good, I'm happy with that. Obviously Sergio Henao is absolutely flying. I think he's quite a danger man as well. But we cracked quite a few other guys that we thought would possibly be up there on GC.”
Before Willunga, however, Porte and BMC will need to negotiate stage 4’s potentially tricky finish in Victor Harbor, where crosswinds could come in to play.
“I think it’s quite obvious, get through tomorrow. I am not sure what the weather is going to do tomorrow, but it’s not looking great,” said Porte, adding: “On Willunga we are going to have to absolutely throttle them, just give it to them.”
While the team is well placed with two riders in the top ten to challenge for the ochre jersey, it wasn’t all good news for BMC with Marcus Burghardt caught up in a late crash on the run in to the gorge, falling heavily on his elbow, suffering a “muscle contusion” with team doctor Scott Major to decide on Friday morning whether an x-ray is needed to determine the full extent of the injury.