Richie Porte (BMC Racing) came through illness and the first hilly stage of this year's Santos Tour Down Under to put himself in a strong position ahead of the crucial stage to Willunga Hill. The Australian attacked and covered several moves on stage 4 to Uraidla as Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) came out on top and now sits 14 seconds adrift of the world champion. With Porte's stomping ground to come on Willunga, the race is wide open, but the Australian is aware that shedding Sagan will not be an easy task.
"We'll have to see. It's not a terribly hard climb. Sagan is on such good form, so he's also a danger. We'll see how Sagan goes tomorrow." Porte told reporters at the end of stage 4.
The Australian's BMC Racing Team controlled the peloton the Norton Summit climb with Simon Gerrans taking charge for most of the ascent. Over the top of the climb Porte attacked and covered several moves with Rohan Dennis acting as his foil, but when a small selection regrouped before the finish the remaining sprinters took charge. Sagan's win, and the resulting bonus seconds, put him in the leader's jersey and in with a chance of ending Porte's reign as the defending champion. That said, Porte has won on Willunga for the last four years running and will start stage 5 as the favourite. As one of his rivals told Cyclingnews at the end of stage 4, 'it's Richie's race to lose now.'
Form-wise Porte looks in decent condition but the high temperature has sapped the riders' strength and no one is immune to illness or dehydration in 40-degree conditions. Porte told reporters that he had been sick the night before Friday's stage, although he was hiding it well when he made several accelerations in the finale.
"Obviously you could see that no one wanted to take the lead but it wasn't up to me. I didn't feel good today. I felt empty and a little bit sick overnight but I think hopefully we'll see what happens tomorrow. It was a pretty rough day.
"We'll see how it goes but today the guys were good at setting a nice tempo with Miles and Simon, who did a brilliant job. Hopefully tomorrow we can recover and Rohan and I can have another good day."
Porte did cross swords with George Bennett both during and after stage 4. The pair were two of the main protagonists on the run-in to the finish but even when they linked up in a dangerous looking move they could not cooperate. Bennett followed Porte to the BMC bus at the end of the stage with the Lotto rider stressing that the two should have collaborated. Porte shrugged his shoulders when asked about the incident by Cyclingnews.
"I think that George is obviously flying. He was fourth in the Kiwi nationals but I think he felt I was shirking turns but it's fine. We're good friends and I'm sure that we'll patch it up. It was nice to be there with the selection because over those rolling sections the stronger guys were there."