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Hello and welcome to Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under, a 126.5km flat run between Modbury to Tanunda. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) heads into today as favourite however the sprint trains of Orica GreenEdge and Blanco could pose a threat.
Good morning folks!
We're back once again for the 2013 Tour Down Under.
There's something a little different about today's stage - we're starting on grass!
The peloton is just rolling over the start line now for 500m of neutral...
There are two sprints and one KOM to contend today.
One less rider bring the peloton to 130 riders after Timmy Duggan (Saxo Tinkoff) spent much of the evening in hospital last night.
An early move off the front by UniSA-Australia's Damien Howson and Philippe Gilbert (BMC), they have 27 seconds.
With no threat to the overall, the gap is going out quickly - 1:06
Today's stage sees the peloton down in wine country. And it's definitely the coolest temperatures experienced so far. Here's what senior meteorologist weatherzone had to say:
South-southwestely winds of 15-30m/h with gusts of 40-50km/h and a temperature range of 18-to-24 degrees.
Cyclists will find the wind speed quite varied due to change in bush density along the route. It will be as calm as 15km/h and as windy as 50km/h.
They will experience sudden fresh gusts of 40-50km/h at times as they cycle through areas of thinner bush. In sections this will be a cross wind, making positioning in the peloton and smaller groups important. Most of the time this will be a tail wind, hence much of an issue.
A cross-to-head wind for the climb to the King of the Mountain (altitude 450 metres) between One Tree Hill and Kersbrook and for the undulating Williamstown-to-Birdwood section. Thankfully it is sheltered in places by thick bush, but stiff gusts of 40-50km/h are still likely.
The long up-and-down Birdwood-to-Angaston section will generally be a tail wind but the final few kilometres Angaston-to-Tanunda will be in a cross wind again.
It will be about 21 degrees for the start in Modbury (altitude 110 metres) and on some of the hills along the way. It will get as warm as 24 degrees at the finish in Tanunda (altitude 240 metres), but as cool as 18 degrees on the earliest higher hills between One Tree Hill and Kersbrook.
Sadly it's race over for Garmin Sharp's Nathan Haas who has just withdrawn from the stage. We heard that he had a filling fall out of his tooth and has been quite uncomfortable. Here's hoping he gets it sorted!
That makes the Garmin Sharp team just five riders after Rohan Dennis was a non-starter with a viral infection.
Gap still going out...
The sprinting form of Andre Greipel means that he is favourite for today's stage. Cyclingnews' Alex Malone had a chat to his key lead-out man Greg Henderson at the race start....
"It's a head wind sprint today apparently so we have to wait and see if it is actually a head wind. A head wind sprint usually makes it easier for people to sit on the wheels and makes it a really hard sprint to judge. Timing has to be 100% with the lead-out into a head wind sprint.
"Of course today is also an easier parcour so you are going to see [Marcel] Kittel survive. He's a big threat."
Asked if he believed the wind would be a factor, the New Zealander said:
"Some teams will try and take advantage of the situation for sure. It will be the usual guys like Blanco and maybe Sky. Maybe Blanco can put pressure on Sky in that situation. The course changes direction quite often too but I think the last little section - it's a long section there - is meant to be cross-tail wind which could be dangerous. We just have to be very aware and alert the whole time basically. Anything can happen in these races."
Gilbert and Howson are still going!
I actually spoke to the current World Champion last night, so stay tuned for the story on the site soon...
We also caught up with Saxo -Tinkoff DS, Fabrizio Guidi at the start for an update on Timmy Duggan after his crash yesterday in Stirling.
"He has a fractured tibia. It's going to take a bit more time to get back on the bike. There's also some stitches on his arm and of course he needs surgery for the collarbone. The problem is the collarbone is the right one and the tibia is the left one. It's difficult for him to move.
"He will stay here [in Australia] and they are talking to the doctor of the team and the organisation to find the best place to have everything fixed. It's not good news.
"He was good and arrived here in really strong and wanting to show us. He now needs time to recover and he will be back. It's the start of the season so he will be good by the end of the season. We will take care of him. He's a nice guy and also strong and he will be back. "
The first and only KOM of the day is coming up at the delightfully named Humbug Scrub and the break is steady....
Gilbert finished third behind winner Tom Jelte-Slagter (Blanco) and Matt Goss (Orica GreenEdge) on yesterday's stage in Stirling. H'es obviously is in okay form but told me during his interview last night that he didn't want to be at 90 - 95% just yet because this first big objective for the season is the Ardennes Classics in April.
Exactly 1km between Gilbert, Howson and the bunch.
Results are in from the KOM. Howson, Gilbert, followed by the Blanco pair of Jack Bobridge and Graeme Brown.
Gap coming down, probably as a result of that KOM.
Very interesting to see the Blanco pair up there for the last two time bonuses on the KOM.
Their teammate, stage winner yesterday Tom Jelte-Slagter is second on GC, five seconds in arrears of ochre jersey Geraint Thomas (Sky). Expect Brown and Bobridge to stay in the action later in the day should the stage come down to a bunch sprint as expected, where they will be working for Mark Renshaw.
Let's take this opportunity to take a closer look at the youngest rider in the break, Damien Howson, who was recently crowned Australian U23 time trial champion.
Check out Alex Malone's story here.
The time gap has finally cracked the three-minute mark.
The work on the front of the bunch being shared by Sky, Lotto Belisol and Argos Shimano.
The Lotto Belisol guys looking rather awesome again in their 'silver bullet' full-cover helmets. They are mostly wearing skin suits too.
How have you found the increased difficulty at the Tour Down Under this year as fans and spectators? Tweet to be via @janeaubrey or use the #cntdu
Gilbert and Howson not being given too much rope here today. The gap is steady.
That was a thumbs up there fom CJ Sutton at the front of the peloton. No wonder. He had ochre jersey Geraint Thomas in Sydney from December 29 for training in the lead up to the Tour Down Under.
Gap on the way down at the halfway point of today's stage...
Can't say there's a noticeable difference in the pace of the bunch right now so it must be the two men out the front slowing down...
Olivier Kaisen almost a constant on the front of the bunch...
Going down? Gap under two minutes now...
Lead riders into Birdwood now for the feedzone...
Howson and Gilbert having a chat as the gap continues to come down
Howson and Gilbert riding at approximately 45km/h at the moment...
There are no timeboards in the race as of yesterday. Gilbert just getting some info from the lead camera moto.
Time to hear from another contender for the sprint finish today, Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano)...
"You have to survive the first 30km and then I think that will be the goal for the whole team to take control and show that we want to sprint. In the end we will work for the sprint, we are looking forward to it and also want to be in the front this time when we go for it."
His thoughts on the wind...
"You have to be careful, that's for sure. We have to see because I don't know the area here. I have no idea if there is a possibility to have echelons in the end but we have to see. I think if we are careful and ride together then we should be ok."
Gap still coming down, not far from the first intermediate sprint of the day...
Just found out riding on courage alone isn't enough. Turns out you need oxygen. Which you get from breathing. #asthma #flemclog
@NathanPeterHaas Fri, 25th Jan 2013 02:34:13
Sympathising with Garmin's Nathan Haas! Spoke to a number of people from the media contingent covering the race here this morning and a few have the same issue, including myself! Throat like razorblades...
Wow... that intermediate sprint was interesting. Gilbert took maximum points from Howson but the real action was in the bunch.
Sky had their leadout train wound up but hot on the wheel of Geraint Thomas was none other than Graeme Brown for Blanco. I think it's called robbing Geraint to pay Tom...
Less than 10kms between the two sprint points of the day and I dare say that once that's over and done with, it's goodbye to the breakaway....
Under a minute now...
Desperation for Gilbert and Howson to hold on, riding at just over 80km/h...
It's done the trick, with the gap back up over one minute.
Gilbert takes the second sprint from Howson. Let's see what happens when the bunch crosses the line.
Yikes! A bit of gutter action there after Edvald Boasson Hagen kicked off the action for the Sky team. Blanco also had numbers and once again, Graeme Brown was all over Geraint Thomas. Just when you thought the 'Old Brownie' was a thing of the past!
Time to continue our look at some of the contenders for the sprint finish today. Here's Steele Von Hoff:
"This is definitely a sprint for Tyler [Farrar] today. It has been [for Tyler] in the last few days but it's just been so messy in the lead-up that I've been the only one to squish through. It's really hard to hold a full train and try to get through with the strength of the Lotto boys, Sky and all the other teams. It's been quite dicey but today my line is 3km to go so I'll try and get Robbie and Tyler up there. Hopefully Robbie can sit Tyler on the back of Greipel or something. See how he goes because he's sprinting really well."
Wind a factor?
"For sure, it's meant to be about 35km/h winds which is quite significant. Our GC rider Jack Bauer is in 9th position and only 15 seconds off the pace and he'll go pretty good up Willunga as well. We will try and hold him in the front pack no matter what it takes. That's the first priority."
Could today be a day for Orica GreeEdge's Matt Goss?
Daryl Impey spoke to Alex Malone before getting underway...
"I think every sprint day we are using it as an opportunity to try and fine-tune the train because we haven't had a lot of races together really. It's a big opportunity today and we've come close yesterday, the morale is good in the team and Lotto has a really, really strong team for the sprints so hopefully they make a mistake and we get an opportunity to come from behind."
CN: Having different guys from regular 'Goss' group of last year?
DI: I think we've dealt quite well to start with. Like everytime you ride together you try to improve on things. We've spoken about a few things that went wrong in the last couple of days and hopefully today we can do something against the Lotto boys. We've also come with ambitions for the overall so we don't have a pure sprint team but with the guys we've got, we definitely have enough power together to get ourselves up there.
On yesterday's stage:
At the end I kind of knew it was touch and go. I asked Clarkey how he was feeling and with Morabito there I thought he's probably going to attack so it was probably better Clarkey follow him on the climb. I kind of buried myself for Clarkey but we knew it was going to tough anyway so someone had to commit. I thought we that kind of finish that Clarkey is also pretty quick so I would give him a go. Ah, if you don't try, you never know.
The breakaway is hanging on... but it's all over anytime soon...
The sprint teams are on the front as the peloton flies through Angaston.
Argos Shimano down - Jonas Ahlstrand. He's back up.
The break is finally caught!
Finish is a technical one. Who was paying attention to the road book?
Two Euskaltel Euskadi riders down!
Greipel wins from Pietropolli and Cantwell. It's Greipel's 13th stage win - new record at the event.