There will be no fairytale finish to Cadel Evans' last Tour Down Under but the BMC team is on the cusp of winning its first overall classification at the race with his Australian heir apparent Rohan Dennis.
The talented young Australia took over the race lead from fellow Hour Record aspirant Jack Bobridge with victory on stage three to Paracombe and despite being dropped by Richie Porte (Team Sky) in the final 400 meters of the queen stage to Willunga Hill, he enters the final stage of the race on Sunday with a two second buffer on the Team Sky Tasmanian.
The final stage criterium of the race around the streets of Adelaide is largely a procession for the overall contenders and a final chance for the sprinters to claim a win before flying home. The sprinters fill the top placing and so take the time bonuses, making it very difficult for anyone to move in the overall classification. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) defended a one second lead last year and the same time difference in 2012. This year a final change to the standings is again unlikely all but ensuring Dennis' first WorldTour win.
"It is going to be a defensive game tomorrow," Dennis said of how he expects the stage to play out. "I do sprint better than Richie [Porte] so I am very confident. We just have to stay at the front and out of trouble. Basically just follow him [Porte] and if he sprints and I sprint there is no reason why I can't win."
When Porte launched his first attack on the final ascent up Willunga Hill, Dennis was the only rider capable of following his wheel knowing it was a decisive moment in the race.
"When Cadel flicked his elbow, I thought there is no time to hesitate, just go and hope for the best for him," he said. "I looked back and saw him and [Tom] Dumoulin getting dropped and I thought, it's just Richie and I now. I knew all I had to do was hold his wheel and I'd be right.
"I actually felt pretty comfortable when he first went but he just kept kicking and kicking and then he kicked again. I think it was with 350-400 metres to go I was like 'that's enough. You can keep going mate.' I actually thought if I keep going like this I actually will drop dead but it's all good."
When Dennis crossed the line he thought that his ochre leader's jersey was to be transferred into the shoulders of Porte and experienced a roller-coaster of emotion.
"To be honest I thought 'shit, I've lost it' by a few seconds," he said. "I was looking at the timer and it didn't look like he [Porte] was that far ahead but I was told probably two or three minutes alter that that I kept the lead by two seconds. It was a huge relief."
"I went from being somewhat depressed to overwhelmed within point one of a second. I was disappointed at first thinking that I did lose it then I was overwhelmed and looking for my teammates. Obviously they had done a lot of work well before and were still trying to finish."
Praise for his BMC teammates
Realising that he remained the overall leader and is on the cusp of winning his first WorldTour race on home soil no less, Dennis has only praise for the way his team rode during the 151km stage.
"I am so, so happy and like I keep I saying, I couldn't do it without my team, I know it is cliché to say but they were absolutely amazing," he said. "Every time it went into the gutter, every time there were stressful situations, they were right around me to protect me and make the job as easy as possible. It was a huge effort by them."
At the start of stage five, BMC occupied one and two on GC with Dennis and Evans respectively. Despite suggestions that BMC would be riding for Evans and Dennis to hand over the jersey, there was no tension between the two with Dennis praising his teammate for the manner in which he has ridden the final stage race of a decorated career.
"There has been no difficulty, no anger, and no bad feelings at all," he said. Cadel has been very happy with how I have been riding. I think the way he is looking at it is that it's his last race and whether it's himself for me winning, it doesn't matter as its still BMC which is good for the team."
"At 37, to get third at a WorldTour race of this calibre is a huge effort and shows his talent and why he is the best cyclist Australia has ever produced," he said of Evans. "Hats off to him for getting third, as of now, which is an impressive ride."
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