In cycling, time is precious, and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) wasted very little time in stealing back five critical seconds from two bonuses along stage four of the Tour Down Under – a stage won by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), who holds the all-time record for stage victories at the race.
Gerrans took a three-second time bonus at the first intermediate sprint, before adding two more seconds after finishing second to fellow Australian Nathan Haas, who is running fourth overall, at the second – and final – intermediate sprint on Inman Valley Road in Yankalilla at the 116.6-kilometre mark.
"Yes, it would have been great to get a few more bonus seconds on the finish line today, but unfortunately I finished in fourth place so just outside the bonuses," said Gerrans, a two-time overall winner and the reigning Australian national champion. "In saying that, we got a couple of seconds out on the road to tighten things up just a little bit more and as I've said time and time again, this race is won by seconds. I'm going to take every opportunity."
"It’s been a nervous day with the wind and Orica really took control of the race by putting the whole team [on the front] for the intermediate sprints," said Evans, who is riding the Tour Down Under for the first time since 2010. "The first one didn’t go favourably for me and the second one was even worse."
Evans says that looking at the numbers, the Orica-GreenEdge team has four stages ideally suited to their strengths on this year's route, while he has only two. "Numbers-wise it’s not in my advantage," he said while wearing the ochre leader’s jersey for the second day in a row. "But of course Willunga [on the penultimate stage] will be important."
Orica-GreenEdge team director Matt White told Cyclingnews that "this race is far from over. We were on a mission to get bonuses. We identified the first one quite easy and pulled the string and won that one. The second one was a bit tricky and caught the bunch napping and drove 25km to bring the break back and put Simon in position to win [valuable time]."
With the bonuses, Gerrans now trails Evans by seven seconds and is within striking distance of the lead ahead of stage five and its infamous Willunga Hill finale.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if it is decided on Sunday," said White. "But at the end of the day, if we are going to win the [race], Simon has to beat Cadel on Willunga tomorrow."
Gerrans shared White’s sentiments about Sunday’s stage six potentially being the deciding factor, but claims the outcome of Willunga will be critical to the overall result.
"It can definitely be lost on Willunga Hill, but not necessarily won," Gerrans said. "It could definitely come down to the final stage on Sunday.