Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) navigated his way through a hectic stage 5 at the Tour Down Under, where crosswinds caused multiple splits throughout and a crash in the final 10km caught out current race leader Patrick Bevin (CCC Team).
The aggressive stage was lit up by Jumbo-Visma, Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-QuickStep and Team Sky on a number of occasions, who piled on the pressure as the race turned east away from the coast and hit crosswinds.
Despite several splits occurring in the peloton, the race continually came back together. Porte was shepherded through the drama by teammates Koen de Kort and Ryan Mullen, arriving into Strathalbyn safely in the lead group.
"I think it's one of those days where everyone's stressed and tempers flare," Porte said to reporters outside his team vehicles after the stage.
"Luke Rowe [Team Sky] is one of my best mates and I even had a bit of a go with him there. It's nice to be able to talk to him and it's all good. I think it's just part of it, now's the moment to just apologise to the guys who you had a problem with or talk about it.
"I think my team were really good today, everyone did a good job and there's a lot to lose. It's a shame to see Paddy Bevin go down like that. He went down super hard, I think he just overlapped a wheel or something, it's not nice to see."
Title on the line on Willunga
Bevin was taken to hospital immediately after the stage and, although the incident came separately to the periods of crosswinds, the high pace - occasionally averaging over 58km/h for multiple kilometres - would have certainly contributed to the fatigue levels and nerves throughout the peloton.
Despite making it through the stage, Porte knows the drama is not yet over. Unlike previous editions of the race, which have traditionally finished with a city centre criterium, the 2019 edition finishes on Willunga Hill.
Porte has won on Willunga for five years running and, although the CCC Team confirmed on Saturday evening that Bevin is planning to begin the final stage, the crash on stage 5 will surely have some impact and potentially make the New Zealander's overall lead of 26 seconds vulnerable come the race finale.
Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana Pro Team) both also have an advantage on the likes of Porte, Wout Poels (Team Sky), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Woods (EF Education First). Although Porte thinks Impey - second overall at seven seconds from Bevin and 19 ahead of Porte - has enough of an advantage, the race is by no means over.
"It's just crosswinds and everybody wants to be in the same position, there's only so much room on the road. It's been such a hard day and tempers flare and it's just how it is," Porte said.
"I think tomorrow morning will probably be the most stressful of the race. I don't think it's going to be easy to win the Tour Down Under now. Willunga's not such a hard climb and it's not going to be massive time gaps there.
"Impey's probably taken enough time. I just don't see Paddy Bevin being able to even keep going. He didn't look very good at the finish. Tomorrow he will be black and blue. I just think he hit the ground so hard that realistically it's going to be hard for him to even be in there with a shot.
"It's a shame but we'll see tomorrow how much damage we can do. When the race goes up Willunga flat out the first time, it's going to be a good race I think."
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