Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) punched clear of the main group, in the company of Wout Poels (Team Sky), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Woods (EF Education First), on the final climb of stage 4 of the Tour Down Under on Friday, but they were caught on the descent to the finish, meaning that he still trails race leader Paddy Bevin (CCC Team) by 21 seconds.
While it was no great surprise to see the Tour Down Under come alive on Corkscrew in the final 10km of the 129.2km stage between Unley and Campbelltown, the climbers were unable to distance the rouleurs – Bevin and Friday's stage winner, Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).
Indeed, they ended the day having lost time, despite all the main contenders finishing in the same group, by virtue of the time bonuses available for the top three finishers on the stage.
Time might be rapidly running out but this race is still far from over, with Porte sitting on the same 21-second deficit as fifth-placed Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) and alongside another 12 riders. They are all poised to pounce on the two ascents of Willunga Hill on Sunday's sixth stage, if not before.
"Hats off to Daryl," Porte told reporters in Campbelltown. "He's a good guy, and I think he rode a great race. But my team was also fantastic today.
"I think CCC were playing a bit of a game there, and that could have cost us all the TDU. If the other teams didn't come and ride, it was game over," he said, alluding to CCC not having controlled the race in the same way as they had on stage 3, allowing the day's six-man breakaway to reach the bottom of Corkscrew.
"It was an interesting day," Porte continued. "It was a bit cooler, which was nice, and it was fantastic to ride up the Corkscrew with the amount of supporters there.
"The [Trek-Segafredo] guys were brilliant yesterday [stage 3] until two laps to go. They wanted to make amends for that, and they did. They did a great job. Koen De Kort put me in a great position through the gorge, Will Clarke rode really well on the front, and then Ryan Mullen put me in the perfect position at the bottom of the climb. Everybody did a great job, so it's a good sign."
Once on his own with his breakaway companions on the climb, and, subsequently, on the descent towards the finish, Porte said that the effort had not been overly taxing, suggesting that there's still something left in the tank for Sunday's stage to WIllunga Hill.
"It wasn't really that hard," Porte said. "I think Bevin cracked pretty early [on the climb], but obviously rode a good tempo. But it didn't really feel as though we went super hard, and the next thing I knew, there were just four of us.
"We worked well together, but I was surprised how quickly that group came back [on the descent], and I was also surprised to see that there was a [TV] camera motorbike sat right in front of them there," he added, suggesting that having the motorbike in front of them may have provided the chasing group with a slipstream advantage.
"It's part of it, I suppose," Porte said, still optimistic about his overall chances.
"But the race is now probably more for Paddy Bevin to lose. It's stressful having the jersey and having to defend it. Daryl's coming back at him, too. I think for us guys who clipped off the front there, it's a good sign for Sunday."
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