The queen stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, the new 131.6 kilometre jaunt from Sorrento concluding with three biting laps over Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsula ,will likely turn out a treat for race organisers, with the overall winner set to be decided on Saturday with the final criterium stage left to run on Sunday.
Following stage three on Friday, Drapac's Rhys Pollock holds a 15 second lead on Genesys' young gun Nathan Haas, with a further three seconds back to Jonas Aaen Jorgensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard). Next at 22 seconds is stage two winner Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), while neo Jens Debusschere (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and current Australian road champion Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervelo) share a 23 second deficit.
Pollock, who has worn the yellow leader's jersey since his win on the opening stage to Ballarat, is optimistic regarding his chances of a start-to-finish grip on the GC. The 31-year-old has benefitted greatly from the work of his Drapac teammates, who have punched well above their weight in the peloton.
"We basically used Stu [Shaw] today, I'm not sure how far he'll be able to go tomorrow, but he'll do his best," Pollock warily admitted about his team's strength. "We'll see how we go, we've given ourselves the best opportunity. Like my director [Agostino Giramondo] says, stranger things have happened - we've come this far, so we're going to keep going and I have to back myself, hang in there for as long as I can."
Pollock was certain that the eventual overall winner will be a rider high up on the general classification one day prior to the event's queen stage. "It's very decisive, the winner I think will come from the first six [on GC], if not the first 10."
Departing the popular holiday town of Sorrento, after a morning ferry transfer across Port Phillip Bay from Queenscliff, it will be a question of how long the main bunch stays together with the peloton hitting the base of the climb after just 37 kilometres. As far as climbs go, this one to the highest point on the Mornington Peninsula is not long at three kilometres, but for what it lacks in length it makes up for in steepness with gradients between eight and 10 per cent - which can double on some of the bends.
Back down the other side and the fight for sprint points will be on with the first intermediate of the day at Merricks (63.1km) and then again shortly after at Flinders (84km) before the heading back to Arthurs Seat for a second (117.7km) and third time for the stage finish.
Bobridge could well be favourite to take out the event, despite heading into the race with question marks over his fitness, having withdrawn from the final stage of the Tour of Beijing ahead of the Sun Tour. The South Australian rider, who is bound for GreenEdge in 2012, nevertheless said that it won't necessarily be the winner of the stage who takes the race lead.
"I don't think we're going to have to win, the other guys are still 10 minutes down," he predicted. "There are guys like Matty Lloyd who can climb 10 times better than I can on a climb like that. The actual GC [race] will be behind the guys who win the stage."
While Bobridge didn't rule out Pollock holding on to yellow, as far as his own efforts go, the Garmin-Cervelo rider said "it's game on," ahead of the stage. "I'm in the perfect spot where I want to be for tomorrow," he said.
As far as who he thought posed the biggest threat to him joining the ranks of Sun Tour winners, Bobridge warned of 'the rookie' before concluding on his own appetite for showdown.
"Saxo Bank have a good team as well, but at this stage I'd look at Nathan [Haas]," he said. "Nathan has shown he's a good rider, he's definitely all class. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he goes to a bigger and better team.
"It's going to be a good race - it's everything tomorrow, leave everything out on the road and if I'm not good enough to get it and someone else does, that's the way it is."