The Tour Down Under’s fifth stage has received universal praise from those on hand, with most describing it as the best racing seen in the Tour’s 12 year history, if not the sport’s history in Australia. Caisse d’Epargne riders Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez joined forces with UCI World Road Champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas) in a break away that challenged the race’s general classification leader Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) by a matter of seconds to the line.
Renowned race commentator Phil Liggett described the situation as a race organiser’s dream during its live broadcast, but that barely even scratched the surface on race director Mike Turtur’s thoughts. The normally subdued Tutur was enthusiastic as he reflected on the stage, which left Greipel in the lead by just 11 seconds.
“That’s the best stage we’ve had in the race, because of what was at stake,” said Turtur. “The jersey being held by Greipel, the possibility of Cadel taking the jersey, then the passion and desire for guys to win a stage like Sanchez. I think it just had everything; you couldn’t have scripted a better day.
“To have the world champion in the front, like, on the climb…you should have seen the reaction from the people. That was sensational,” said Turtur. “When they heard Cadel was at the front making a bid it was unreal. I’ve not experienced a climb like that other than the Tour de France, that’s the only place I’ve ever experienced it. That was just unbelievable.”
The event unfolded before the eyes of International Cycling Union (UCI) President Pat McQuaid, who was visiting the race for a second time after his initial trip in 2004. In addition to the breakaway’s survival, McQuaid saw returning rider Luke Roberts dragged across to the lead group by a Milram team-mate inside the final kilometre, before going on to take second place.
“That was equal to anything you’ll see anywhere,” said McQuaid. “You were looking at a situation where an Australian world champion was trying to ride into the yellow jersey, doing his damndest ride to get into the yellow jersey. He didn’t pull it off by only a handful of seconds.
“It was a spectacular and dramatic finish because here you have the sight of an Australian world champion, in a world champion’s jersey, fighting for the lead of the nation’s most prestigious race,” added McQuaid. “The drama over those last 10 kilometres was incredible. In the end he didn’t pull it off but he delivered the goods in pleasing the cycling public with his efforts. “
HTC-Columbia team manager Allan Peiper was almost lost for words after the display he saw, despite being very much on the receiving end of the action. Like Garmin-Transitions director Matthew White, Peiper believes it was possibly one of the finest displays of racing Australia has seen.
“To ride like he has today, to show the world champion’s jersey on your own terrain…there’s a lot of world champions who don’t really show the jersey the whole year,” said Peiper. “Cadel has just come out…fantastic, really fantastic. He took us right to the wall with the competition and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a showcase of cycling.”
McQuaid supported the comments from Turtur and Peiper, saying the drama was hard to beat. “It’s quite possible, it’s quite possible,” said McQuaid when asked if he thought claims of being the best stage in Australian history were reasonable. “Certainly I don’t think you expect to see a scenario often like I just described where the first ever Australian world champion is fighting for dramatic seconds in his national tour, and that’s what was going on here. That’s never happened here before. It would be very hard to surpass the drama we had in the last 10 kilometres here today, so I wouldn’t disagree with what Mike said. “
While he wasn’t able to stay amongst the action himself, Lance Armstrong (RadioShack) was also impressed by the day’s racing. “That was some great bike racing,” said Armstrong. “I tell you, this young Slovenian (sic) [Sagan] is showing a lot of talent.”
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