Michael Woods (EF-Education First) has said the Tour Down Under is now Patrick Bevin's to lose, after he and other climbers failed to put time into the overall race leader and 2018 champion Daryl Impey on stage 4.
Woods attacked with Richie Porte, Wout Poels, and George Bennett on the Corkscrew climb but they were caught by Bevin, Impey and other members of a reduced peloton on the descent into Campbelltown, where Impey sprinted to the stage win.
"A couple of guys were grabbing their brakes a bit too much through the corners and we lost a bit of speed on the descent," Woods explained beyond the finish line.
"But we all committed. I was stoked, because I knew I have a good sprint relative to other climbers, but then we just didn't have enough of a gap and they brought us back. I'm a bit upset. I tried to get Impey's wheel in the sprint but I got swarmed and that was my day."
Woods now sits tenth overall, alongside Porte, Poels, and Bennett in a group of 15 riders who are 21 seconds behind Bevin. The only two riders who are closer are Impey at seven seconds and Luis León Sánchez at 11 seconds.
Saturday's stage 5 is likely to culminate in a bunch sprint, leaving the double ascent of Willunga Hill on the final day as the final showdown in the battle for the overall title.
Asked if he was happy with how the race had unfolded so far, Woods said: "No. I'm really happy with how my team has ridden and how my form is, but it's not the position I wanted to be in going into Willunga. I would have liked to have been at least even on time with guys like Paddy and Daryl, just because Willunga is not a great climb to put boat loads of time into guys.
"Paddy is up now 20 seconds up, so that's a tough gap to make up on him, he has come 10th on that climb already. Kudos to him he's ridden a really good race but I'd like to be in a better position right now.
"You can never write off the GC but it's going to be really tough to make inroads, so I think it's Paddy's race to lose now."
Southam praises his riders for aggressive racing
EF Education First have been an aggressive force in their new pink kits so far this week. Woods' move on Corkscrew followed a late attack on the previous stage, a day when EF were constantly trying things with various riders.
Directeur sportif Tom Southam praised his team, although he did admit they haven't always raced in that manner.
"That's how you have to race if you want to get something out of it," he said. "I'd rather come here and put a lot in and miss out, than just sit in the bunch - as we have done before. We have used that tactic before - waited, waited, waited - and I don't think it really pays off in the long run. If you do end up empty handed, you just feel like shit, and you've just wasted six days."
Southam echoed Woods' sentiment that the race is now 'Bevin's to lose', but insisted they'd go all out on Willunga Hill on Sunday.
"Mike is, what, 21 seconds back, which is a lot. You have to take as much back as you can, if not more. The only way you're going to get it is by aiming for the stage, and that's all you can do, that's all that's left now really," Southam said.
"Tomorrow if it's windy it could be interesting but neither of those two [Bevin and Impey] are going to be caught out by the wind, so we'll see. it's getting far away now with all those bonus seconds gone."
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