Cofidis workhorse Matt White delighted not only himself but also the better part of the peloton when he won his first big victory in six years, the fourth stage of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. After a well-timed breakaway from the peloton, he also broke away from his fellow escapees within the final kilometres close to the finish.
"Well, I'm glad that a lot of people are happy for me," Matt White said from the back seat of his team car after the stage. "This is an important win to our team since it's the first win of the season. It's always good to get a win early in the season, just to keep things rolling. You wouldn't want to wait until late May to get it. The win's also important to me, since it's my first big win since '99. I have won a few smaller races in Australia, and also the odd team time trial, but this is the first win I have got for myself since then."
How it unfolded
It was clear before the stage that break would go away, since so many riders were now out of contention for the general classification. The question was just who was going to be in it, and when would it go? The answer came quickly as the attacks were on from the very second the riders reached the South East Freeway tollgate at kilometre zero. Mikel Astarloza and Iñigo Chaurreau (Ag2r Prevoyance), David Betts (United Water), Nathan O'Neill (Navigators Insurance) and Adrian Laidler (Uni SA) attacked first and were quickly followed by yellow jersey Luis Sanchez (Liberty Seguros) who was keen to see that no one dangerous was in the break.
At the top of the climb, they were all caught, but the peloton had split up big time, and more than half of the riders found themselves swerving in and out among the cars in the caravan, going downhill at 90 km/h. After only 15 kilometres raced, some of the main contenders for the yellow jumped clear of the others, although the peloton wasn't going to let the likes of Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) and Gene Bates (UniSA) get away.
Leading up to the first sprint in Echunga, the peloton was still together, despite numerous attempts to break clear made by many riders. Panaria's Paride Grillo took the sprint ahead of Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) and team mate Graeme Brown, and shortly after a break containing Wim Vansevenant (Davitamon-Lotto), Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole), Arnaud Gerard and Ian McLeod (FDJeux.com), Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r Prevoyance) and the yellow jersey of Luis Sanchez tried to get away, but once again the peloton was on its toes and brought them all back.
At the halfway point, Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen and Credit Agricole's Sebastian Joly launched an attack, and unlike the other attacks, this one seemed to work. Matthew White (Cofidis), Frederic Finot (FDJeux.com) and Nicolas Portal (Ag2r Prevoyance) quickly realised that this might be the one attack that would last all the way, and they were able to bridge over to the two front runners. Just before Checker Hill, Panaria's Fortunato Baliani was also able to bridge across, and he went on to win the KOM prize. The six-man break was now allowed a bit of space, as Sanchez' Liberty Seguros team had already been working hard at the first part of the race, and because no one in the break was a threat to their leader's jersey.
With 35 kilometres to go, the six leaders' gap was five and a half minutes, but was starting to come down as the riders from Navigators put in an extra effort back in the peloton. As the riders were approaching the line, it became clear that they would not be caught, and that the winner would come from their group.
"Knowing that Robbie's pretty fast in the end, I knew I had to do something," White told Cyclingnews after the stage. "There was a little climb where I thought I could put some pressure on the others, so I did. I hadn't planned this would happen today, but since so many riders got into a break yesterday, we knew we had to get into one, without being followed by the guys from yesterday."
Matt's attack proved successful, and he was not chased by Aussie mate McEwen. "I told Matt, if you do attack, I won't make it my job to hunt you down," second placed McEwen told Cyclingnews. "We are on different teams, and I do get paid for winning races, but I've had several times in the Olympics and in the World Championships where Matt has worked for me, and I'm also counting on his support in coming races of that calibre. If I hadn't got a win already, I would have been a lot keener on this one, but now I just let Matt know that I wouldn't chase him. I just sat up and watched how the others would behave."
Spaniard Luis Sanchez kept his yellow jersey, but today's hard work has certainly taken its toll on his teammates, as co-leader Allan Davis said after the stage. "We have spent a lot more energy today than what we would have liked, but hopefully the guys will have something left for tomorrow, because that will be a crucial stage. So far, I've only been able to get myself over the Willunga Hill climb in the front group once out of seven attempts.
Allan who is in fourth place, 13 seconds down on his teammate Sanchez, is well positioned for a nice ride tomorrow if he does that though, and as Sanchez admitted, his team is still concentrating as much on Davis as they do on him. "It's too early to make predictions whether I will last or not. We take every day as it comes, and everyone knows that Allan has been riding very strongly."
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