After a tough day in Stirling on Thursday, the sprinters were back on top in Goolwa as André Greipel (HTC-Columbia) ensured the fast men would remain atop the standings with victory in stage four of the Tour Down Under. The victory extended Greipel’s general classification lead by six seconds, while a second place finish by Robbie McEwen (Team Katusha) put the Australian in the same position overall.
Greipel’s third victory of 2010 came at the end of a windy day that took riders south of Adelaide and forced them to contend with cross and headwinds, which meant any breakaways never stood a chance. From Greipel’s point of view a lead-out from Matthew Goss, the newest addition to the team’s lead-out train, meant his rivals never stood a chance.
"Matthew Goss. If you have riders like him then no one can pass us," said Greipel. "We deserve the win because we always ride from the front."
A long, flat sprint to finish the 149.5 kilometre stage was made all the more tricky by weather conditions. Riders were challenged by a stiff 15 knot crosswind on the run to the finish line.
"The sprint was tough, especially the last five or six kilometres coming in," said McEwen. "We got a big crosswind from the right which put us in the left gutter. It just blew the bunch to pieces."
Alejandro Valverde’s (Caisse d’Epargne) general classification hopes were one thing severely dented by the wind. The Spanish rider was blown from fourth overall down to 26th, with the 17 seconds lost on today’s stage plus Greipel’s time bonus putting him 41 seconds behind.
RadioShack was again prominent in the day’s sprint, but the team is still chasing a much needed victory. The team is making its debut in the Australian ProTour race, with its sponsor’s entire executive committee here to watch, but McEwen believes its key sprinter failed to pounce at the right time.
"I was well placed coming into the sprint on the wheel of Gert Steegmans," said McEwen. "I come across the line second but couldn’t catch Greipel, I gave him a bit too much head start coming from third. I was hoping Steegmans would just hit out early because he’s so strong but he waited and waited, I think he out-waited himself."
Graeme Brown (Rabobank) launched an aggressive sprint early but was unable to match Greipel’s raw strength. Over the closing metres the compact McEwen also snuck ahead of his compatriot, leaving Brown in third place.
With wind gusting up to 25 knots at various points throughout the race, for many it was a battle of survival just to stay on the road. As HTC-Columbia had set such a high pace at the front International Cycling Union (UCI) World Road Champion Cadel Evans was just glad to finish safely.
"I’ve never seen it so windy here in South Australia, or just about any race actually; really when the winds are like that and you have a couple of strong classics teams get on the front it just causes chaos behind," he said. "It’s actually very dangerous, just because the wind is so strong.
"Not so much because there’s a possibility that the peloton is going to split, but you can just get blown off the road or someone can get blown on top of you when they’re just trying to do the right thing," he added. "It’s pretty dangerous like that so I’m just happy to get through it in the same time. It was very … very stressful."
Blown away for a day
Rain sprinkled on the start line in Norwood as a larger storm brewed amongst media ranks over whether you-see-eye President Pat McQuaid was willing to talk to you or not. The sprinkling continued as the day’s obligatory break made its way off the front, with a group attacking up Gorge Rd and into the day's King of the Mountain on Fox Creek Rd.
David Kemp (UniSA), Olivier Kaisen (