Sanchez sensational in thrilling finale

The Little Engine that Could tells the story of the small train that succeeds in pulling a longer train over a mountain while repeating the motto: "I-think-I-can". Today in Willunga, Australia's Little Engine that Could, Cadel Evans, almost did the same.

Having attacked during the second ascent of Old Willunga Hill, Evans rode the final 20km of stage five at this year's Santos Tour Down Under with 2009 Vuelta a España winner Alejandro Valverde, his Caisse d'Epargne teammate Luis Leon Sanchez and young Slovakian star Peter Sagan, a formidable four-man combo that forced that big, long train - HTC-Columbia - to get over the mountain quickly if it wanted André Greipel to win overall.

In the finale it was Sanchez who prevailed for the stage win but Evans who won hearts in his home nation through his attacking riding as Greipel dodged a bullet - the 'Green Bullet' - in Valverde, who was one of the drivers of the break that almost stole the German's thunder down under.

With a gap of 31 seconds and four kilometres to ride, Evans looked in a position to take the ochre leader's jersey; a hard-charging peloton ensured this wouldn't happen and with a kilometre to go Sanchez attacked the spirited break to win the day while his fellow escapees succumbed to the clutches of the sprinters' teams.

It was a thrilling conclusion to the 148km stage; the margin between Evans' glory and Greipel's agony a matter of metres. "It was an interesting situation on the climb. I was with two Caisse d'Epargne riders who are strong finishers, which put me in a difficult position," said Evans after the finish.

"The last thing I wanted to do was lead Sanchez out for the stage because he was breathing down my neck on GC. I thought that it was better to go for something than lose everything. Having two Caisse d'Epargne riders made it a difficult situation for me, with one against me on GC and one against me for the stage so it was better to try and make an opportunity than to have nothing at all," he added.

As Evans was looking at what might have been, Greipel wasn't entertaining the idea that it might not have been his day. "There was no point in panicking - there wasn't any time to panic," said the big German. "We just needed to chase because we were down by 40 seconds - Michael Rogers, Hayden Roulston and Matthew Goss just started to chase and it was awesome."

Greipel said he's feeling confident of defending his lead, which has been whittled to 11 seconds, with Sanchez moving up to second overall and Luke Roberts a firther six seconds behind the Spaniard. He constantly paid tribute to his teammates for the work they did throughout the day. "It was just awesome from the guys - they stayed with me on the climb and Mick [Rogers] didn't want to chase his own success today," continued Greipel. "He said he wanted to stay with me, plus Hayden Roulston and Matthew Goss. They helped me up the climb and chased the front group."

"I'm just really pleased with them - they've supported me the whole week," he added.

'Stevo' and his stars make a run for it

Meanwhile, Neil Stephens' Caisse d'Epargne two big stars animated the penultimate day, a stage with fond memories for Sanchez, who sealed his 2005 overall win on Willunga, albeit at a time when the peloton only rode it once.

On that occasion he was riding with future Tour de France star Alberto Contador and it only took one ascent of 'the hill' to secure his place on general classification; this time around, five years later, it was on the second occasion he climbed Old Willunga Hill that opened up his chances of stealing an almost-impossible victory.

With 20km to race the time had come for Sanchez and Valverde to chance their arm in pursuit of the stage and the overall - with Evans as a companion and Sagan chipping in well, the four men looked like staying away to share the spoils when they turned off McMurtie Rd and into the final five kilometres.

But with HTC-Columbia turning on the afterburners behind the quartet stumbled at the final hurdle - the final kilometre - at which time Sanchez kicked hard to gain valuable bonus seconds while his companions fell victim to the clutches of the peloton.

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