Well here we are once again, looking down the barrel of a tight finish to yet another Tour Down Under. Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) leads the race by a slim 11 seconds over Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) with a 90 kilometre circuit race in down town Adelaide remaining.
Today's race takes place over a 4.5 kilometre circuit around Elder Park in North Adelaide. Conditions are perfect after some drizzle over the past two days.
Graeme Brown (Rabobank) is hoping for a strong finish to what has been a disappointing week for the sprinter. After a strong week of sprinting at the Jayco Bay Cycling Classic, he'll leave Tour Down Under empty handed if he's unable to pull a result today. "I’m feeling pretty confident, I’ve won this stage before. I need to pull something out as my form’s too good for the results I’ve had," he said.
Those who tuned in to one of my coverages during the week might remember us talking about Euskaltel – Euskadi's attacking ways. I caught up with one of the sport directors in the Hilton lift the following day and he explained: "It's simply the nature of the team we bring here. They always want to be a part of the break, always want to attack. It's their nature."
The gun has been shot and the race is underway. UniSA and a Euskaltel – Euskadi rider have surged but failed to get away thus far.
Anyone wanting to contact the commentator, Greg Johnson, throughout today's stage can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
There's lots of attacking going on at the moment but thus far nobody is away.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) has a small gap on the field with an Euskatel rider.
They've been joined by four other riders but have barely 20 metres on the peloton.
Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Doimo)is driving the small break away.
The main field has attached on to the back of the break, so we're all back together.
Race leader Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) was cautious about his overall chances heading into today’s stage. “The main goal is to keep the jersey,” he said. “I think there will be a couple of attacks but we have a strong team.”
The peloton is strung out but largely together at the end of the first lap, with Mauro Finetto (Liquigas-Doimo) driving the action.
One thing I'd like readers to e-mail me their thoughts on during the next 85 kilometres is their vote for ride of the week. We've seen some strong action in the first ProTour race, but what is the standout for you? I'll let you know mine in a while.
Jonathan Castroviejo (Euskaltel - Euskadi) tried to move across to a small group but it's also back together. Looks like it's going to be hard to get away today.
Martin Kohler (BMC Racing Team) has taken a small solo margin over the peloton.
We have two sprints today, the first coming at lap 8, 36 km into the race, then the second will come on lap 12, 54 km in. There's three seconds on offer for the winner, two for second, and one for third. Then for the finishing sprint there will be 10 seconds for the winner, six for second and four for third.
That means with a intermediate sprint win and the stage win Sanchez could take the leader's jersey, depending on where Greipel finished in each of those.
Kohler has been caught as four other riders go clear.
The group includes Andriy Grivko (Astana), Bernhard Eisel (HTC-Columbia), Jens Voigt (Team Saxo Bank) and Jonathan Cantwell (Team UniSA).
That group too has been caught, but Grivko has gone again, this time with Mikael Cherel (Française Des Jeux).
Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has bridged to the leaders as well. As a former race winner, 30 seconds behind Greipel overall, that will ring alarm bells back in the peloton. Not so much at HTC-Columbia as he's no risk there, but rather for riders who want to maintain their high position on general classification.
Greipel has been unbeatable in the flat sprints during the Tour Down Under’s ProTour component, but Robbie McEwen (Katusha) thinks it can be done. “You’ve just got to time your run right and hope you’re faster on the day,” he said.
The three leaders have been caught.
76km remaining from 90km
Well, well, guess who's out front now: Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel - Euskadi). As we said before, the Basque boys just love attacking.
Velasco isn't likely to last, I'm afraid.
We've got another BMC and UniSA combo away now, in the form of Rohan Dennis and Kohler again.
Dennis is the Australian Under 23 Time Trial champion.
Elmiger has bridged to this group too. Seems he wants in on the action today.
Elmiger got a bit more action than he bargained for while out celebrating his overall win in 2007...but that's another story.
The leading trio seem to be getting a pretty good margin. Looks like the bunch might be happy to let this go, although they are still moving pretty dang quick.
Don't forget to e-mail me your favourite performance of the week to email@example.com. Mine? Well, I made a comment while enjoying some Italian food with some fellow journalists one night earlier this week about Luke Roberts, basically saying I wasn't really sure he'd do all that much this week. I'm happy to be proven wrong, and that's exactly what Roberts did yesterday. His ride might have been overshadowed in an excellent stage, but he attacked from the chase group to catch all but one rider and finish in second place. I knew there was a solo rider bridging at the time, but it wasn't until later I realised that rider wasn't Roberts - in fact Roberts flew out of the chase much later than that solo rider, and still caught all but Sanchez. Credit where it's due, and that was a great ride.
Six more riders have bridged across to the lead group, including Voigt and Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d'Epargne).
63km remaining from 90km
HTC-Columbia is clearly worried. They've had one or two at the peloton's head all race so far, but now the whole team including race leader Greipel are driving the peloton.
Cyclingnews' diarist Daryl Impey (Team RadioShack) is one of the riders in the front group, as is mountains classification leader Thomas Rohregger (Team Milram).
Ashley has asked about the Elmiger incident. Since he's in another break, I guess we can go there. The Swiss rider left Adelaide with the Tour Down Under title and a broken nose after a nightclub incident.
The nine riders have been brought back by the peloton.
An Ag2R rider has launched a solo move following the break's return to the peloton. It's not Elmiger, we're just trying to get an idea on who it is now.
Doesn't matter, he didn't last anyway. Looks like Astana is trying to get something going again. Not sure it'll have much luck either.
58km remaining from 90km
Pierre Cazaux (Française Des Jeux) has had a crack at a move...but guess what? No joy!
We're all together at the moment with one lap until the intermediate sprint. Don't be surprised if we see Greipel contest that sprint.
Astana riders Gorazd Stangelj (Astana) and Andriy Grivko (Astana) are leading the peloton. They too tried to get a gap without any joy. They're still driving the pace.
Riders have been given the bell for the sprint, and also taken on some bottles. Can't help but note Saxo Bank looks as though it's riding for HTC-Columbia at the moment, helping keep the action together.
Saxo Bank is driving the peloton, which is strung out behind. This could be a hotly contested sprint.
Saxo Bank has pushed the pace that high they're yelling at the motorbike rider in front to get out of their way.
Greipel is sitting surprisingly a fair way back here. Saxo Bank trying to take the top three places for them, I wonder?
Greg Henderson (Team Sky) has cut in on Saxo Bank's train, hoping to steal some seconds.
Greg Henderson looks to have taken it from Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) with Baden Cooke (Saxo Bank) in third.
So, Greipel didn't contest that sprint. Looks like he's conserving himself for the finish, which brings us to that point: We're 40.5 km into the race, who do you think will win the stage if it goes to a bunch sprint (and lets be honest, it will)?
45km remaining from 90km
HTC-Columbia is controlling the action as the race reaches half race difference.
Valeriy Dmitriyev (Astana) has attacked with two riders following as we approach the king of the mountains.
Mikael Cherel (Française Des Jeux) won the king of the mountains sprint. Dimitriyev dropped back after the climb leaving Cherel and Thomas Rohregger (Team Milram) out front.
Martin Pedersen (Footon Servetto) and Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) have bridged to make a lead group of four riders.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) has changed his mind. After dropping back to the peloton after sitting up at the KOM, he's attacked the peloton to try and bridge back to the leaders. He used to be indecisive, but now he's not so sure?
Grivko is the biggest threat to Greipel's lead, with the rider in 10th place. If he does get anywhere, the move will be shut down.
Antonio from the USA is tipping Graeme Brown (Rabobank) for the win. Meanwhile, Grivko has been shut down by the peloton but our four leaders still have a nice little margin.
40km remaining from 90km
The lead group has taken the bell as it enters the sprint lap. Surprise, surprise, Saxo Bank is driving at the front of the pleoton.
Mikael Cherel (Française Des Jeux) knows the bunch is pushing hard behind so has attacked the lead group early in the hope of not being caught.
Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) too has attacked the lead group in the Dutch championship jersey.
Moerenhout has taken a big margin, moving beyond Cherel and looks good to take the three seconds if he can stay away.
The other three riders have been caught by the Saxo Bank led peloton but Moerenhout's margin is looking good.
Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank) has been caught just 150 metres from the line by a Garmin-Transitions led peloton.
Robbie McEwen (Katusha) bobbed his way through the Garmin-Transition train to win the three seconds, which puts him in equal third outright with Luke Roberts (Milram).
36km remaining from 90km
Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Transitions) took second place in the sprint with America's big George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team) taking third place.
Pete asked me:"Rumour has it Hilton has installed an espresso machine in the lift for the benefit of cycling journalists and next year there will be a personal Batista. Can you confirm and is the coffee in the lift any good?"
Unfortunately I had a fan in here looking for me this morning (not sure if it was for good or bad reasons) so probably best I don't give too many details away about how Cyclingnews' Hilton lift is decked out. Lance Armstrong was kind enough to stop and say G'day the other day though. I'm pretty sure he was taking the piss out of me with his best Australian accent too...which wasn't very good.
Caisse d'Epargne has moved two riders to the peloton's front while Wes Sulzberger (FDJ), Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas-Doimo) and Trent Lowe (Garmin-Transitions) have a lead of about 15 seconds.
Greg Henderson (Team Sky) wasn’t too keen to say his team’s win last Sunday on a similar circuit means he’s favourite for today’s stage. “We’re going to employ the same goals and structure, but it’s bike racing any anything can happen,” he said.
The peloton isn't chasing the lead group but it really needs to change that. Wes Sulzberger (FDJ) has a 33 second lead on the road. Add to that a 10 second bonus for the victory and it would put him in the virtual leader's jersey!
Seems we've got a few Americans tuning in to our coverage today, judging by the e-mails. Where's everyone else's predictions?
Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas-Doimo) won the second KOM, which wasn't really challenged by his break away mates. Wes Sulzberger (FDJ) was second and Trent Lowe (Garmin-Transitions) third.
Sulzberger is really working hard in the front group. It looks as though the teams behind have realised the situation and are getting in order to chase down the gap.
72km remaining from 90km
Ouch, the gap has grown. Sulzberger is the outright virtual race leader - regardless of bonus seconds at the finish. With four laps remaining he has a 47 second margin.
There's 10,000 Euros on the line if Sulzberger can snatch the general classification victory. That seems like good motivation to me, plus he'll get another 4,000 Euros if he can win the stage.
The gap has been reduced to 43 seconds. That's still enough if it can be held. Astana is leading the peloton but you wouldn't call it an organised chase yet.
Astana has ramped up its chase, with the whole team on the front now.
13km remaining from 90km
The leaders group has them at 5:11 minutes for the 4.5 kilometre lap. The gap has closed to 38 seconds meaning he's no longer the leader on the road, however even a third place bonus would tick him over into the winner's jersey.
With that said, we've still got three laps to go and holding that margin will be tough, to say the least.
HTC-Columbia isn't doing the work to bring back the group, that responsibility is being left to Astana, while Rabobank and Caisse d'Epargne riders are mixing into their train to help with the work.
Looks like the bunch wants a sprint finish today, which will likely end Sulzberger's hopes of a surprise overall win.
9km remaining from 90km
The peloton is coming! Our three leader's gap has been reduced to just 17 seconds with two laps remaining.
The peloton is averaging 49 km/h over the 4.5 kilometre circuit as it works to bring back the leading three.
Our British (plus Kiwi and Aussie fans) will be please to know that Team Sky is starting to move towards the front.
The gap is slowly closing down, sorry Wes! Looks like no national title or Tour Down Under title this January.
4km remaining from 90km
The gap is just 15 seconds with one lap remaining. Sulzberger is giving it his all, but it's not going to be enough. Milram is moving forward, RadioShack is lining up its train. There's too many sprinters wanting a win to let Wes stay away.
The front trio is out of the saddle, but the peloton is barely 150 metres now.
The peloton has tagged on the Sulzberger's wheel with half a lap remaining. Sulzberger did a pull, but has given up now.
Russell Downing (Team Sky) is doing a big pull on the front, with his team-mates behind.
Team Sky have five riders pulling with two Rabobank riders on their wheel, while McEwen is surging forward with three more corners.
Chris Sutton (Team Sky) takes it!
The youngster from Sydney, who backed off to let Greg Henderson to win last weekend's criterium, has taken his first ProTour stage win.
Greg Henderson (Team Sky) was second with Graeme Brown (Rabobank) taking third place.
Chris Sutton has stopped to hug his father Gary, a coach at NSWIS, after doing an honour lap of the course.
Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia) said: "Of course I’m really happy, for the team as well. It did a really good job for the last week. I’m really happy today."
Cyclingnews has added fuller results and a brief report here where more will be added throughout the afternoon.
Thanks for joining us throughout the week for the 12th Tour Down Under. From Les Clark and myself, Greg Johnson, we hope you've enjoyed our commentary throughout the week and hope you'll join us again in 2011 for the ProTour opener.
In the meantime we hope you enjoy some safe (and competitive) cycling and will join our crew for live coverages throughout the year from races like Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Tour of California.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Chris Sutton (Aus) Team Sky|
|2||Greg Henderson (NZl) Team Sky|
|3||Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank|
|4||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha|
|5||Andre Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia|
|6||Allan Davis (Aus) Astana|
|7||Matthew Goss (Aus) HTC-Columbia|
|8||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Francaise Des Jeux|
|9||Gert Steegmans (Bel) RadioShack|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team|
|1||Andre Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia|
|2||Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne|
|3||Greg Henderson (NZl) Team Sky|
|4||Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team Katusha|
|5||Luke Roberts (Aus) Team Milram|
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