Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) has triumphed following a fast and furious sprint finish into Victor Harbour, taking out the 134.5 kilometre third stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-BigMat) was second by half a wheel while Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) was over a bike length behind in third.
The German's victory was testimony to his current strength and form, down to just five teammates with the withdrawal of Jurgen Roelandts following the opening stage on Tuesday. Greipel dedicated today's win to the Belgian who broke his sixth cervical vertebra in a crash that decimated the peloton on Stage 1.
"This victory is for Jurgen Roelandts who unfortunately supports us from the hospital," he said following his second stage victory of the Tour Down Under. "We're nearly three riders down but the rest of the team that is not injured has been awesome today."
Hutarovich's second place was one better than his result on the opening stage into Clare, so he was pleased with his own progression.
"The first stage I was already third so that was a good sign and yesterday I took a journey and today had to recover and think about this stage," the Belarusian explained. "From the start I felt I had good legs so I gave it a go and it was good to be second."
Boasson Hagen recovered from a puncture late in the stage but was not about to claim the incident was the difference in the result.
"Nah I can't blame the tire for that," he dismissed. "The team did a really great job and we have to try again and hopefully we get higher, getting better every day now, so maybe like .... so that we'll be even higher up.
Today's sprint was Griepel's 10th stage victory at the Tour Down Under, with only Robbie McEwen (13) ahead of him. The mercurial Australian finished in 5th place today, behind compatriot Mark Renshaw (Rabobank). The result was enough to catapult Greipel back into the overall lead having relinquished it to Martin Kohler (BMC) on Wednesday.
The day was highlighted by a four-man breakaway containing Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan) Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Matt Brammeier (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)which was allowed to get away from the peloton at the six kilometre mark for a maximum gap of 5:25 before being reeled back in with just over 40 kilometres left to race.
"It was our intention to keep the breakaway in sight with a good gap," said Greipel. "The crosswinds have made the race faster. The 1km to go mark was the most important point of today's stage. I told my team-mates ‘I need to be on 5th or 6th position at that point'. They did a great job to put me there and I finished it off.
"I'm happy to get back into the lead but the time bonus I got again isn't important in my mind."
How it unfolded:
Not long after the peloton left the neutral zone, the day's break was established containing Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan) Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Matt Brammeier (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Tentative at first, the gap extended quickly moving out to over five minutes by the time the quintet reached the lone KOM point of the day at Sellicks Hill on Main South Road.
De Gendt was first across the line for maximum points at the top of the Cat.2 climb, followed by Brammeier, Bakelants and Vorganov.
The highest point in the race marked the beginning of the end for the breakaway with the gap peaking at 5:25 before gradually diminishing. De Gendt then cleaned up on the two sprint primes of the day for a clean sweep of the points for the day.
De Gendt was one of the big winners for the day, despite losing two seconds to be fourth on the general classification at 14seconds in arrears of Greipel.
"Three of the four riders had the same goal and that was to take the second sprint and then after that we just wanted to go back to the peloton," he said following the stage. "I think tomorrow is the best for me just to stay in the peloton and then Old Willunga Hill is going to be so hard but I am going to try and be in the front."
With the peloton as one with around 40 kilometres left to race the pace was on at 55 km/h. GreenEdge, Lotto Belisol, RadioShack-Nissan and Rabobank.
Try as they might, Rabobank, working for Michael Matthews today couldn't work as efficiently as they might have hoped with Mark Renshaw seemingly too fast for the former under23 world champion.
Matthews he was "a bit disappointed" with his 12th place, while Renshaw just missed the podium.
"The boys had a really good lead out for me and I just couldn't really hold the wheel in the last couple of kilometres. It just got a bit messy and Mark Renshaw held the lead out but yeah I just wasn't there to finish it."
Matthews retains the lead in the Young Rider Classification.
Greipel's win gives him an eight second advantage over his nearest competitor, Kohler, with Matthews next best 12 seconds back. While he's certainly a possible contender for the stage win tomorrow into Tanunda, the German believes it will be his last throw of the dice before Sunday's final stage criterium.
"The Willunga stage [Stage 5] is too hard for me to win GC this year," he admitted. "With two stage wins, we've already reached our goal. We can't have everything and we just take it day by day."
|Rider Name (Country) Team
|André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol
|Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ - BigMat
|Row 1 - Cell 2
|Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
|Row 2 - Cell 2
|Mark Renshaw (Aus) Rabobank
|Row 3 - Cell 2
|Robbie Mcewen (Aus) GreenEDGE
|Row 4 - Cell 2
|Jacopo Guarnieri (Ita) Astana
|Row 5 - Cell 2
|Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Garmin-Barracuda
|Row 6 - Cell 2
|Daniele Bennati (Ita) RadioShack-Nissan
|Row 7 - Cell 2
|Manuel Belletti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
|Row 8 - Cell 2