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Road Racing

Porte wins stage 5 of the Tour Down Under

Jens Voigt goes on the attack ... twice ... and Tasmanian Porte takes the stage

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Richie Porte won stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Saturday atop Old Willunga Hill near Adelaide, Australia. Porte (Sky) attacked to a solo victory on the finish climb at the close of the 151-kilometer leg from McLaren Vale.

Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) was second and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) was third, both 10 seconds behind the Tasmanian winner.

With a four-second time bonus at the line after dropping overnight leader Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) high up on the finish climb, Gerrans, who entered the day second overall, took the overall leader’s jersey ahead of the final stage. Gerrans leads Evans by just one second, with Ulissi third overall, at five seconds.

“The guys were absolutely incredible today. … I felt great today. The team had a plan and the boys were absolutely great today,” said Porte. “To win on this climb in Australia is very special.”

After chasing Porte early on the Old Willunga Hill climb, Evans lost contact with Gerrans and Ulissi near the finish. The 2011 Tour de France champion finished sixth, at 14 seconds.

“I could see Cadel was nervous there because he’d done a lot of work,” said Gerrans. “We jumped and he wasn’t able to go.”

Voigt leads the attack, twice

Four men rode away into the long breakaway early in Saturday’s stage: Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), Mikhail Ignatyev (Katusha), Juan José Lobato (Movistar), and Matteo Trentin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). The group’s advantage, which extended to nearly nine minutes, was below five minutes with 80km remaining.

After contributing to the pace-making early in the stage, Evans’ BMC Racing team, which was satisfied to allow the breakaway to survive and eat up the time bonuses on offer at the finish, gave way to Sky and Orica.

With 50km to go, the gap was down to 2:10 — enough of an advantage to eliminate the stage’s second intermediate sprint (and the three seconds on offer) for the GC contenders — but the foursome’s lead grew to more than three minutes over the next 10km. The escape rode onto the first of two trips up Old Willunga Hill with less than 90 seconds on the peloton.

Lobato dropped off the pace low on the climb and, soon after, Ignatiev attacked, dropping Trentin. Voigt followed the Russian, the Italian chased back on, and the leaders were three with 25km remaining.

Garmin-Sharp led the peloton onto the climb, pushing through two Omega Pharma men hounding the front of the bunch. Ruben Plaza (Movistar) attacked, drawing out Wesley Sulzberger (Drapac), but not a reaction from Lachlan Morton (Garmin) at the head of the peloton.

With 1km to the summit (23km to the finish), the leaders held 25 seconds over Plaza and Sulzberger and 40 seconds on the bunch. Voigt led the breakaway over the top of the climb.

The two chasers gave way to the peloton when Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Axel Domont (Ag2r La Mondiale) attacked to fight for the mountains jersey. With 20km to go, Voigt, Ignatiev, and Trentin clung to a half-minute advantage.

Behind them, Orica and Lotto organized and upped the pace in the peloton. Ignatiev soon dropped off the pace at the front, leaving Voigt and Trentin with a roughly 10-second lead and 17km still to go. With 15km to go, the leaders were finished and the race reset for the loop back to the foot of the finish climb.

The tension did nothing but rise over the descent from Old Willunga, with German champion André Greipel (Lotto) and Matthew Goss (Orica) among the riders driving the pace. Perhaps 30 riders remained in the bunch and Lotto’s Jürgen Roelandts rolled off the front in his super tuck. Roelandts drifted back and a regrouping saw roughly 40 riders together with 9km to go. But no fewer than three BMC Racing riders were caught out in the split and Orica pushed hard at the head of the front group, leaving Evans with just two teammates.

Voigt again attacked with 7.5km to go, pushing ahead alone. With 5km to go, the 42-year-old German was grinding it out with a 10-second lead.

Evans aggressive on final climb

With 3.5km to go, Greipel led the chase just five seconds behind his countryman Voigt. When the Evans group turned onto the foot of the climb it rode past Voigt and BMC Racing took to the front. The acceleration caught Gerrans out and the two-time race winner had to chase across a small gap with 2.8km remaining.

Porte, in third wheel, followed Evans, who sat behind teammate Brent Bookwalter.

In the first look at a duel expected to play out at the Giro d’Italia in May, Evans and Porte countered an attack by Bernie Sulzberger (Drapac). Evans was unable to handle the pace, however, and Porte began putting road between himself and the former Tour de France champion with 1.5km to go. Porte pushed onto the upper reaches of the climb out of the saddle, Evans chasing alone. With 1km to go, the gap was over 10 seconds.

“I wasn’t exactly surprised to drop Cadel Evans off,” said Porte. “I was disappointed the other day after the Corkscrew climb — I started badly positioned. Not taking anything away from Cadel, I could have played it a little bit better. Winning here means everything for me. Sky is such a great team. It’s a great way to repay them for the belief they have in me.”

Gerrans and Ulissi rode across to Evans inside the final kilometer, but the pace-making was the responsibility of the ocre-jerseyed BMC Racing captain. Evans faltered late, allowing his two companions to leave him in the final 250 meters.

“All the way up the climb, I always knew what I had to do,” said Gerrans. “I needed to save energy for the very last part. Earlier on, we had Matt Goss at the front, then Daryl (Impey) and Simon (Clarke) looked after me.”

Ulissi won the two-man sprint for second, but Gerrans had done enough to snag the race lead he held earlier in the week.

“Not an ideal result today – beaten by better team. Compliments [Orica-GreenEdge],” Evans wrote on Twitter after the stage.

Gerrans joked about his one-second gap being larger than in 2012, when he and Alejandro Valverde finished on the same time and the Australian walked away with his second overall title in his home race.

“It’s a dream result to get the jersey back. It’s only by one second, though,” said Gerrans. “Actually, it’s one second more than two years ago, but it’s still going to be tight and nervous tomorrow. I’m very pleased to be back in the lead.”

The Santos Tour Down Under wraps up Sunday with the 18-lap, 85km stage 6 circuit race in Adelaide. With intermediate and finish-line time bonuses on offer, Gerrans will need to hold off what is sure to be aggressive maneuvering by his rivals if he is to become the first three-time winner in the race’s history.

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