André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won stage 4 of the Santos Tour Down Under on Friday, taking a bunch sprint in Tanunda, Australia. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) was second and Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff) was third.
The win was Greipel’s 13th in the Australian tour, breaking a tie for the most in race history with Robbie McEwen.
Geraint Thomas (Sky) finished in the peloton to maintain his five-second overall lead over Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco).
“It was a quite stressful day, but I’m used to a bit of hargie bargie, so that’s good,” said Thomas.
World champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) spend 118km in the breakaway with Damien Howson (UNISA), finally giving in to a hard chase inside 10km to go. Earlier in the day, the pair quickly opened a two-minute gap on the field. By 50km the gap was up to just over three minutes, but the peloton never allowed them to get any further ahead and as the race approached 20km to go the advantage was down to just one minute.
“For me the race was finished because I lost a lot of time, so I thought I would make some sort of effort, treat it like training,” Gilbert said, adding he never thought he would win the stage. “I knew we had no chance [in the break] because there was only one other rider, but we had a nice ride today.
“I told him [Howson] after five kilometers that when it’s two guys against the bunch, we don’t decide [how far ahead we get], the bunch decides… We understood that it was three minutes — we knew we’d never have more.”
Indeed, the win was not in the cards for the tandem. Greipel’s Lotto train tried to control the affairs at the front of the bunch in the run-in, but found a tough fight against Blanco, Orica-GreenEdge, and Sky. The British squad, led by Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen, pushed the pace to protect Thomas inside the final kilometer before FDJ took over. But it was Lotto’s Adam Hansen who took command with 700 meters to go, dropping Greg Henderson and Greipel off for the final run — in a headwind — to the line.
Ferrari closed late, but came up short, with Cantwell on his right flank.
The race was marred by two crashes inside the final two kilometers. The first brought down four riders while the second, just under a kilometer from the finish, involved 15 riders.
Blanco’s Graeme Brown was taken to hospital with a suspected broken wrist, while fellow Australian Bernie Sulzberger was having scans on a possible broken finger.
“The team did a good job (today) to keep me in front and keep me out of trouble,” Greipel said. “When you hear there are so many crashes you are just happy no one from your team was injured.”
The Santos Tour Down Under continues Saturday with the 151km fifth stage from McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill. The final climb should decide the tour, which wraps in Adelaide on Sunday.