ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — Richie Porte (Sky) blew the Santos Tour Down Under field wide open on Willunga Hill Saturday but just failed to overhaul Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) as overall leader.
Just as he had in 2014, Porte launched a stunning attack on the second and final climb up the notorious ascent to win the 151.5km stage in just over three and a half hours.
Dennis crossed the line nine seconds behind Porte to retain the leader’s ochre jersey by two seconds heading into Sunday’s final stage, a 90km circuit race through the streets of Adelaide.
Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) finished third, ahead of Dennis’s teammate Cadel Evans and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
“I know this climb quite well, but I didn’t quite get the jersey, which is disappointing,” Porte said.
“Full credit to Rohan, though. I gave it to him as much as I could and he didn’t crack.”
Dennis praised his team for keeping him in the lead.
“I am so, so happy,” Dennis said. “I really could not have done it without the team. I know it is cliché, but they really were amazing. Every single time there was a stressful situation, they were there to surround and protect me and make my job as easy as possible.”
The fifth stage traditionally begins in the wine-growing region of McLaren Vale and consists of three circuits through the vineyards and along Aldinga Beach, before two climbs up Willunga Hill.
Jack Bobridge (UniSA) attacked from the opening kilometer, intent on staying ahead long enough to take King of the Mountain points on the first ascent.
He was joined by fellow Australian Jordan Kerby (Drapac) and New Zealander Greg Henderson (Lotto-Soudal) and the three opened a lead of five and a half minutes after 30km of racing.
The trio held on for more than 100km until Kerby dropped off the pace as they left Aldinga Beach for the final time.
The peloton, led by BMC, did all the chasing and slowly retrieved Bobridge and Henderson, the Kiwi finally giving up at the bottom of Willunga Hill.
But Bobridge held on and crossed the summit 50 seconds ahead to claim the points.
He was soon overhauled on the descent and with 20km remaining the race was on in earnest. At the bottom of the final climb a group of about 40 riders remained in contention.
Orica-GreenEdge wound up the pace as they tried to set the race up for Daryl Impey, but Sky’s Geraint Thomas took over at the front and increased the tempo.
All the main contenders were still in touch until the final 1.2km when Porte attacked with a withering burst of speed.
Evans, Dennis and Dumoulin went with him, but Evans cracked first and then Dumoulin fell away.
Dennis stayed in touch until 500 meters from the finish as Porte was left to claim his second consecutive Willunga stage.