Nine riders still in striking distance going into finale
By Rupert GuinnessThe Australian
A fifth race leader in as many days was christened at the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under when Germany’s Kai Hundertmark took over the yellow jersey in Saturday’s gripping stage.
The Telekom rider’s victory in the 156km leg from Gawler to the German town of Tanunda saw him depose overnight leader Nicolai Bo Larsen (CMS). Hundertmark, a former member of the now-disbanded Motorola team, won the stage by out sprinting 17 breakaway companions who finished two minutes, 47 seconds clear of Larsen’s group.
In second and third places were Australia’s Peter Rogers (Sunsmart) and Allan Davis (United Water). However, the 757km race is now set up for a nail-biting finale Sunday as Australia’s Stuart O’Grady is in second place overall, yet on equal time after finishing 10th in the stage.
Tomorrow’s sixth and final stage – a 90km circuit race in Adelaide – offers time bonuses in two intermediate sprints and at the finish. “We will try and defend the lead, but to have won a stage and take the yellow jersey is already more than I would have expected,” said Hundertmark. “Today was a great day for Telekom, especially as Erik Zabel (absent this year) won here last year. We have a bit of a tradition here now.”
After Saturday’s battle through the Barossa Valley wine country where temperatures topped 100 degrees, there are nine riders still within eight seconds of the race lead. Foremost among those who followed O’Grady was Italy’s Fabio Sacchi (Saeco) in third, two seconds back, and New Zealand’s Chris Jenner and Italian danger-man Danielle Nardello (Mapei) six seconds behind.
All were in the winning break Saturday.
The critical landmark of the fifth stage was the steep climb of Menglers Hill, which the peloton had to tackle twice — at 78km and 130km. And playing bait for the peloton was the break of seven riders that escaped after only nine kilometers.
Key riders in the move were Switzerland’s former world road champion Christophe Agnolutto (Ag2R Decathlon) and one of Spain’s quality stage racers, Juan Carlos Dominguez (Creek-Linda McCartney). Three Australian riders were also in the move. The least know but most daring of them was Russel Van Hout (Uni of South Australia), who would later win the most aggressive rider of the day for his persistency to stay off the front until 14km to go. The others were Jay Sweet (Big Mat) and Allan Davis (United Water).
By 24km the break numbered nine, and the first sprint of the day loomed at the Jacob’s Creek winery at 35km. It was won by Australia’s Trent Wilson (Sunsmart), who beat out Frenchman Alexander Chouffe (Big Mat) and Sweet. Then it dropped to eight riders when Australian Bruce McIntosh (United Water) fell back.
Despite the strong headwinds, the break extended its lead to five minutes and 20 seconds at the first feed station at 73km — just after the passage of Tanunda and at the foot of Mengler’s Hill.
The greatest obstacle for the pack however was the heat. Team cars had their busiest day accelerating back and forth to the peloton to pass out water bottles. Later, many teams ran out of water.
First over the summit of the steep one-kilometer climb was Van Hout, followed by Wilson, Sweet, Davis, Agnolutto, Dominguez and Crescenzo d’Amore (Mapei). Chouffe (Big Mat) was off the back. Meanwhile, the bunch had still not responded, falling four minutes and 20 seconds behind. Among those struggling behind the peloton was Belgian Tom Steels (Mapei).
On the descent a group of about 20, including the yellow jersey of Bo Larson assembled to chase the breakaway. And with 70km to go, Davis attacked. It was a bold and fruitless move that was joined by Sweet, Wilson, Van Hout, and d’Amore. However, it was one that showed how the local Australians have not been intimidated in trying to test their measure against the Europeans.
At 100km, in the town of Nuriooppa, the leaders had a five-minute lead on the bunch led by Lotto who had clearly pledged its allegiance to Larsen’s CSC team. Meanwhile, the peloton began losing riders. Among them were Belgian Hendrick Van Dijck (Lotto), Frenchman Christophe Capelle (Big Mat), Australia’s Nick Gates (Sunsmart), Briton John Tanner (Linda McCartney) and Belgian Bart Leysen (Mapei).
At 130km and on the last climb of Menglers Hill, Davis and Van Hout still led over the summit, with the rest of their break starting to feel the pinch. Then with 12km to go Van Hout produced the moved that clinched the most aggressive rider tag. He attacked and took a 30-second lead over his companions who were reeled in by a 20-strong chase group.
In that group was O’Grady, German Jorg Ludewig (Saeco), Nardello, Sacchi, Peter Rogers and Australian Patrick Jonker (Big Mat) and Cadel Evans (Sunsmart) — the latter two being key protagonists in the move. Larsen, meanwhile, could not follow the pace and found himself in a group two minutes back. And despite having two teammates with him, he failed to make any dent on the margin. On the contrary, it extended.
With Larsen dispensed with, up front attention focused on the battle for time bonuses in the sprint to decide the yellow jersey. Hundertmark found unexpected speed to win the stage by a length from Rogers and Davis.
O’Grady, who won at Tanunda in the inaugural edition in 1999, could not find the speed. Needing only third place to take the yellow jersey, he faded in the dash to the line to place 10th — despite having three teammates in the break. O’Grady summed it up best, saying, “It’s not how I planned, to be honest.”
TOUR DOWN UNDER, Australia, January 16-21;
Stage 5: Gawler to Tanunda;
1. Kai Hundertmark (G), Telekom, 156km in 4.00.28; 2.Peter Rogers (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi, same time; 3.Allan Davis (Aus), United Water, s.t.; 4. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco Macchine Per CaffŽ, s.t.; 5. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto Adecco, s.t.; 6. Gilles Maignan (F), Ag2R Decathlon, s.t.; 7. Alexander Botcharov (Rus), Ag2R Decathlon, s.t.; 8. Cadel Evans (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi, s.t.; 9. Russel Van Hout (Aus), University of South Australia, s.t.; 10. Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Credit Agricole, s.t.;
1. Kai Hundertmark (G), Telekom, 16.32.52; 2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole, same time; 3. Fabio Sacchi (I), Saeco Macchine Per CaffŽ, at 0.02; 4. Chris Jenner (NZ), Credit Agricole, at 0.06; 5. Daniele Nardello (I), Mapei-Quick Step, s.t.; 6. Patrick Jonker (Aus), Big Mat, at 0.08; 7. Alexander Botcharov (Rus), Ag2R Decathlon, s.t.; 8. Benoit Poilvet (F), Credit Agricole, s.t.; 9. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto Adecco, at 0.19; 10. Cadel Evans (Aus), Sunsmart-Mitsubishi, at 0.22