Andre Greipel of Germany regained the lead of the Tour Down Under with yet another powerful sprint display which gave him his 10th stage win of the race Thursday. Lotto rider Greipel, a former two-time winner of the season’s first WorldTour event, gave up the ochre jersey to Swiss time trial champion Martin Kohler, of BMC, on Wednesday’s uphill finish at Stirling.
However the German moved back into pole position after outclassing Belarusian Yauheni Hutarovitch (FDJ) and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) with a powerful drive to the line at the end of a 134.5 km stage from Unley to Victor Harbour. Already victorious in the pre-race criterium on Sunday, Greipel won the opening stage on Tuesday, when he also lost valuable teammate Jurgen Roelandts to neck injuries in a 15-rider pile-up. In Roelandts’ absence, Greipel relied on his other teammates – and duly finished off the job in style. But, he was quick to try and lift stricken Roelandts’ spirits.
“This victory is for Jurgen Roelandts, who’s giving us his support from the hospital,” said Greipel, who won his first Tour de France stage in 2011 and finished third at last year’s world championships. “Although we have three injured riders, we still have a great team. The most important point of today’s race was the one kilometre to go mark, I asked my guys to put me there in fifth or sixth position, and they did.”
Hutarovitch, whose FDJ team are making their return to cycling’s top flight, thought his sprint was enough for the win.
“It was a mad finish, because of all the roundabouts, the wind and the sheer speed,” said Hutarovitch, who finished third on Tuesday’s sprint. “I went for it with 200 to go and until 20-30 meters to the finish I was still leading and thought I had it. “Then I just saw Greipal powering past me. I’m encouraged, because I’ve been among the best sprinters in the race. But I would still have preferred to win.”
Thanks to the 10 bonus seconds he picked up for his win, Greipel now has an eight-second lead over Kohler, with Rabobank sprinter Michael Mathews in third at 12. GreenEdge all-rounder Simon Gerrans, the new Australian champion, is fifth at 16-second, with Boasson Hagen on the same time. Boasson Hagen has come close to beating Greipel twice so far, but his latest bid was hampered by some misfortune.
“I was a bit boxed in in the last couple of hundred meters so it was hard to get through. A Rabobank guy came on the left side, forced me out into the wind and after that it was too hard to pass,” said the Norwegian. “And when I got to the finish I realised I had a puncture, so that didn’t help.”
The race continues Friday with a 130 km ride from Norwood to Tanunda. However the potential race decider will likely be on Saturday when the fifth stage finishes on Old Willunga hill, which should fully test the climbing abilities of the sprinters who want to win the race. Greipel, for example, has all but given up hope of a third overall triumph, adding: “I’m happy to be in the lead again, but the time bonus doesn’t matter really because the Willunga stage is too hard for me.”