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With a powerful attack 1.1km from the top of Willunga Hill, Porte dropped Henao and Woods to take his third straight win in the Tour Down Under queen stage; Gerrans limited his losses and defended the overall lead

Photo: Team Sky

MICHAEL WOODS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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RICHIE PORTE

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SERGIO LUIS HENAO

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SIMON GERRANS

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TOUR DOWN UNDER

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23.01.2016 @ 12:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Richie Porte confirmed his status as the undisputed king of the Willunga Hill when he took his first win in BMC colours in the Tour Down Under queen stage, making it a hattrick on the infamous climb. Launching a powerful attack 1.1km from the finish, he finally managed to get rid of Sergio Henao (Sky) and Michael Woods (Cannondale) who had to settle for the minor podium positions while Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) gauged his effort well to limit his losses and defend the overall lead with just the final criterium still to come.

 

After he abandoned the Australian National Championships road race, Richie Porte claimed not to be surprised, telling reporters that he knew that he was not in race form. Unlike in past years when he has been flying at this time of the year, he has deliberately had a slower start to the season and his ambitions for the Tour Down Under were modest.

 

Porte went into the first WorldTour event of the year with the goal of support teammate and defending champions Rohan Dennis. It lack of GC aspirations were evident when he rolled to the finish in stage 2 near the back of the bunch and started the crucial Corkscrew climb for which positioning is key, far back in the group.

 

However, Porte was pleasantly surprised by his performance on that climb and that made him believe that he could possibly go for a third consecutive victory in today’s queen stage that finished on the infamous Old Willunga Hill. In the last two years, Porte has taken solo wins in this stage so when Dennis admitted that his form was not at the expected level, new signing Porte took the leadership role.

 

And it was a sense of déjà vu when Porte launched his trademark attack 1.1km from the top of the final climb. Last year it was Dennis who clung onto his wheel until he cracked less than 500m from the finish and today it was Sergio Henao who tried to do the same. Just like last year, however, Porte turned out to be the strongest and the Colombian ultimately cracked, allowing Porte to confirm his status as king of Willunga.

 

A headwind and a relatively slow pace the first time up the climb meant that it was a relatively big group that hit the final 3km climb together after the early break had been swept up just a few kilometres earlier. Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) led the group onto the ascent but he was quickly passed by the Sky train, with the British team wanting to make the race as hard as possible to set Henao up for the win.

 

The peloton exploded immediately as Luke Rowe created the early selection before Peter Kennaugh upped the pace even further. With 2.5km to go, Sky played their final card when Geraint Thomas hit the front.

 

However, the Sky plan seemed to fail as the Welshman only lasted for 400m and it was still a big group when the pace went down. That was perfect for Orica-GreenEDGE who put Michael Albasini on the front but the Swiss was not going full gas.

 

The slower pace meant that Simon Clarke (Cannondale) launched the first attack and it was Dennis who played the first BMC card by following the move. That was too dangerous for Orica-GreenEDGE and Daryl Impey quickly shut it down before Dennis sat up and was sent out the back door.

 

Impey continued to set a controlling pace which allowed Lucas Hamilton (UniSA) to launch a surprise attack from the small front group. He quickly got a decent advantage while Impey continued to ride on the front.

 

1.4km from the finish, George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) launched the next move and he quickly bridged the gap to Hamilton whose brother Chris even tried to make a move too. However, those three riders had no response when Porte made his trademark move just before the flamme rouge.

 

Michael Woods tried to respond and only Henao could keep up with the Canadian. However, he never made it back to Porte’s wheel and when he started to fade, Henao swept around him. The Colombian had to dig deep to get back to the lone BMC rider but made the junction with 800m to go.

 

Porte soon realized that he had got unwelcome company but he didn’t slow down. Instead, he continued to drive the pace and it soon became apparent that Henao was suffering. Finally, the Colombian had to surrender and as he sat up, Porte immediately got a big gap.

 

Porte rode hard all the way to the finish and crossed the line with a 6-second advantage over Henao while Woods was three seconds further adrift in third. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) won the sprint from a 9-rider group just 8 seconds later.

 

That group included overall leader Simon Gerrans who crossed the line in 8th and his time loss of 17 seconds was enough to defend the overall lead. He now has a 9-second advantage over Porte who mobes into second while Henao is two seconds further adrift in third.

 

Gerrans now only needs to get safely through the final stage to take a record fourth overall win in his home race. The final stage consists of 20 laps of a flat 4.5km circuit in Adelaide where the sprinters are expected to rule.

 

The queen stage

After yesterday’s sprint stage, the climbers were back in action for the traditional queen stage which brought the peloton over 151.5km from McLaren Vale to the well-known summit finish on Willunga Hill. The first part of the stage consisted of three laps of a flat circuit before the riders tackled the famous climb for the first time with 22.4km to go. From there, they headed down the descent and then had a flat run-in to the bottom of the 3km climb which was tackled for the second time at the end of the race.

 

It was a relatively cloudy and colder day when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that finished yesterday’s stage were present as they rolled out through the neutral zone.

 

An aggressive start

As soon as the flag was dropped, Lars Boom (Astan) launched a first attack and he was joined by Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Nathan Haas (Dimension Data).  They failed to get clear though and instead set the scene for a very aggressive phase with lots of attacks.

 

Davide Martinelli (Etixx-QuickStep), Jasha Sütterlin (Movistar), Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal), Jesse Sergent (Ag2r), Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Songezo Jim (Dimension Data), Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Sean Lake (UniSA) were among the riders that were active in the early part of the race but no one had any success. Meanwhile, the crosswind started to split the peloton as a small group fell behind.

 

Four riders get clear

Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) got a solid advantage at some point and was chased by Hansen, Grmay, Martinelli and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) but he was ultimately unsuccessful. He tried again, followed by Hansen, Jaco Venter (Dimension Data) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) and when they were brought back, the latter gave it a go alongside Sergent, Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal), Haas and Boom.

 

After 12km of racing, Oliveira, Ligthart and Boom finally got a bigger advantage before van Rensburg made a big effort to join the move. Sergent was stuck somewhere in between and decided to wait for Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Etixx-QuickStep). However, the front quartet were not waiting and Michael Hepburn was chasing hard for Orica-GreenEDGE. Meanwhile a crash brought down Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) who was forced to abandon.

 

The peloton slows down

A Lampre-Merida rider briefly joined the chasers but they were brought back at the 16km mark. Gougeard and two UniSA riders were the next to try but that move was neutralized by Albasini and Hepburn. Tinkoff briefly hit the front with Adam Blythe while Mathew Hayman came to the fore for Orica-GreenEDGE but the peloton soon slowed down and allowed the gap to go out.

 

Hepburn and Albasini assumed their position on the front with 130km to go when the gap was 1.05 but they were not chasing. Albasini quickly left it to Hepburn to set the pace and he allowed the gap to reach 2.45 with 120 km to go. Ten kilomtres later, it was 4.05 and it was 4.30 when they entered the final 100km.

 

Hepburn on the front

Ligthart led van Rensburg and Boom across the line in the first intermediate sprint at a time when the gap was 4.50 and it was still Hepburn setting a steady pace. With 70km to go, the gap was 5.50 and it stayed between 5.30 and 6.00 for the next 20km. Meanwhile, Ligthart won the final intermediate sprint ahead of van Rensburg and Oliveira.

 

With 50km to go, the gap was still 5.55 and four kilometres later it was time for Tinkoff to kick into action. Adam Blythe and Oscar Gatto upped the pace significantly and Ruben Zepuntke quickly came to the fore to lend a hand for Cannondale. With 35km to go, they had brought the gap down to 5 minutes and now Moreno Moser (Cannondal) also started to chase.

 

The chase gets organized

The fight for position slowly started to intensify before Ag2r joined forces with Tinkoff and Cannondale. Sergent, Gougeard and Christophe Riblon all took some massive turns on the front and as a consequence, the gap was down to 4.20 with 30km to go.

 

As they approached the climb for the first time, the fight for position intensified, with Tinkoff, Giant-Alpecin, Trek and Dimenion Data all featuring prominently near the front. When the break hit the ascent, the gap was down to 3.16.

 

Van Rensburg takes off

FDJ set the pace on the lower slopes with Murilo Fischer and Laurent Pichon before Kennaugh took over for Sky. He didn’t respond when Lieuwe Westra (Astana) made a solo move.

 

Kennaugh swung off and as the pace went down, Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) took off, quickly bridging the gap to Westra. Meanwhile, van Rensburg attacked in the front group and he soloed across the finish line to win the KOM sprint, followed by Boom, Oliveira and Ligthart in that order 8 seconds later. Westra and Pantano still had a small advantage over the peloton which was now led by the BMC pair of Alessandro De Marchi and Danilo Wyss and crested the summit 2.25 behind the leader.

 

BMC and Sky lead the chase

Van Rensburg was soon caught by his chasers while Sky and BMC started to chase hard in the peloton. Peter Velits, De Marchi and Ian Stannard took some huge turns and they quickly brought Westra and Pantano back.

 

At the same time, the gap was melting away. It was 1.45 with 17km to go and 1.00 just nine kilometres later. With 7km to go, Boom decided to attack when the gap was only 45 seconds but he only managed to get rid of Oliveira.

 

The break is caught

Boom tried again but the cooperation was now gone. Meanwhile, the peloton was fighting hard for position, with Michael Gogl (Tinkoff) and Ryder Hesjedal (Trek) riding on the front.

 

Oliveira rejoined the front group before Ligthart briefly got clear. When the Dutchman tried again, Oliveira sat up and it was van Rensburg who finally managed to drop his companions.

 

It was all in wain though as BMC were chasing hard with Wyss and the Swiss champion brought van Rensburg back with 3.7km to go. Moments later Boaro took over and led the peloton onto the climb where the action unfolded.

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