Steele Von Hoff (UniSA) proved that he deserved to be riding at WorldTour level when he beat some of the best sprinters in the world to win a dramatic stage 4 of the Tour Down Under. While a big crashed caused by youngster Lorenzo Manzin (FDJ) held up most of the peloton, the Australian came off Wouter Wippert’s (Drapac) wheel and held of Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) to take the first WorldTour win of his career while Rohan Dennis (BMC) survived the carnage and defended his lead on the eve of the queen stage.
At the end of last season, Steele von Hoff was left hugely disappointed when he was deemed surplus by the management of the merged Cannondale-Garmin team. The Australian who was once regarded as one of the most promising Australian sprinters, was unable to find a new professional team and only managed to get at ride at the British NFTO continental team.
However, Von Hoff has done nothing to hide that he intends to step back to the highest level, and he started the Australian summer in a determined mood. A win in the Australian criterium championships and a solid ride in the road race earned him selection for the UniSA national team for the Tour Down Under and today he proved that he is WorldTour-level sprinter when he crowned his good season start by winning stage 4 of the Tour Down Under.
Without a dedicated lead-out train, Von Hoff had to find his own way through the carnage when the lead-out trains battled for control in a very hectic final kilometre where a downhill and a tailwind made the riders reach incredible speeds. While IAM, Etixx-QuickStep and Drapac went head to head on the front of the peloton to set up Heinrich Haussler, Gianni Meersman and Wouter Wippert respectively, Von Hoff smartly moved onto the wheel of Wippert, dragging Daryl Impey along in his slipstream.
While Von Hoff was waiting to strike, Lorenzo Manzin (FDJ) was eager to make an impression in his first WorldTour level and the young Frenchman launched a long sprint in the middle of the road. When Haussler, Meersmand and Wippert took off, he quickly drifted backwards and when he touched wheels with Niccolo Bonifazio (Lampre-Merida), he hit the ground hard, bringing down several riders in the process.
Most of the peloton was held up and only 10 riders were left to sprint it out for the win. Von Hoff was still among them and when Wippert easily distanced Haussler and Meersman, he was in the perfect position to strike. He came around the fast Dutchman and managed to hold off the late surge from Impey to take the win, with the South African edging ahead of Wippert to take second.
Pre-race favourite Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) never played a role in the sprint. After his team had done no work all day, the German was distanced on the many climbs in the finale and finished in the last group, more than 13 minutes behind Von Hoff.
Like most of the peloton, Rohan Dennis (BMC) was held up in the finale but he didn’t hit the deck and defended his 7-second lead over teammate Cadel Evans. He is now ready for the queen stage which includes the traditional summit finish on Willunga Hill. After a flat first part of the stage, the riders go up the 3km climb twice in the finale, with the finish line coming at the top of the second passage. The ascent will be the scene of a big GC showdown that is likely to shape up the final GC in the first WorldTour race of the year.
A lumpy stage
After the first big GC battle, it was back into flatter terrain for stage four which brought the riders over 144.5km from Glenelg to Mount Barker. After a flat run along the coast, the riders tackled the only categorized climb of the day before they headed inlands for a much lumpier finale. Even though there were no categorized climbs, a lot of smaller ascents would test the riders before they tackled the fast downhill run to the line where the sprinters were expected to battle it out at the end of what could be a windy day.
All 131 riders who finished yesterday’s stage took the start under cloudy conditions and as usual, they got the race off to a very fast start. Shortly after the star, Nathan Haas (Cannondale-Garmin) and Boris Vallee (Lotto Belisol) escaped but the Australian had bad luck to puncture out of the group at a time when four riders were chasing and they had a 20-second gap.
Lots of attacks
More riders bridged the gap and suddenly 9 riders had taken off. That was too dangerous for BMc who brought everything back together, setting the scene for a futile attempt from Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Belisol). When he was caught, Luke Durbridge (Orica-GreenEDGE), Will Clarke (Drapac), Jack Bobridge and Alexander Edmondson (both UniSA) gave it a try but they didn’t get clear either.
A crash brought down Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin) who was forced to abandon the race while Marco Coledan (Trek) and Lieuwe Westra (Astana) made the next attempt. Clarke, Vallee, Laurens De Vreese (Astana) and Cedrid Pineau (FDJ) tried to bridge the gap but soon after everything was back together.
The break is formed
BMC had worked hard to neutralize all attacks and they also prevented Greg Henderson (Lotto Soudal) to get clear. When Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Pineau and Bobridge went up the road, they finally gave the green light, and the four riders started to build an advantage.
Haas tried to bridge the gap but for the second time he had bad luck to suffer a puncture while he was on the attack. The Australian drifted back to the peloton which allowed the gap to reach 2.25.
Bobrdige drops back
Bobridge was a GC threat and so BMC were not willing to give them much of an advantage. When Bobridge beat Hepburn, Kennaugh and Pineau in the KOM sprint to reclaim the mountains jersey, the Americans had reduced the deficit to just 1.30.
With the mountains jersey back on his shoulders, it was mission accomplished for Bobridge who dropped back to the peloton. Hence, the peloton allowed the gap to grow back up to 2.10 before BMC went back into action.
Bonus seconds for Impey
Orica-GreenEDGE wanted bonus seconds in the first intermediate sprint so when BMC had reduced the gap to 1.45, they hit the front. When the gap was just 50 seconds, Pineau attacked his companions but with the fast pace set by the Australian team, things came back together with 68km still to ride.
Orica-GreenEDGE maintained a high speed to the sprint where Impey beat Luke Rowe (Sky) and Mark Renshaw (Etixx-QuickStep) to pick up three important bonus seconds. With the mission accomplished, the Australian team slowed down and Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana), Maxim Belkov (Katusha) and Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) were quick to exploit the situation to attack.
Movistar take control
The trio used the lull to build an advantage of 2.20 but with 40km to go, Lampre-Merida started to chase. With the gap down to 2 minutes, Movistar took over and their fast pace on the climbs made the peloton split into three bigger groups, with Haas being caught in the second and Kittel in the third.
When Belkov beat Tleubayev and Serry in the final intermediate sprint, the gap had been brought down to a minute and Movistar had no intention of slowing down. The fast pace spelled the end for Tleubayev who dropped back to the peloton.
Kittel out of contention
With 20km to go, Belkov and Serry were still 45 seconds ahead but the battle for position had now intensified. While the Kittel group was more than four minutes back, the Haas group managed to rejoin the peloton.
Drapac, Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo and UniSA were lined out on the road when the peloton roared towards the finish with 15km to go. With 10km to go, Sky came to the fore with Peter Kennaugh and with 9km to go, the front duo were caught.
A dangerous Spanish attack
Orica-GreenEDGE hit the front but things got dangerous when the Astana duo of Lars Boom and Luis Leon Sanchez attacked. They were joined by Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) and after Boom had dropped off, the Spanish duo managed to build a solid advantage.
BMC and IAM started to chase and when Orica-GreenEDGE also came to the fore, the two Spaniard were caught. IAM and Orica-GreenEDGE were now riding tempo on the front, with Martin Elmiger and Cameron Meyer both taking huge turns.
David Tanner (IAM) did a massive amount of work before Trek and Orica-GreenEDGE went head-to-head as they passed the flamme rouge. Trek first won the battle but Mathew Hayman bounced back and had Impey in the perfect position with 800m to go. However, they were passed by IAM, Etixx-QuickStep and Drapac and when those three teams went head to head, the carnage started.
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