RICHIE PORTE has claimed Stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under, but won’t wear the Santos Ochre Leader’s jersey, with Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-SCOTT) to take the iconic jersey, dead-level with Porte on time.
The result was fascinating, with Porte (BMC) fading to the back of the peloton as it made its final approach to the foot of Willunga Hill.
But as the pace kicked and the climbers rose to the fore, the familiar black-and-red jersey of Porte burst to the front of the peloton.
He wasn’t alone, with general classification rival Jay McCarthy (BORA-hansgrohe) in close pursuit.
But enter the man who had claimed the previous four consecutive King of the Mountain climbs at Willunga Hill.
Porte predictably kicked at the Santos one-kilometre marker, and streaked ahead.
McCarthy couldn’t stay with him, and while he faded, so too did his hopes of clinching victory.
General Classification intrigue heading into Be Safe Be Seen MAC Stage 6
But Porte’s gap to his new general classification rival Impey on the road was not enough – even after time bonuses.
The pair are deadlocked on time, with Impey taking ochre tomorrow to set up an intriguing battle for the win.
Former winner Tom-Jelte Slagter is third overall (16 seconds behind), with Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates), Dries Devenyns (Quick-Step), Egan Bernal (Sky) and Gorka Izaguirre (Bahrain-Merida) a further four second adrift.
King Richie anointed again
There is no doubt that Porte is the most exceptional rider on this stage.
This is the fifth time the Tasmanian has crossed the line in front on Willunga Hill, and comes on the back of his recovery from a Tour de France crash in July 2017, as well as a heat-related stomach complaint earlier in the week.
His impressive knack of hitting his stride at the exact same point each time he climbs to victory doesn’t dull the stage, rather, it enhances it.
The roar across the hilltop as he swung into view and shed McCarthy from his wheel highlighted why this is Australia’s Greatest Cycling Race. This traditional end to the regional stages never disappoints, especially with its mountain king finishing on top.
But who will be the new emperor?
Impey or Porte? It’s a fascinating battle that pits the two ‘local’ teams – the quasi-national outfit of Mitchelton-SCOTT against the Aussie-laced BMC.
For South African Impey, he’ll have the weight of expectation of the legion of local fans who want to see their home team Mitchelton-SCOTT reclaim the general classification in Adelaide tomorrow.
But for Porte – now bordering cult status for his exploits on Willunga – there will be plenty who want to see him go back-to-back.
How the teams strategise for both the finish points, and those on offer at the two southaustralia.com prime sprints, will be intriguing.
Given Impey’s three strong sprint finishes (second on Stage 2, Bupa Stage 4 and Stage 5), the money would be on him to hold the ochre.
But BMC are a strong outfit and will be hungry to edge back in front by the close.
Straight out of the playbook
Strong turnouts in McLaren Vale (for the start), the Esplanade roadside in Aldinga Beach, Snapper Point and Port Willunga, and the Willunga township and hillside, typically characterise Stage 5.
Today was no different, with a strong showing after days of heat in the mid-40s turning out to cheer their favourite riders through the picturesque McLaren Vale wine region.0
With just 500m of race neutral leaving McLaren Vale’s main street, it was battle stations early, with seven riders forming a breakaway at the official start marker.
Among that group were Subaru KOM leader Dlamini (Dimension Data), Bowden and Dempster (UniSA-Australia), Beppu (Trek-Segafredo), De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Matos (Movistar) and Schmidt (Katusha Alpecin).
They held the peloton at a steady gap of between three and four minutes for the majority of the stage’s three circuits of McLaren Vale, Willunga, Aldinga and Tatachilla, before being swiftly caught by the main group just outside of the Willunga township before the first Subaru KOM ascent.
There, the peloton immediately thinned, as the climbers kicked up and made their way to the first checkpoint.
De Gendt claimed the points for the first approach from a Dlamini keen to retain his polka dots.
State of play
Heading into the final stage, Impey wears the Santos Ochre Leader’s jersey, Petre Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) retains the southaustralia.com sprint jersey, Dlamini holds the lead of the Subaru KOM classification, Egan Bernal (Team Sky) holds the #seesouthaustralia Young Rider’s jersey after another strong effort on Saturday, while Bahrain-Merida lead the Wilson Parking team’s classification.
The Be Safe Be Seen MAC Stage 6 will depart King William Street at 1:30pm on Sunday 21 January to conclude the Santos Tour Down Under.