January 27, 2010
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2005 Santos Tour Down Under champion, Spain's Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) claimed stage five of the Santos Tour Down Under on a day that saw some of the superstars of world cycling, including Australia's reigining elite road race World Champion, Cadel Evans, light up the race.
Germany's Andre Greipel held onto the overall race lead but 119,000 fans were treated to a thrilling battle on the penultimate stage of the Tour which began on the coast at Snapper Pt and took the riders on a 148 kilometre journey through the McLaren Vale winegrowing region ahead of two laps up the testing Old Willunga Hill before the finish in Willunga.
Sanchez won in a time of 3hr29min39sec sprinting two seconds clear of South Australian Luke Roberts (Milram) with 2009 Tour of Spain champion, Alejandro Valverde a further two seconds back in third place. Greipel is now 11 seconds clear of Sanchez with Roberts sitting third overall at 17 seconds.
Evans, was fourth, but he was the one who almost sent the crowd into orbit when he launched an attack the second time up the climb displaying his rainbow stripes in all their glory. Tasmanian Wesley Sulzberger (Francaise des Jeux) went with him. Evans set the pace and a kilometre from the top Sulzberger faded but as Evans approached the top Valverde and Sanchez steamed past.
Valverde crested the top of the climb first ahead of Sanchez and Evans setting up one of the most exciting final scenes of the12 year history of the Tour.
After the climb 2009 U23 cross country mountain bike World Champion, Peter Sagan (Liquigas) tagged onto the leaders who buried their heads and drove forward trying to gain time on Greipel.
“The truth is we went out for the general classification (overall race lead) today and I must give thanks to my team they did a great job, especially Alejandro Valverde," said Sanchez who collected a ten second bonus for the stage win to move from 20th to second overall. “I had to finish in front of Cadel Evans over the line and when it got down to it Alejandro Valverde put it right on the line, he was very generous in his work and I was able to beat Cadel Evans over the line but unfortunately Griepel (Andre) was not far enough behind."
Evans knew Sanchez was a threat to his own overall ranking but opted to go for broke.
"It was an interesting position on the climb, of course, when you have two Caisse d'Epargne riders, one's a very fast finisher and the other's a strong finisher, it put me in a difficult situation," Evans explained. "The last thing I wanted to do was lead Sanchez out for the stage, cause he's breathing down my neck on GC, but so was the entire peloton so I thought better to play for something than lose everything."
As the fans screamed for Evans the HTC-Columbia freight train with Greipel in tow was gaining on the leaders. Roberts managed to split the Spaniards on the line and Greipel sprinted in with the group that finished nine seconds later to protect his lead.
Race Director, Mike Turtur, was thrilled with the spectacle on show today.
“That is the best stage we have had in the race … because of what was at stake … the jersey being held by Greipel (Andre), the possibility of Cadel (Evans) taking the jersey and then the passion and the desire for guys to win a stage like Sanchez – I think it just had everything, I mean you couldn’t have scripted a better day," said Turtur. “On the climb, the reaction of the people was sensational and when they heard that Cadel was at the front and making a bid it was unreal.
“I have not experienced a climb like that other than at the Tour de France it was just unbelievable, there is thousands up there, apparently people were camping up there last night”.
Greipel is now poised to become only the second rider, after hometown hero Stuart O'Grady, to win the Tour twice. But the battle for second and third is far from over with sprint star Robbie McEwen (Katusha) at 20 seconds and eyeing a win on tomorrow's sixth and final stage putting pressure on Sanchez and Roberts when the race hits the Adelaide City Council street circuit.
Another battle has yet to be decided as well and that's the title of Skoda King of the Mountain. Austrian rider Thomas Rohregger (Milram) was impressive today when he scampered up Old Willunga Hill on the first time over the climb. He rocketed from the main bunch not only reeling in a lead group of seven riders but riding straight past them to grab the 16 points and increase his lead in the classification.
“Our plan was for me to attack on the first time (up the climb), the second time I took the race more relaxed because I was quite tired," said Rohregger. “It was a really good race for me and especially Luke Roberts with his second place."
He is now on 54 points ahead of Australian David Kemp (UniSA - Australia) on 28 points and Kazakhstan's Valeriy Dmitriyev (Astana) on 24 points. A maximum of 32 points can be won tomorrow on Montefiore Hill.
Greipel also leads the Jayco Sprint classification and looks set to take home that jersey as well.
Belgian Jurgen Roelandts (Omega Pharma - Lotto) is leading the Cycle Instead U26 Young Rider Classification by 13 seconds from Sulzberger.
The start of the stage saw a flurry of attacks before a group of seven riders finally managed to stretch a lead beyod a minute. That group contested both Jayco Intermediate Sprints of the day at Snapper Pt with Dmitriyev winning the first at the 40km mark ahead of Russian Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) and Matthew Wilson (Garmin-Transitions). The second time through at 80km Vorganov claimed the three second bonus ahead of Dmitriyev with Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Transitions) third.
The break managed to gain around two minutes on the peloton but as the race approached the climb for the first time the the climber's were setting up to do battle and the break was doomed.