Stage 20
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24/01 - Stage 4 - Unley to Victor Harbor

What a performance by Cadel Evans! The former Tour de France winner distanced everybody on the steep gradients on Corkscrew Road and managed to keep his gap all the way to the line. Evans now leads the race and has 12 seconds to Simon Gerrans. Diego Ulissi sits third, 15 seconds down.

Stage 4 of Tour Down Under is the first real opportunity for the sprinters to shine. The finish in Victor Harbor is another classic and many of the riders will know how to tackle the technical run-in towards the line.

BMC will be happy to let a breakaway make it today but Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol can’t afford to let the chance of a bunch sprint slip away. GreenEdge will probably also help out in the chase to see if they can catch the break before the final bonus sprint with 32 km to go. There are 3, 2 and 1 seconds up for grabs and Simon Gerrans will be motivated to take back a few seconds on Cadel Evans.

With 4 km to go, the road starts to kick up for about 700 meters with an average of 5 %. The gradients are a bit steeper towards the top but I doubt it’s enough to drop the sprinters. However, due to a very fast descent, the fast guys really need to stay near the front of the peloton if they want a chance to win in Victor Harbor.

Tricky finish              
The riders reach the top of the climb with about 3 km to go. The descent is extremely fast and the peloton will be stretch out significantly. There will be a furious fight between the sprinters’ teams to take the front and hopefully everybody will stay upright on the last technical kilometer.

There are two roundabouts before right before the final kilometer. I would imagine them both to be closed on one side and this will stretch out the peloton even more. With 800 meters to go, the peloton turns right in a 90° turn and 200 meters later, the riders turn left in another sharp 90° turn. The final 600 meters are straight out along the coastline.

“This one is for Jurgen”
In 2012, Andre Greipel won the stage in Victor Harbor. The strong German had lost his leadout man, Jurgen Roelandts, to a crash earlier in the race but he still managed to come around everybody else on the final meters. Afterwards, Greipel was quick to dedicate the stage win to Roelandts. This year Jurgen Roelandts is still in the race and he now has a chance to pay back Greipel with a perfect leadout. Lotto-Belisol did everything right on stage 1 but Greipel’s high gearing was a bit too much for the uphill finish. This time, the finish is as flat as it gets and both Andre Greipel and the Belgian team will be eager to take revenge.

Killer Kittel
The biggest threat to Andre Greipel is his fellow countryman Marcel Kittel. The Giant-Shimano sprinter won four stages in last year’s Tour de France and he started out 2014 by winning People’s Choice Classic in front of Greipel. Giant-Shimano lost a few guys in the crash that day and decided to hang onto Lotto-Belisol’s leadout train instead of making one of their own. That tactic paid off and we might see them do the same thing in Victor Harbor. Of course, if the Giant-Shimano has an opportunity to take the lead with three or four riders on the last kilometer, they will do so. Koen de Kort performed one of the best leadouts of 2013 on Champs-Elysées last year and if he can do that again, nobody will be able to pass Marcel Kittel before the finishing line.

Every second counts
This is not a day for the GC riders to fight for the stage win. However, they all have to be very focused a pay attention to the technical finish. As described, the fast run-in will most likely stretch out the peloton and we may see gaps appear in the bunch as the leadout riders drop down. The two sharp corners on the final kilometer could easily create a few gaps and in this race, you can’t afford to lose any seconds if you want to win overall. Cadel Evans is usually very good at positioning himself near the front on the flat stages and his rivals need to do the same today.

It will be interesting to see whom GreenEdge will try to set up for the sprint. Matt Goss would be the natural choice after Michael Matthews crashed in Stirling. Still, since the bonus seconds are so important in this race, they may want to set up Simon Gerrans again. If GreenEdge manages to hit the front with Durbridge, Goss, Matthews and Impey on the final kilometers, Gerrans may have a chance to take valuable bonus seconds before Willunga Hill. It won’t be easy and it will cost a little energy but it’s definitely worth considering.

The outsiders
My personal joker for the stage win in Victor Harbor is Steele Von Hoff. He won’t have problems staying near the very front on the final climb as he has proven to be in great shape right now. He finished third on stage 1 where came very fast on the final meters. Mano-a-mano against Greipel and Kittel, it won’t be easy for Von Hoff to outsprint the two Germans but if there is an opening, I’m sure he won’t hesitate for a second.

Caleb Ewan crashed hard on stage 2 and it’s doubtful if he will be ready to fight for the win already. Instead, look to Elia Viviani. The fast Italian is eager to start the season with a bang but he didn’t quite have the legs to follow Gerrans and Ulissi in Stirling. The finish in Victor Harbor seems much better for Viviani who claims to be in good shape right now. Another Italian with a fast finish is Roberto Ferrari. The Lampre-Merida sprinter has been working hard for his teammates the last three days and the team is now eager to pay back Ferrari by positioning him well in the final. Ferrari hasn’t won a race since he won stage 11 of Giro d’Italia in 2012 but he’s constantly in the mix. In last year’s Tour de France, he finished among the first five riders on three occasions and he’s definitely a strong contender for a podium place today.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv