25/01 - Stage 5 - McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill - 151.5 km.
In my overall preview, I wrote that this race would come down to a matter of bonus seconds and it sure seems like that right now. Simon Gerrans managed to cut off 5 seconds of Cadel Evans’ lead and he's now only 7 seconds from the Ochre jersey.
Stage 5 of Tour Down Under is the Queen Stage. Willunga Hill is the final struggle of the race and the riders will have to overcome the climb twice within the last 25 km. There are two intermediate sprints with 3, 2 and 1 bonus seconds up for grabs before the climbing starts and it will be interesting to see what the actual time difference between Evans and Gerrans will be when they start on Willunga Hill.
The 3 km towards the top of the climb has an average gradient of 7.4 % with parts over 9 % in the beginning. In the past, we have seen the wind being an important factor. Therefore, the riders have to be careful not to attack too early if there is a headwind towards the top. The final 150 meters are flat and it’s very important to be the first rider into the last left-hand bend with only 50 meters to go.
The last two years, Simon Gerrans have been fighting for the win on Willunga Hill. In 2012, Gerrans lost the sprint to Alejandro Valverde be still managed to get enough bonus seconds to win the race overall. Last year, Simon Gerrans was already out of the general classification as the race arrived to Willunga. However, on Australia Day, Gerrans put in a big effort with a well-time attack on the final kilometer and outsprinted the overall winner Tom-Jelte Slagter. It seems like Simon Gerrans always delivers on Willunga Hill and if he manages to repeat last year’s win, he will most likely win the race overall again.
Cadel Evans was - without a doubt - the strongest rider uphill on Corkscrew Road the other day. However, Willunga Hill is not nearly as steep as Corkscrew Road and honestly, I can’t see him drop Gerrans uphill this time. Evans has to hope that Simon Gerrans doesn’t pick up any bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints and then make sure to not finish worse than third on the stage if Gerrans wins. If so, Evans still leads with one second heading into the final day. Of course, there are still many bonus seconds on the road on stage 6 and even if Evans keeps his lead on Willunga Hill, he may lose the jersey in Adelaide.
The way I see it, the only rider who can take the stage win on Willunga Hill away from Simon Gerrans is Diego Ulissi. The fast Italian outsprinted Gerrans to win in Stirling and again to take third place on stage 3. Ulissi sits third in the general classification and he’s eager to keep his place on the podium and if possible move up a step. Unfortunately, Diego Ulissi won’t be able to rely on much help from his Lampre-Merida teammates. Rafael Valls is usually strong on Willunga Hill but he crashed out in Stirling. Therefore, Ulissi has to stick to Gerrans and wait for the final kilometer to put in a strong attack. It won’t be easy but Ulissi has proven to be in great shape and he really knows how to time a killer move on the final part of these kind of climbs.
“Nothing to lose”
So far, there hasn’t been much for Team Sky to cheer for in Tour Down Under. Richie Porte lost valuable seconds on stage 1 and on Corkscrew Road, the Tasmanian didn’t have the legs to follow Cadel Evans. Team Sky lost their sprinter Chris Sutton after People’s Choice Classic and this is now their last chance to shine in the race. Willunga Hill doesn’t bring back good memories for the team though. Last year, Geraint Thomas lost his overall lead on the climb and in 2012 Michael Rogers missed out on an overall podium spot by only finishing fourth on the stage. Richie Porte came to Tour Down Under with high hopes but he is now sitting in 10th place, 33 seconds down. Still, Porte won’t give up without a fight. “I have nothing to lose. I will fight for the podium on Willunga Hill”, he said after stage 4. Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans know they can’t let Richie Porte get away but they may hesitate a little if Porte launches an attack in the begging of the climb on the steep part.
Another climber with nothing to lose is Robert Gesink. The Dutch climber didn’t quite have the legs to follow Evans, Porte and Gerrans on Corkscrew Road but he showed to be the fourth strongest uphill. Gesink sits 5th overall, 29 seconds down, and he will be eager to move up a bit. Nathan Haas is just six seconds ahead of him and it will be interesting to follow the fight between Gesink and Haas on Willunga Hill. Remember, Haas is rather quick on the line.
It may come as a surprise to some but one of the strongest riders on Willunga Hill the last two years in a row has been Movistar’s Javi Moreno. The Spanish climber was outstanding as a domestique for Alejandro Valverde in 2012 and last year, his late attack seemed to be the winning move before Gerrans and Slagter overtook him. Javi Moreno managed to take enough time on his rivals that day and thanks to his effort on Willunga Hill, he finished second overall. This year, Moreno hasn’t been as good on the climbs as usually. Still, he knows Willunga Hill very well and may be planning a last attempt for glory today.
Kenny Elissonde is another good joker for an uphill finish like this one. He won on Angliru in last year’s Vuelta a España and did show good legs for a while on Corkscrew Road. The young Frenchman is already out of the general classification and - like Javi Moreno - he won’t be the first rider the favorites will start chasing down. If you are looking for a super-super joker, look to Elissonde’s teammate Anthony Roux. You may not take him for a climber but he’s not bad at all on these kind of climbs. Unless the real climbers open up early, Roux will have a solid chance of staying near the front on a seven minutes climb like Willunga Hill. I doubt Anthony Roux will win this stage, hence the super-super joker tag, but I won’t be surprised if he makes top10 at least.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv