Stage 4 - January 18: Unley - Victor Harbor, 141km
Complete live report
Start time: 11:16
Welcome to today's live coverage of the fourth stage of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, a 141 kilometre journey from Unley to Victor Harbor, to the south of Adelaide. The stage is held over a fairly undulating parcours, with a gentle climb from the start. The first 7.4 kilometres are neutralised, before the race proper starts at the Old Toll Gate at approximately 11:16.
The only difficulty is Newland Hill, at 104 km (KOM) and 6 kilometres to go before the finish at Victor Harbor. It could play a role in spltting the field before a bunch sprint, which is the expected outcome today. Look out for Robbie McEwen, Jans Koerts, Jaan Kirsipuu, Fred Rodriguez and maybe Mark Renshaw to figure in the sprint.
11:15 - 0 km
The riders have completed the neutral section and are now at the edge of the city, where large, enthusiastic crowds cheer them on. The flag is dropped and the race begins!
94 riders are left in the race, with only two abandonments so far: Ludovic Capelle (Ag2r) and Henk Vogels (AIS).
11:28 - 5 km
After 5 kilometres of steady climbing, the group is all together. An important factor today will be the heat, with temperatures expected to reach 35 degrees. The riders will be going through a lot of water, and the team cars have made extra provision for this. Feeding will be allowed earlier in the stage as well.
11:37 - 7 km
There is some more aggression now after a very slow start. Yesterday's birthday boy Luca Paolini (Mapei Quick Step) attacks, and is joined by Alexandre Botcharov (AG2r-Prevoyance). Already, Arvis Piziks (CSC - Tiscali), Jans Koerts (Domo Farm Frites), Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2r-Prevoyance), Carlos Da Cruz, Matt Wilson and Nicolas Vogondy (La Française Des Jeux) are in difficulty at the rear of the peloton.
11:48 - 10 km
Koerts and Piziks are a fair way off the back, but the bunch regroups after 10 kilometres. Kevin Hulsmans (Mapei Quick Step) and Robert Tighello (Australian Institute Of Sport) launch an attack, and are watched by the Saeco controlled bunch.
12:00 - 26 km
The pace has picked up a lot now, with several attacks going before the first sprint in Echunga (26 km). Luca Paolini (Mapei Quick Step) joins the break with Thierry Loder (AG2r-Prevoyance), Kevin Hulsmans and Robert Tighello, who have 20 seconds on the bunch.
They are chased by Sebastian Hinault (Crédit Agricole) attacks, followed by Stefan Van Dijk (Lotto Adecco) and David Pell (United Water).
Some pre-race comments from Cyclingnews reports Karen Forman and Gabriella Ekström this morning.
Although the course for stage 4 looks tailor-made for the sprinters' teams, defending champion Stuart O'Grady had his own interpretation of the course, given his experience racing in South Australia. "The course kind of looks that way," he said of the relatively smooth profile, "but it depends on what the leaders' teams want to do. If someone attacks on the first climb it will be chaos and then anything can happen."
While today's stage 4 takes the peloton from Unley down to the coastal town of Victor Harbour, it covers a few small drags which could give the opportunists a chance to break away. "If the attacks come later in the stage then it could come down to a sprint. It's much hotter today and tomorrow could be worse."
As for his own performance, O'Grady was frank in his assessment. "I definitely don't have the same horsepower as last year. It's due to a few factors, I had a few months off over Christmas and there was a crash (last year) in Holland which took me longer than expected to get over. But I can't afford to let it get to me, there's a long season ahead.
"The Tour Down Under is always a big focus for me. I can't expect to win it every year, I'd like to but other riders have better form than me."
12:14 - 36 km
The sprint in Echunga results: 1. Kevin Hulsmans (Mapei Quick Step) 2. Robert Tighello (Australian Institute Of Sport) 3. Mikel Astarloza (AG2r-Prevoyance). The break was caught after that and David Pell attacked. He has a 200 m gap after 35 km.
The pace is very fast, with the dropped riders doing 70 km/h!
12:22 - 40 km
David Pell is increasing his lead - at 37 km it was 1'05, at 38 km it was 1'45, so obviously there doesn't seem to be any serious attempt to chase him.
12:27 - 43 km
...But the bunch is fighting back as they pass through the Ashbourne hills. Pell's gap is reduced to 1'25 then 1'20 as Saeco start to ride tempo at the front. It is quite windy through this section.
The gap has gone up again now, with David Pell in front by 2'15.
12:50 - 57 km
David Pell continues to make good ground, with his lead growing to 3'20. The peloton is controlled by six riders from the Saeco team, who are protecting the yellow jersey of race leader Fabio Sacchi. A little further back are some of the Mapei-Quick Step boys, all riding together. O'Grady is in the middle.
Jans Koerts and Fred Rodriguez are sitting at the back of the peloton, as are Andrea Tafi, Daniele Nardello, Luca Paolini (Mapei), Geert Van Bondt, Tristan Hoffman, Jakob Piil (CSC - Tiscali), Stefan Van Dijk (Lotto Adecco), Corey Sweet (UniSA) and Kai Hundertmarck (Telekom)
12:56 - 63 km
David Pell looks strong and smooth, riding with his hands on the brake hoods at 45 km/h in a big gear. He doesn't appear to be struggling in the hot wind. At 63 kilometres, his lead is 4 minutes.
13:07 - 76 km
There are four kilometres to go until the second sprint in Goolwa (km 80) and David Pell will certainly take the bonus points and seconds. His lead is now 4'55.
13:21 - 84 km
Pell crosses the line in Goolwa to easily win the second sprint of the day, 4'50 ahead of Biagio Conte (Saeco-Longoni Sport) and Glenn d'Hollander (Lotto Adecco). The race is now just 15 kilometres from Victor Harbor, through which the riders will pass before they go out on a 40 kilometre finishing loop.
More pre-stage quotes from Brett Aitken. The compact sprinter - and Gold medallist in the Madison at the Sydney 2000 Olympics - was concerned about the heat prior to the start, even though he is a South Australian resident. "It's bloody hot today - I hate the heat. I think I do worse than the European riders in the heat."
"For some reason my body can't hold in the electrolytes and I seem to sweat three times more than anyone else and suffer from cramps really badly. I had pretty severe cramps in the second stage and for today, I'll see how it goes. It depends how they go up the first hill. If the bunch decides it wants to go easy it could be an easy day because there is a tailwind and the end of it (the stage) is downhill."
"But if they decide to go hard from the start it could end up being the hardest day of the tour. Victor Harbour is renowned for its galeforce winds."
"I'm pretty disappointed in my performance so far because I know I can do much better."
13:41 - 92 km
The leader, David Pell, heads through Port Elliot at 92 kilometres with a 5'25 lead. He is still looking strong and must be entertaining thoughts about a stage win. However, the last 50 km will be very tough for him.
Mark Renshaw (United Water): The track sprinter from country New South Wales was enjoying his first Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under as he slapped on yet another layer of sun-screen prior to the start. "Coming from Bathurst (a regional centre in NSW) and then Sydney I am used to riding in the heat and the hot weather really doesn't worry me".
The trackie was hoping it would come down to a sprint and "from what I've heard the hill at the end (of the stage) can be difficult but if the bunch stays together and the sprinters can get over it with the main field then it will certainly be a bunch sprint".
He said that his team was looking to get one of their climbers away, and this has certainly happened with David Pell, a young rider from Victoria, taking advantage of the conditions to scoot clear of the field and build up a lead of over four minutes. If his team-mate is caught, Renshaw said in the morning: "I would love it to come down to a sprint."
13:48 - 104 km
David Pell is on the KOM of Newland Hill, just out of Victor Harbour. He is sitting in the saddle doing about 20 km/h, and feeling the pinch. He will probably lose a chunk of time on this hill.
Pell takes the points over the top, with the bunch nowhere in sight.
Pre-stage comments: Jans Koerts (Domo Farm Frites). The Dutch champion - one of three in the Domo - Farm Frites squad and two remaining in the race after the withdrawal of Ludovic Capelle - is hoping that his team will work for him and set him up for a sprint.
"Yesterday I had a problem with one of my knees and if I'm not feeling up to it the team will work for Max (van Heeswijk)." As he has ridden before several times in Australia, Koerts was not bothered by the rising temperatures. "I don't think the heat will be a problem."
14:05 - 105 km
The bunch reaches the top of the KOM at 104 km with Glenn d'Hollander taking the points for second, ahead of Cadel Evans (Mapei Quick Step), Scott Sunderland (Australian Institute Of Sport) and Daniele Nardello (Mapei Quick Step).
They trailed David Pell by 4 minutes over the top, who may stay away for the win. He at least has won the Most Aggressive Rider jersey today.
Fred Rodriguez (Domo Farm Frites): The reigning USA champion couldn't really say how he would go on today's stage, apart from trying to stay at the front. "The team really hasn't been in the right place at the right time during the Tour". The overall aim for Domo today would be to set up a stage win for either Max van Heeswijk or Jans Koerts, currently well placed in the sprinters competition.
Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2R - Prevoyance) "I'm feeling bad," said the fastman from Estonia. "I will see how I go in the climb (at the end) and if there is a sprint then maybe. I like to race in Australia, but this race is now too difficult. I think Lotto will ride hard for Robbie because he is the strongest in the race. He has good condition."
14:17 - 116 km
The gap has come down to 2'45 after 111 kilometres, as Pell is visibly struggling in the wind now. Uni SA are at the front of the peloton. Five kilometres later, the gap is 1'30 - Pell is exhausted.
Danilo Hondo (Deutsche Telekom): The classy sprinter from Germany - and winner of two stages of the Giro d'Italia in 2001 - felt he "might be up for a win if it comes down to a sprint. The climb won't be too much of a problem and I felt pretty good on Willunga Hill yesterday". Unlike some of the peloton, he didn't think the heat would be a problem.
14:24 - 122 km/19 km to go
Sebastian Hinault (Crédit Agricole) starts the counter-attacking in pursuit of Pell, who will be swallowed up any minute.
Robbie McEwen (Lotto Adecco): The champion Australian sprinter told Cyclingnews he "wouldn't mind another stage win", after securing two wins already in the 2002 Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under. "I'll try to take it easy today if I can. It will be the same approach as I took yesterday. Keep relaxed and then it's a simple sprint."
Ewen believed the heat would be a problem for many of the European riders but at the same time, he wasn't planning to go in any of the breaks. He did believe that current tour leader Fabio Sacchi (Saeco - Longoni Sport) made an error yesterday by letting others believe he has a problem, as he appeared to struggle over the Willunga Hill in stage three. "They may believe he is vulnerable to attacks."
According to McEwen, the riders that Sacchi should look out for included Patrick Jonker, Daniele Nardello and Botcharov.
14:28 - 124 km/17 km to go
Pell is caught after a fine solo effort. Now the heat is on for the stage win: Chris Jenner and Sebastian Hinault (Crédit Agricole), Geert Van Bondt (CSC - Tiscali), Kevin Hulsmans (Mapei Quick Step) and Bruce McIntosh (United Water) are off the front with about a 30 second gap.
14:34 - 131 km/10 km to go
With 10 kilometres to go, this break of five has a 400 metre gap to the bunch, which is trying to chase them down. The next small climb will be interesting.
Hulsmans attacks on the climb.
14:44 - 141 km/0 km to go
Hulsmans is caught and the others are swallowed up in time for a big bunch sprint. And the winner is....Robbie McEwen! McEwen outsprinted Telekom's Danilo Hondo and Jaan Kirsipuu (AG2r-Prevoyance). Fabio Sacchi keeps the leader's jersey, with a tough stage to come tomorrow.
"It was a perfect race," said McEwen afterwards. "I didn't have to do too much until the end. It was a long sprint. If I get to the end I will sprint. It's my job and that's what I came here to do."
"Tomorrow will be a bit hard because my legs are tired from the ride today. I'm too far behind to improve my overall status. I'm just trying to win stages."
*Crash note: On the descent into Victor Harbor, there was a crash involving a few riders after a touch of wheels. Unfortunately it seems as though Gene Bates (UniSA) and Scott Sunderland (AIS) are hurt. Sunderland may have damaged some ligaments in his knee. We'll keep you informed.
Update: We spoke with (an extremely annoyed) Scott while he was being treated. 5 riders came down with 4 km to go to the finish. It's not known yet how bad the damage to his knee is, but there is a large lump around it.
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto Adecco 3.25.50 2 Danilo Hondo (Ger) Telekom 3 Jaan Kirsipuu (Est) AG2r-Prevoyance 4 Baden Cooke (Aus) La Française Des Jeux 5 Andrea Tafi (Ita) Mapei Quick Step 6 Luca Paolini (Ita) Mapei Quick Step 7 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport 8 Luke Roberts (Aus) UniSA 9 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole 10 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) AG2r-Prevoyance General classification after stage 4 1 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport 11.25.44 2 Michael Rogers (Aus) Australian Institute Of Sport 0.01 3 Andrea Tafi (Ita) Mapei Quick Step 0.05 Sprints classification 1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Lotto Adecco 28 pts 2 Jans Koerts (Ned) Domo Farm Frites 14 3 Fabio Sacchi (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport 12 Mountains classification 1 Glenn d'Hollander (Bel) Lotto Adecco 28 pts 2 Scott Sunderland (Aus) Australian Institute Of Sport 28 3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Mapei Quick Step 20 U23 classification 1 Dave McPartland (Aus) United Water Most aggressive rider 1 David Pell (Aus) United Water