Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) staked another claim to the unofficial title of world’s best sprinter with a record-breaking stage win in this year’s Tour Down Under.
Greipel racked up his thirteenth sprint victory in Australia’s only WorldTour event, a race in which he has also tasted overall victory on two occasions.
The German’s irresistible charge at the end of the 126.5km fourth stage from Modbury to Tanunda gave him his second victory of this year’s race, and his third of 2013, moving his win-tally for the season ahead of rivals, Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
The Manx Missile, racing on the other side of the South Pacific at the Tour de San Luis, Argentina, has so far claimed a win and a second place. Sagan, competing in the same event as Cavendish, has yet to open his account for 2013.
Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol sprint train delivered their leader to the line with impeccable timing, avoiding the chaos of a crash between the Blanco and Orica-GreenEDGE teams.
He tweeted: “Incredible how good the guys timed it right again to hit the front! #experience. Thanks to all @Lotto_Belisol guys. #machine”
The German finished ahead of Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), who completed the podium.
An attack from the world road race champion, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), provided the other noteworthy action from the stage.
The Belgian attacked almost as soon as the stage began and remained ahead of the bunch with breakaway companion, Damien Howson (UniSA-Australia), for nearly 120km, before being hauled back just eight kilometres from the finish.
Geraint Thomas remains in the ochre leader’s jersey and retains his five-second advantage over Tom Jelte-Slagter (Blanco) who won the third stage.
Tomorrow’s fifth stage presents the final opportunity for riders seeking overall victory to affect the outcome of the race.
The race’s Queen stage will take the riders on a double ascent of Old Willunga Hill, which last year hosted a scintillating finish between Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who were separated on the final, overall classification by countback.
Thomas will seek to wrap things up tomorrow to avoid a nail-biting final stage, which looks like another gift to the sprinters.
He said: “Tomorrow it’s two times up Willunga and last time up is going to be a hell for leather race to the top I think.
“RadioShack have three guys, Blanco two, Euskaltel two so they all have different cards to play. Hopefully our boys will still be as strong as they have been for the rest of this race so far.
“As long as I’m empty by the top and I’ve given it everything then that’s all I can do.”
Santos Tour Down Under 2013 – stage four – result
1) Andre Greipel (GER) – Lotto Belisol – 3.02.52
2) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – ST
3) Jonathan Cantwell (AUS) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank – ST
4) Andy Fenn (GBR) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – ST
5) Barry Markus (NED) – Blanco Pro Cycling – ST
6) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Argos-Shimano – ST
7) Mark Renshaw (AUS) – Blanco Pro Cycling – ST
8) Kenny Van Hummel (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM – ST
9) Andre Demare (FRA) – FDJ – ST
10) Klaas Lodewyck (BEL) – BMC Racing – ST
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 12.59.09
2) Tom Jelte-Slagter (NED) – Blanco Pro Cycling +5”
3) Javier Moreno (SPA) – Movistar +6”
4) Ben Hermans (BEL) – RadioShack-Leopard + 8”
5) Gorka Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +15”
6) Ion Izagirre (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi – ST
7) Jack Bauer (NZL) – Garmin-Sharp – ST
8) Tiago Machado (POR)- RadioShack-Leopard – ST
9) Adam Hansen (AUS) – Lotto-Belisol – ST
10) George Bennett (NZL) – RadioShack-Leopared – ST