Richie Porte (BMC Racing) won on Willunga Hill for the fifth consecutive year, but the defending champion missed out on the ochre jersey on stage five of the 2018 Tour Down Under after Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) fought back to finish second.
Porte’s searing attacks, on the climb he has made his own in recent years, was enough to distance the other GC contenders but Impey’s late charge leaves the two on the same time overall.
And with the Mitchelton-Scott man having finished second three times now – behind team-mate Caleb Ewan on stage two, behind world champion Peter Sagan on stage four, and now behind Porte on Willunga Hill – the South African leads on countback.
Sagan, who led going into the stage, was unable to stick with the GC men on the lower slopes of the climb and will now bid to defend his points classification lead on the final stage.
The excitement of the race’s queen stage was evident from the flag, with a seven-strong escape forging clear, led by breakaway specialist Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).
King of the Mountains Nickolas Dlamini (Dimension Data) was also back for more, as were UniSA-Australia duo Scott Bowden and Zak Dempster.
Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin), Nuno Bico (Movistar) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek-Segafredo) completed the move, but the peloton were wary of giving them too much of a gap.
Indeed, when the climbing started, only Dlamini, Dempster and De Gendt remained in the group and it was the Belgian who attacked over the summit of Willunga Hill on the first passage of the finishing line.
Dlamini took second – securing the King of the Mountains jersey in the process – but the GC teams reeled everyone in on the final lap of the finishing circuit and the fight for position commenced.
Though Porte was undoubted favourite for the stage, plenty of teams got in the mix to shake things up – EF-Drapac’s attack into the crosswinds temporarily putting BMC Racing in trouble.
The pace thinned the group but BMC Racing were back in control when the road ramped up, with Rohan Dennis pushing the pace before Porte’s first attack.
Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) clung to his wheel, and Team Sky debutant Egan Arley Bernal fought back well, but Porte’s second kick put paid to their chase.
Out of the saddle, the defending champion charged for the finish line but – as he celebrated his stage victory – the strength of Impey’s comeback became apparent as he came into sight just behind.
The South African stopped the clock eight seconds after Porte to claim the race lead on countback.
Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data), the 2013 champion, led home a small group two seconds later – his bonus seconds for third place putting him third overall.
Bernal was also in that group, and now tops the youth classification in his first WorldTour race for Team Sky.
Having been the best-placed Brit overall before the stage, Scott Davies (Dimension Data) continued his impressive WorldTour debut with 25th place at 35 seconds, meanwhile – enough to put him 23rd overall.
It is Impey who will roll out in the ochre jersey in Adelaide for the final stage, however; bonus seconds will be available but the South African’s superior sprinting ability to Porte puts him in pole position to claim overall victory.
Tour Down Under 2018: stage five – result
1) Richie Porte (AUS) – BMC Racing – 3.42.22hrs
2) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Mitchelton-Scott +8"
3) Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) – Dimension Data +10"
4) Dries Devenyns (BEL) – QuickStep Floors – ST
5) Egan Arley Bernal (COL) – Team Sky
6) Gorka Izagirre (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida
7) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates
8) Robert Gesink (NED) – Team LottoNL-Jumbo +14"
9) Ion Izagirre (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida – ST
10) Ruben Guerreiro (POR) – Trek-Segafredo
1) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Mitchelton-Scott – 18.02.15hrs
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
3) Tom-Jelte Slagter (NED) – Dimension Data +16"
4) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – UAE Team Emirates +20"
5) Dries Devenyns (BEL) – QuickStep Floors – ST
6) Egan Arley Bernal (COL) – Team Sky
7) Gorka Izagirre (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida
8) Robert Gesink (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +24"
9) George Bennett (NZL) – LottoNL-Jumbo – ST
10) Ion Izagirre (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida