Team Sky has its first victory of the 2014 campaign, courtesy of Ritchie Porte, who has won the fifth stage of the Tour Down Under.
The Australian, who last year took overall victory at Paris-Nice and served as key lieutenant to Chris Froome in the latter’s Tour de France victory, crossed the finish line some 10 seconds ahead of his closest competitor at the summit of Old Willunga Hill.
Porte described his colleagues on the British WorldTour team, among them double Olympic champion, Geraint Thomas, and former British road race champion, Ian Stannard, as “incredible”, but added that he had felt incredible too.
“The team had a plan and the boys were incredible,” Porte told the Team Sky website. “Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas were there to the last minute. They dropped me off right on the front at the start of the climb and victory is credit to all those guys.
“It’s January and I’m not in top form just yet. To win in Australia and on this climb is a very special victory.”
Porte, who is expected to lead Team Sky at the Giro d’Italia this year, held off a challenge from two men who had already won stages in this year’s sixteenth edition of Australia’s only event on cycling’s elite UCI WorldTour calendar: Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), who won the opening stage, and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), who won stage two.
Gerrans’ effort in finishing third on stage five was enough to return him to the overall lead of the race, removing the ochre jersey from the shoulders of fellow Australian, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who finished sixth on today’s stage. Gerrans leads his compatriot by a single second, underlining once again the fine margins on which the Tour Down Under is often decided.
Gerrans won the race in 2012 with a victory over the Spaniard, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), decided on countback. The Orica-GreenEDGE leader, who went on to win Milan-San Remo two months later, and who last year won stage three of the Tour De France en route to spending two days in the yellow jersey, knows what it takes to win his home race.
The stage provided another showcase for the blossoming talents of Ulissi, who looked set to lead Lampre-Merida’s Grand Tour challenge this season at just 24, before the arrival of world champion, Rui Costa. Ulissi had been hugely impressive at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, not least in leading the pursuit of world number one, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to the summit of the Alto del Naranco. The Italian is now third overall, just five seconds behind Gerrans, and four behind second-placed Evans.
Tomorrow’s final stage of the 2014 Tour Down Under will see the leaders conduct a tense battle on a short, flat stage on the streets of Adelaide. The Australian race’s reputation for providing a thrilling start to the season looks set to remain intact, regardless of the outcome. With two Australians separated by a single second at the head of the general classification, the thousands of fans expected to line the streets of the state capital should witness a home victory.
Tour Down Under 2014: stage five – result
1) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky – 3.42.20
2) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +10″
3) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
4) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +14″
5) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
6) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
7) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +17″
8) Egos Silin (RUS) – Katusha – ST
9) Adam Hansen (AUS) – Lotto-Belisol – ST
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +21″
1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 18.021.19
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +1″
3) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +5″
4) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +10″
5) Nathan Haas (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +27″
6) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin +30″
7) Daryl Impey (RSA) – Orica-GreenEDGE +34″
8) Adam Hansen (AUS) – Lotto-Belisol +37″
9) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – ST
10) Egor Silin (RUS) – Katusha – ST