As I wrote yesterday, I felt Simon Gerrans victory over Corkscrew in Stage 3, would be enough for him to win this year’s Santos Tour Down Under.
For Stage 4, the sprinters were expected to have a day out and Gerrans would look for the intermediate sprints to shore up his lead.
He did that of course but for good measure went on to win the stage in another phenomenal demonstration of his immense all-round skills.
He’ll step out today wearing the TDU leader’s jersey for a record-breaking 13th time, one more than Andre Greipel.
Gerrans takes a 14-second lead into today’s Old Willunga Hill showdown. It’s the largest advantage a rider has held ahead of Stage 5 since 2010, when Andre Greipel led Robbie McEwen by 20 seconds.
But that was before the Willunga Hill became a summit finish. Since then the biggest post Stage 4 lead has been seven seconds in both 2015 and 2014. Tellingly though, neither of them have been surrendered.
Spanish riders have a great record in the Willunga stages but it’s the Aussies who have dominated since the double climb was introduced in 2012.
Alejandre Valverde is the only Spaniard to have won on the hill (2012), whereas Richie Porte is in line for a Willunga hat trick if he triumphs today.
With teammate Rohan Dennis trailing Gerrans by 26 seconds, he may get the chance to go for it.
That said it’s a little hard to gauge Porte’s real form given he’s had lieutenant’s duties this week.
We saw Porte make a bit of a spurt yesterday near the KOM at Crow’s Nest Rd, but that was in response to Sky’s Sergio Henao who managed to stay clear and claim the points.
I suspect we’ll see Porte have a crack on the second ascent of Willunga if it’s obvious that Dennis is holding his teammate up.
Gerrans doesn’t need to win of course, he just has to match his rivals to reduce any potential time losses. With such a big lead (in a TDU context) he can ride without any real pressure.
Potentially Gerrans could unleash an even more dominant performance.
But if Porte is allowed to run his own race and is on form, Gerrans may not be able to keep up.
Two year ago, he had no answer to Porte on Willunga, the Tasmanian winning by 10 seconds.
Even if that happens today and Gerrans can’t manage a top thee place, Porte, currently at 36 seconds in 10th spot is still unlikely to make up the time.
Jay McCarthy is the closest rider to Gerrans on GC but as we’ve seen over the past two days he can’t climb at the level required. I think he’ll struggle to hold on to a podium place.
That leaves the Spanish (speaking) Armada – Sergio Henao from Colombia and Spaniards, Ruben Fernandez and Rafael Valls.
All are capable of winning today but at 28, 28 and 36 seconds respectively, as with Porte, it’s too much time to make up.
So we look set for another showdown between Australia and Spain, with Colombia looking to finally make its mark on Aussie cycling, as we’re seeing in so many other big races.
There may not be the tension of a close fight on the GC to savour, but a day on Old Willunga Hill is as good as anything that Aussie cycling can offer.
Here we go again.