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Tour Down Under stage 5: Goss misses out after uphill struggle

Stage 5 – McLaren Vale to Willunga, 131km

Despite a brave charge to bridge the gap to the final breakaway of the day, HTC-Highroad‘s Matthew Goss missed out on the maximum time bonus available for first place, having to settle for third behind Movistar‘s Francisco Ventoso, who became the fifth different winner from five different teams during this year’s Tour Down Under. Goss moved up to second overall and closed the gap to defending ochre jersey wearer Cameron Meyer, who remains in the lead by eight seconds, and will start tomorrow’s city centre stage in Adelaide as favourite for the overall win.

The peloton speeds past Aldinga Beach before tackling Willunga Hill (image courtesy of Graham Watson)

An early break sets the tone

With two challenging ascents of Old Willunga Hill – three kilometres at an average gradient of 7.5% – to tackle shortly before the finish, this stage was always going to provide the biggest opportunity of the entire race to create decisive time gaps among the leading riders. An early break of eight riders ensured the peloton were forced to maintain a decent pace, pulling out a lead of over 2½ minutes at one stage and forcing Meyer’s Garmin-Cervélo team to ride tempo at the front of the main pack to keep the elastic from snapping.

As the peloton pulled in the leash on the first of two laps taking in Old Willunga Hill, Goss’s HTC-Highroad team moved forward to assist in the catch, affording us the unique sight of Mark Cavendish, the world’s fastest sprinter, coming to the front to drive the hounds forward towards their prey. The catch was complete by the lower slopes of the climb, and then the fun began.

Attack after attack on the climbs

Initially three riders from Euskaltel-Euskadi came to the front, gradually winding up the pace and lining out the bunch as those who lack a taste for heights began to slide backwards. Luke Roberts of UniSA-Australia, the leader in the King of the Mountains classification, briefly jumped ahead of the peloton to claim maximum points over the summit and consolidate his lead. He was soon followed by a speculative escape group of seven which included Lance Armstrong – who officially rides off into (second) retirement after tomorrow’s final stage – and caused this viewer a momentary flutter of excitement wondering if we might see a grand farewell from the 39-year old Texan.

It was not to be, however. The break stayed away for a few minutes, but was soon hauled back in as the peloton regrouped for the second ascent. Euskaltel’s Miguel Minguez launched an initial solo acceleration but was soon swallowed up by a counter-attack comprising Saxo Bank-Sungard‘s Richie Porte (who wore the leader’s jersey for several days during the 2010 Giro d’Italia), Ben Hermans (RadioShack) and Australian national road race champion Jack Bobridge (Garmin-Cervélo). The trio established a 20-second advantage over the summit.

However, the leading riders in the overall classification were not to be denied. A hard, draining charge led by HTC teammate Hayden Roulston brought Goss and most of the other front runners back up to the escapees, forming an elite group of 20 for the run-in to the finish.

Goss lacks the legs this time

Bobridge dropped out after he went down on a left-hand turn, taking Movistar’s David López with him. Then, as the front group passed the one-kilometre board, Euskaltel’s Gorka Izagirre launched a long solo drive for home, which never really looked likely to succeed. With Movistar teammate José Joaquín Rojas for support, Francisco Ventoso opened up the final sprint, sling-shotting past Izagirre and just holding off stage three winner Michael Matthews by perhaps 10cm. Goss was unable to find the pace to respond on this occasion, and had to settle for third, with Meyer finishing in the pack right behind him.

Ventoso, a previous stage winner at the Vuelta a España, declared it an important victory for what was the old Caisse d’Epargne team, now sponsored by Movistar:

This is a massive victory for me, but more important for the team. We have a new sponsor this year and to win is really important. We can be calm for the rest of the year, now we have won a race.

My legs today are stronger than other days. The crowds were incredible and the ambience is very special for cycling.

Matthews, the reigning under-23 world road race champion, was not too disappointed to have narrowly missed out on his second stage win here:

I definitely did not expect it coming in to this, with so many good riders here. I have pretty good form so I was pretty confident that I would go alright, but definitely not two podiums.

[The crowd] was amazing. I could not actually hear myself think. We had a lot of people out there cheering for us and especially being an Aussie, with the Aussie crowd, it was amazing, just like the World Championships. They were going crazy and it was awesome for us and got us more motivated to work harder and put on a show.

Goss proclaimed himself satisfied to have at least reduced Meyer’s advantage, although he admitted he could perhaps have done better:

The day went alright. I ended up in the bunch I wanted to be in. It wasn’t a perfect sprint for me. I made a bit of a mistake. I tried to get on the side with less wind but I got close to the barrier a little bit. I still managed to get third and I’m a few seconds away from the lead so I’m there for a crack tomorrow.

A grandstand finish?

The race concludes tomorrow with a 90-kilometre dash around the centre of Adelaide, comprising 20 4.5-kilometre loops. With time gaps on the road extremely unlikely, the onus will be on Goss and his HTC-Highroad team to secure sprint bonuses if he is to overhaul Meyer for the overall win. Nonetheless, Goss remained optimistic of his chances:

I can try and get some bonus seconds, and try and get the win. I’ve been so close all week. I’ve been in and out of the jersey, so if the pattern keeps going the way it has it’s my turn to get back into the jersey tomorrow.

With all the other leading sprinters likely to be seeking a finishing stage victory tomorrow, Meyer remained upbeat about his chances of holding on to his advantage:

I’ll be having fingers crossed. Hopefully [my teammates] Tyler [Farrar] and Julian [Dean] can get time bonuses over the sprinters, but it’s going to come right down to the wire. My legs were good [today], so hopefully tomorrow everything works out well and we might have the jersey at the end of it.

With the glory of a win on the concluding stage and the closeness of the battle for overall victory, it is bound to be an exciting finish in Adelaide tomorrow. History is certainly on Meyer’s side – only once in the race’s 12-year history has the lead changed hands on the final day. With Garmin teammates and sprint specialists Tyler Farrar and Julian Dean deputised to spoil Goss’s chances of picking up bonuses at the sprint points, I fancy Meyer to hold on, but it will be a close-run thing.

Live coverage of stage six begins at 2.30am tomorrow (Sunday) morning on Sky Sports 4, with repeats on Sky Sports during Sunday and Monday.

Stage 5 result:

1. Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) 3:06:10

2. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) same time

3. Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) s/t

4. José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) s/t

5. Luke Roberts (UniSA-Australia) s/t

General classification:

1. Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Cervélo) 16:00:40

2. Matthew Goss (HTC-Highroad) +0:08

3. Laurens ten Dam (Rabobank) +0:10

4. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) +0:12

5. Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) +0:17

Tour Down Under posts

Tour Down Under preview

Tour Down Under stage 1: Goss beats Greipel, Cavendish sits tight

Tour Down Under stage 2: Swift by name, swift by nature

Tour Down Under stage 3: Matthews wins, Greipel falls short again

Tour Down Under stage 4: Meyer wins another one for the boys

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

2 Responses to Tour Down Under stage 5: Goss misses out after uphill struggle

  1. Pingback: Tour Down Under stage 6: Swift wins second stage, Meyer wins overall « The armchair sports fan

  2. Pingback: Tour Down Under 2011 Wrap Up « Mastering the Uphill Shift

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