The stage to the top of old willunga hill is the most anxiously anticipated race in australian cycling. The climb has become synonymous with the TDU over the years and everyone as a result gets very excited about stage 5 and the saturday of the event.
This years race has been absolutely spoilt with excitement and world class racing. Not that every other year has been world class but this year the standard level of the racing and the riders creating the action is simply amazing to see on aussie soil. No one could have imagined our sport would grow to what it is today in australia and off course a lot of that is down to 5 letters, CADEL! Well fittingly the aussie sporting icon began the day in the leaders jersey but was set to face an all out assault from fellow aussie simon gerrans one way or another during the stage. The only question was which tactic would gerro employ to take on cadel??
Most believed like yesterday gerro's green edge team would again chase the 2 intermediate bonus sprints on offer in the first part of the stage. Here he could gobble up 6 seconds and be just 1 second behind or would he chase the bigger bonus's on offer at the finish and go for the stage win and race lead?? Well gerro is a fighter and always backs himself so I guess it should have come as no surprize that he chose to chase the stage win and overall glory in one hit. It was a decision that made the clear statement the he truly believed he was the best rider in the bike race. By days end gerro would indeed be back in the leaders jersey. He didn't win the stage but neither would cadel. Simon was 3rd and distanced cadel enough to overhaul him by a single second. It was a bold move by simon particularly seen as though cadel had dropped him on the corkscrew climb so he really turned the tables tables today. So hats off to gerro, he is leading the race but all along he has earnt it in the most exciting possible way so congrats to him and his team.
To the stage. Jensie attacked from the gun and quickly disappeared into the distance with 3 others. We wouldn't see them again until to top of old willunga hill the first time up. The stage does 3 laps around willunga town and the beach and the a lap of the climb and next time up finish's at the top. The crowd as always was absolutely incredible. It gets larger and larger every year and this year on the willunga 3km climb it was simply a wall of noise, like a big cauldron. There must have been a few hundred thousand people out there today, it was absolutely amazing to be apart of. So with the break gone the wait and watch game happened to see who would do what next.
The first to commit to the chase and setting up the stage was the sky team of fellow tassie boy richie porte. I immediately was a little edgy about this as the magician bernie eisal was on the front. Bernie has this amazing ability to chase at the exact perfect tempo to save the legs of his boys and make life hell for all those behind. One moment he has the group at warp speed and strung out in a line and the next at snails pace and riders are all bunched up and frustrated they can't get to the front. He just has this amazing instinct to ride at the perfect pace to basically zap the life out of you and your team mates and in the process keep the race completely under his command! So with one lap up the hill out of the way the race was back together. Bernie had paced it perfectly and the final escapee was brough back as we crested the top of the mountain. From here greenedge took control and drilled it in the gutter. I was actually remarkably calm at this time as although I was a little out of position I saw it was just impy and hayman on the front. I was pretty sure gerro would be saving his boys as long as possible so doubted they would completely open the throttle that far out. Sure enough it did split the group a little but was fortunately possible to stay in the main field. So down the hill and onto the final few kms of flat before we hit old willunga hill for the 3km hilltop run to line. All the big guns were there so the stage was set for what all the aussie fans craved, a battle between australias biggest stars.
As we swung left and hit the lower slopes I was feeling pretty good. You always feel good when the pace is not on, you are just waiting for how much pain you can suffer though when the big guns hit the throttle! I was a little sleepy at the bottom and got a few to many wheels back. In the end it certainly did not cost me a high stage placing but again I would have loved to be a little more apart of the action. Anyways again I wasn't up there when I needed to be and when cadel hit the gas much like on the corkscrew I got left behind! To say I was a little tired after yesterday is an understatement, I have gone beyond being tired now, I simply can't feel anything, only problem is I simply don't have any power left either! Anyways still that's all apart of the game, can't keep making withdrawals from your system and not expect your balance to go down! Still I survived the day closer to the front than the back so happy to still be amongst the action and looking forward to keeping the condition building from here.
Back to the race and with cadels attack the strongest men where quickly leading us a merry dance. It was a block headwind on the climb so for any rider to make a real difference and break free they needed to be incredibly brave and super super strong. Cadel unsurprisingly believed he had these characteristics and was the first to show his hand. Then cometh the hour cometh the man, I saw ritchie porte step out into the wind as we passed the 2km barrier and in a wink of an eye the pint sized tasmanian was riding away with stage win and well and trully hammering the into my Tassie Cup aspirations. With the wind like it was it was only going to take a gutsy phenomenal effort to ride away from the best in the world and on willunga today ritchie showed everyone exactly why he is our next big hope for grand tour success. As I said before its the biggest day on the aussie cycling calendar and we all won't apart of the action. Ritchie was still able to show a clean pair of heals finishing of the great work from his team and particularly bernie the magician eisal. Big good stuff to Mr Porte today.
So that was the race. Sadly I couldn't be as crazy as yesterday and get amongst it but was happy I was atleast apart of it. I know where I am missing the mark and what I need to work on so can't wait to get home tomorrow to hobart and start working on that straight away. First however we have the final street circuit around adelaide tomorrow. It will be a bunch sprint so our last chance to set Elia up for a battle royale with the fastmen. After the disappointment of letting him down yesterday I am champing at the bit to get out there tomorrow and give him all I have to give him the best shot at glory. Been an awesome TDU so looking forward to finishing it off tomorrow in style.
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