It’s a wrap on the first WorldTour race of the season.
“I think we set the bar internally quite high,” said sport director Tom Southam. “Both TJ [Slagter] and Mike [Woods] set the bar really high for themselves. When things came unstuck, it felt worse than it probably was, which can seem like the worse thing ever when you’re in the thick of it, but when you put it into perspective, Richie [Porte] was head and shoulders above the rest, all the rest, and for us to have won, I think it would have had to have been a slightly different kind of fight, which it wasn’t. At the end of the day, Richie was well clear. That may have dented us internally a bit, but I’m sure we’ll all bounce back.”
Will Clarke predicted an aggressive start with a fight to get into the breakaway on the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under between Norwood and Campbelltown.
He was right.
Tasked with getting into the early breakaway, Clarke put himself in an early move. It was the last move to be caught before the peloton gave the nod to a three-rider escape featuring Jack Bauer (QuickStep Floors), Cam Meyer (UniSA-Australia) and Ondrej Cink (Bahrain-Merida). With the breakaway gone, Cannondale-Drapac turned its attention to looking after team leaders Mike Woods and Tom-Jelte Slager until the last 90 minutes of racing.
“We wanted Will in Bauer’s break,” said sport director Tom Southam. “When he didn’t get into that and the gap to the breakaway never got too large, we decided we’d try to send him across.”
Meyer had attacked Cink out of the move, leaving only Bauer and Meyer up front, by the time Clarke jumped out of the peloton.
“We wanted him to go before the descent,” noted Southam. “We hoped they could carry speed down Gorge Road.”
Mission outlined, Clarke threw everything he had it – and made it to the leading duo.
“Unfortunately he flatted out of the move,” said Southam. “He got a wheel change quickly, but it was game over.”
The stage ended in a bunch sprint in Campbelltown won by Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) who took his third stage victory. Woods mixed it up among the fast finishers to slot into 11th place.
“It was a good day today,” said Woods. “After yesterday, I lost some time in the final sprint and we had a hard meeting last night and talked about how I needed to trust my teammates.” “I really focused on trusting my teammates, trusting the guys,” he continued. “They did an amazing job putting me into the position for the sprint, making sure I didn’t lose any time. I ended up top 15, which is not bad for a climber. I think it bodes well for tomorrow.”
The fifth stage of the Tour Down Under is iconic Australian cycling. With a finale that includes two ascents up Willunga Hill, it’s a make-it-or-break-it kind of day. Mike Woods climbed to third last year and Cannondale-Drapac hoped the Canadian climber might be able to improve on his finish.
Every rider had a role on Saturday, and Will Clarke’s task was (again) to get into the early breakaway. This time the move he chose was the right one. Clarke went away with Jack Bauer (QuickStep Floors), Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Jeremy Maison (FDJ). The peloton kept the quartet on a fairly short leash.
“Jack and Thomas were quite strong,” noted Clarke. “We pushed on quite well. The idea was to put pressure on the other teams to chase a bit harder than they’d like, to put them under pressure so maybe Mike and TJ [Slagter] could benefit from other GC guys not having so many teammates on the last climb.”
The peloton overtook the breakaway following the first of two ascents up Willunga. When caught, Clarke stayed on the front and took a massive pull for his teammates.
The action heated up in the final 10 kilometers with Team Sky and ORICA-SCOTT setting a punishing pace. The front group become increasingly select the second time up Willunga with Porte launching a solo bid for glory two kilometers from the top. The reaction saw Woods distanced as Slagter fought to maintain contact with the second chase group. The former TDU winner managed tenth place; Woods came across the line in 27th place.
The Tour Down Under came to a close with a two-hour circuit race in downtown Adelaide. Caleb Ewan (ORICA-SCOTT) sprinted to victory. Richie Porte (BMC) finished in the bunch to win the ochre jersey he had worn since stage two.
“We knew what the script would be today,” said sport director Tom Southam. “There was a lot at stake today with the intermediates, which didn’t include us, so that was always going to negate a lot of aggressive riding.
“We looked at bringing Tom Van Asbroeck into the sprint,” Southam added. “He basically got pinched out off the wheel at the bottom of the last climb. The guys were together, but they couldn’t move him into place. Nothing happened for us in the end, but we haven’t been trying to use Tom in a sprint capacity for the team at all this week, so it would have been an extremely long shot if it had come together today.”