Astarloza takes over; McEwen drops out
Gianpaolo Caruso catapulted himself into a thrilling four-way battle for overall victory in the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under by winning Saturday’s 147km fifth stage.
Caruso, 22 and the 2001 Under 23 World Championship silver medalist, won the tough Wilunga circuit race in scorching 44C degree heat outsprinting a 10-man lead breakaway.
In his second season with the Spanish ONCE team, Caruso beat Germany’s Stefan Weseman (Telekom) and Italian Paolo Lanfranchi (Panaria) for his first victory as a professional.
He is now tied for third overall at 4 seconds behind new race leader, Spain’s Mikel Astarloza (AG2R), going into Sunday’s final and sixth stage, the 90km criterium in Adelaide City.
Ironically, that is the exact time Caruso lost on stage 2 to Kapunda when he sat up near the finish.
Caruso’s error found himself the target of a fiery verbal abuse from his directeur-sportif Manolo Saiz for “amateur” tactics.
But on Saturday, it was obvious the lesson Saiz wanted to teach Caruso had sunk in. “That might be what is going to decide if I am going to win the race,” said Caruso.
Not surprisingly, it was Saiz to whom that the stage win was dedicated by Caruso whose finish was all the more worthy considering he tried attacking alone with 5km to go.
“I want to thank him and for his call on the tactics. Manolo gave me permission to attack today,” Caruso said.
Meanwhile, Italian Fabio Sacchi (Saeco) saw his three-day reign as race leader end when he missed the final split that formed on Wilunga Hill with 19km to go.
Now 11th overall at 16 seconds, he said: “ONCE were attacking on the hill. I knew I was going to get shelled. I just tried to find a rhythm to defend myself as well as possible.”
Also opening the race up was the abandon of Australian Tour de France green jersey champion Robbie McEwen (Lotto) who started the stage second overall at 8 seconds.
McEwen stopped after 40km due to a pain in his left knee. An MRI scan at hospital later revealed he has sustained a pinched membrane. He is confident it will heal naturally.
Four riders are now within five seconds of the race lead. Behind Astarloza, who was sixth in today’s stage is Denmark’s Lennie Kristensen (CSC) who was fifth and is at the same time, followed by Caruso and Australia’s Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole) at 5 seconds.
O’Grady is now a hot favorite to win. He is the local hero, has twice won the tour and is enjoying improving form since winning the Australian road championship a week ago.
His top-end speed will also suit him for the two intermediate sprints and finish which offer time bonuses.
However, Astarloza, 22, is not letting the pressure of leadership get to him. He still sees himself favorite. “I suppose I am because I am leading the race,” he said.
The tight finish is not new. Before the final stage in 2001 O’Grady and Germany’s Kai Hundertmark (Telekom) were on same time and Sacchi was third at 2 seconds.
Saturday’s stage was tough, again with brutally hot temperatures well above 100 degrees. Nonetheless, the day was full of attacks on a course that included three laps of a 40km circuit, plus a final 27km lap that included Wilunga Hill.
Italian Adriano Tafi (CSC), showing no sign of pain from a bruised left hand sustained in a fall last week, joined Frenchman Nicola Portal (AG2R) in the day’s main break.
They attacked at 14km and got a maximum lead of 4:40 with 64km to go. The two were caught on Wilunga Hill with just 19km to go after ONCE initiated a hard chase.
Tafi’s consolation was to find himself as a clear leader in the points competition. He has 34 points, well ahead of Australian Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) at 16.
The capture of Tafi and Portal led to fireworks within the bunch, Australian Cadel Evans (Telekom) blasting up the steep 12-percent 3.6km climb to lead over the top.
Evans’s move created the winning 10-man break that built a lead of 23 seconds over Sacchi’s group at the foot of the descent.
From there they charged to Wilunga where a tough uphill straight brought the best out of Caruso.
Stage 5 – January 25: Willunga – Willunga
1. Gianpaolo Caruso (I), ONCE Eroski 147km in 3:26:43
2. Stefen Wesemann (G), Telekom
3. Paolo Lanfranchi (I), Panaria Fiordo
4. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole
5. Lennie Kristensen (Den), CSC
6. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Ag2R
7. Xavier Florencio (Sp), ONCE Eroski
8. David Canada (Sp), Quickstep-Davitamon
9. Patrick Jonker (Aus), UniSA
10. Cadel Evans (Aus), Telekom, at 0:04
11. Allan Davis (Aus), ONCE Eroski, at 0:31
Jacob’s Creek General classification after stage 5
1. Mikel Astarloza (Sp), Ag2R
2. Lennie Kristensen (Den), CSC
3. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole
4. Gianpaolo Caruso (I), ONCE Eroski
SA Lotteries Sprints classification
1. Andrea Tafi (I), CSC
Laubman & Pank King of the Mountain classification
1. Cadel Evans (Aus), Telekom
2. Lennie Kristensen (Den), CSC
Share the Road U23 rider classification
1. Gene Bates (Aus), UniSA
Century 21 Most aggressive rider
1. Nicolas Portal (Fra), Ag2r-Prevoyance