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Ventoso claims TDU’s queen stage, Meyer holds on – barely

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) ─ If history is any indication, Garmin-Cervélo’s Cameron Meyer will win the Santos Tour Down Under this Sunday in Adelaide. In the previous twelve editions of the race, only once has the leader’s jersey changed shoulders on the final stage.

Francisco Ventoso wins the field sprint, Meyer's third let him keep the jersey.
Francisco Ventoso wins the field sprint, Goss's third earned him time, but not enough for the jersey.

But if ever there was a man who, like Stuart O’Grady unceremoniously did to Kai Hundertmarck in 2001, could do it, it is Matthew Goss of HTC-HighRoad, who has been the in-form sprinter of the race this week and sits just eight tantalizing seconds away from regaining the ochre jersey – this time for good.

“I’ll be having fingers crossed,” said Meyer.

“The team rode absolutely beautifully, and (exactly) to what our tactics we talked about this (Saturday) morning,” he said. “The job was to not let (Goss) get the full 12 seconds back and hold onto the jersey today. And it paid off: we’ve still got the jersey.”

“I’ve been in and out of the jersey,” said Goss, “so if the pattern keeps going the way it has, it’s my turn to get back into the jersey tomorrow (Sunday).”

Goss, third overall at the start of the fifth and penultimate stage of the TDU, rode out of his skin Saturday to be in a position to contest the stage victory. But for the Tasmanian, the collective toll of two ascensions of Old Willunga Hill, combined with bridging across to what looked like the winning move that at one point threatened his lead, Meyer saw his sprinting legs deadened by day’s end, and could manage only third behind stage winner Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) and third stage victor Michael Matthews (Rabobank).

“I ended up in the bunch I wanted to be in. I was shooting for the win, (but) unfortunately I didn’t get that, I got third,” said Goss.

“It wasn’t a perfect sprint for me (and) I made a bit of a mistake. I tried to get on the side with less wind but I got closed (in) on the barrier a little bit but I still managed to get third and I’m a few seconds away from the lead, so I’m there for a crack tomorrow.”

Ventoso became the second Spaniard in succession to win the race’s queen stage after Luis León Sánchez won last year, whose victory was preceded by Alberto Contador in 2005.

“This is a massive victory for me,” he said, “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.

“It’s the best way to start the year. I knew the finish well because we visited the stage in the last few days – twice,” Ventoso added. “My legs today were stronger than other days.”

Nevertheless, third place was enough for Goss and Matthews’s teammate Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) to swap places on the leader-board, respectively eight and 10 seconds behind Meyer going into the final 90-kilometer circuit race Sunday. Even Matthews, fourth at 12 seconds, should he be in super sprinting touch, is an outside chance, although more than likely, it will come down to Meyer vs. Goss.

“Maybe (my teammate) Tyler (Farrar)’s got good legs tomorrow to get some time bonuses over the other sprinters,” said Meyer, whose ideal scenario Sunday is to see a break go, “but yeah, it’s going to come right down to the wire. I’ve got a good team around me, and hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow.”

With a pair of intermediate sprints providing a maximum six seconds’ worth of time bonuses (3, 2 and 1 sec. for 1st-3rd) and the final dash down King William Road worth 10 seconds to the winner (6 and 4 sec. for 2nd and 3rd), Goss’ speed that’s netted him the Cancer Council Classic and the opening stage so far this week will be his greatest asset – provided he recovers Saturday evening. He’s also armed with the best lead-out train in the world and the world’s fastest sprinter in Mark Cavendish and his lead-out man, Mark Renshaw, who will potentially lead him out for the race win.

“We’ll try and keep the bunch pretty well together so I can try and get some bonus seconds and get the win,” said Goss. “I’ve been so close all week.”

Say G’day to D-Day

131 out of the original 133 riders departed McLaren Vale for D-Day at the TDU: a day that more often than not, has determined the overall winner of the race since its inclusion in 2003.

After some to-ing and fro-ing an octet forged their way off the front in the opening 10km, comprised of: John Murphy (BMC), Tanel Kangert (Astana), Sebastian Haedo (Saxo Bank-Sungard), Joost Van Leijen (Vacansoleil), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Michael Hepburn (Uni SA-Australia), Davide Viganò (Leopard-Trek) and Juan Horrach (Katusha).

With Viganò the best-placed escapee at the start of the day, 28 seconds behind the ochre-clad Meyer (Garmin-Cervélo), the peloton never gave much rope; two minutes’ advantage after 44km was the best they got.

To their credit, the break made it as far as the first climb of Old Willunga Hill. But an orange armada of Basque Country boys set a stifling tempo that quickly chewed up then spat out the remnants of the break. And it was overnight mountains classification leader Luke Roberts (Uni SA-Australia) that took maximum points at its crest, sealing his lead and hopefully a contract for this season, who remains a victim of the Pegasus fallout.

A regrouping followed the descent into McLaren Vale before the second and final ascension of Willunga, as Meyer’s Garmin-Cervélo team naturally set tempo till that point.

Once they got there, the three best-placed riders on GC rode where they should be – at the front – as Richie Porte (Saxo Bank-Sungard) took off, with Belgian Ben Hermans (RadioShack) and Meyer’s teammate Jack Bobridge marking the move. Nearing the KOM, Hermans accelerated to take maximum points ahead of Porte and Bobridge, the trio no more than 20 seconds ahead of an 18-strong chase group that curiously, did not include defending champ André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto).

Down the chute to McLaren Vale for the last time, HTC-HighRoad’s Hayden Roulston and Matt Goss rode like demons to bridge across to the front three – but their efforts to do so became redundant when the other 16 made the junction with some 10km remaining.

Around a fast-sweeping left-hander Bobridge slid out, his fall also sending David Lopez (Movistar Team) tumbling, who rather comically for the spectator, found his own bike bouncing over top of him seconds later. They would not see the front group again.

Into the closing kilometers, the second group containing Greipel was less than 200 meters behind, but for the German giant and his Omega Pharma team, must’ve felt like a metaphorical mile, as they missed out on closing the gap by a handful of bike-lengths.

While Goss was perfectly placed for the sprint, the day’s efforts, accumulated, clearly had taken their toll, and he could only watch as the Spaniard Ventoso make light work to claim his first victory since Paris-Brussels last September, beating fourth stage winner Matthews by the width of a deep-dish carbon wheel.