TANUNDA, Australia (VN) – Showing a turn of speed that resembled the Oscar of old, three-time road world champion, Oscar Freire (Katusha), won the fourth stage of the Santos Tour Down Under in a feverish sprint Friday.
In the heart of South Australia’s Barossa wine-growing region, the 35-year-old Spaniard, who recently decided to call this year his last, led home a break of 50 riders who went clear on the final climb of the day, leaving overnight leader, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), almost eight minutes behind.
“It was a difficult finale,” said Freire. “I knew I had a really good chance to win. The race was hard, (so) it was better for me.
“I’m happy to score the team’s first victory of the year after joining Katusha,” he said, who is in his first race for the Russian outfit, having previously ridden for Rabobank the past nine seasons.
Meanwhile, the ochre leader’s jersey is back on the shoulders of Swiss rider Martin Kohler (BMC Racing), who finished with the lead group of 49 riders and is a mere two seconds ahead of both Australian Michael Matthews (Rabobank) and Freire, in second and third place overall, respectively.
“I didn’t expect to be back in the lead but we dropped André Greipel on the climb and then we were riding hard to make the gap bigger,” Kohler said.
“Tomorrow, there will be 10 or 15 riders contesting the win at the top of Willunga Hill. It’s going to be very hard and I don’t know if I can keep this lead or not, but I’m already happy with what I’m doing here.
Matthews was a little disappointed to not be in the race lead but was looking on the bright side. “The jersey I want is ochre and I’ll try to get it tomorrow,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that I missed it today by only two seconds. (But) not having the jersey today takes a lot of pressure off you, but it’s also better to be ahead of everyone else.”
The race continues Saturday with the queen stage, and marks the first time the race has finished at the top of a climb with the 151.5km route starting in McLaren Vale and ending atop Old Willunga Hill, which the riders will climb twice.
Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than a dozen Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story. Follow him on Twitter: @anthony_tan