ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Simon Gerrans won the fourth stage and increased his overall lead in the Tour Down Under on Friday as riders raced each other and an approaching storm on a stage which may decide the tour.
Gerrans, who already has a record three overall titles in his home leg of the WorldTour, stayed with the leading group on the climb up Crow’s Nest near the finish of the 138-kilometer (86-mile) stage.
He negotiated a tricky descent and three sharp corners to win the stage from Britain’s Ben Swift and Italy’s Giacomo Nizollo.
He is the first rider to win back-to-back stages since 2010 and increased his overall lead to 14 seconds over compatriot Jay McCarthy, who finished fourth on the stage.
“I’m absolutely thrilled with that,” Gerrans said. “A lot of people would be surprised, myself included, that I can beat some top sprinters and get a back-to-back victory.
“I’ve worked very hard for this year’s event. We had a really good run in to the finish. As people saw, the team set me up for the first intermediate sprint and then again for the final. They really make my life as easy as possible.”
A storm front which lashed Adelaide’s southern suburbs with high winds and heavy rain was approaching the race route as riders dashed towards the finish. Had it hit earlier, it might have wreaked havoc among the peloton but riders were able to finish before the foul weather struck.
Gerrans, who started the day in the tour leader’s ocher jersey and had a three-second lead over McCarthy on general classification, increased that to four seconds when he picked up a time bonus by winning the first intermediate sprint from McCarthy.
His win puts him in a strong position to clinch an unprecedented fourth tour title ahead of Saturday’s fifth “Queen stage” which finishes atop punishing Old Willunga Hill. While the stage will likely be won by a climber, Gerrans can consolidate his advantage as long as he finishes ahead of his leading rivals on general classification.
He is then unlikely to be overtaken on Sunday’s final stage, a 90-kilometer (55-mile) race around a street circuit near downtown Adelaide.
Friday’s stage featured an early breakaway by three riders — Australians David Tanner and Patrick Shaw and Frenchman Alexis Gougeard. They opened a gap of 5 minutes, 40 seconds after 44 kilometers (27 miles) but were slowly hauled back by the peloton and caught in the approach to the final climb.