The Tour Down Under reaches its traditional climax on Willunga Hill on Saturday, but although this stage has proved crucial in the past, in 2017 the race might already be over.
Home-favourite Richie Porte produced an excellent performance on the uphill finish into Paracombe on stage two to open up a 20 second gap over his nearest challenger Gorka Izaguirre, with Esteban Chaves two seconds further back in third.
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That may not sound like a huge advantage, but it is actually the biggest gap between first and second that there has ever been at this stage in the Tour Down Under.
Add this to the fact that Porte appears to be the strongest climber in the race, and things don’t look good for his rivals going into the race’s queen stage.
Of course, this is Richie Porte, a man who probably missed out on second place at last year’s Tour de France due to an unfortunately timed puncture early in the race, so anything can happen, but the Australian seems relaxed and confident about his chances.
“Yesterday and today, I had so much to lose and not a lot to gain so to get that one done is a massive relief and now it’s Willunga which I know quite well,” the 31-year-old said after Friday’s stage four.
Watch: Richie Porte wins stage two of the Tour Down Under
“But there’s a different scenario going into it now. I don’t have to attack, I’ve just got to follow. So it’s not all about the stage win tomorrow, it’s more about trying to defend the ochre jersey.”
As an added bonus, Porte’s BMC Racing team-mate Rohan Dennis sits in sixth place, just nine seconds behind Izaguirre, meaning that if any of the other GC contenders risk attacking Porte and fail, then they could find their position under threat from the 2015 winner.
“If they [the other GC contenders] want to hit out early, we have the team to try and control it,” Porte said. “But we have a trump card in Rohan Dennis, he’s lean, he’s strong and he’s pretty motivated.”
That sentiment was echoed by Dennis, who certainly seemed up for a fight on Saturday.
“I think everyone will be pretty aggressive tomorrow but they’re going to have to have pretty good legs.
“If they’re going to go too early it could actually open them up and they could lose everything, so I’m not 100 per cent sure if they will take that approach but I guess that’s the only way they can really beat Richie.”
On paper Izaguirre is the best-placed man to challenge Porte, needing only a 10-second gap (providing that Izaguirre wins, taking the 10-second time bonus, and Porte finishes lower than third) to take the ochre jersey.
The only problem is that the Movistar man crashed heavily on stage three, so instead we should maybe look to Esteban Chaves for an upset.
Morale must be high in the Orica-Scott camp with Caleb Ewan having taken three of the four stages so far, so Chaves will be motivated to provide another victory for Australia’s only WorldTour team.
Whether that victory will come with a big enough gap over Porte to move the Colombian into the ochre jersey, that seems unlikely. However, let’s at least hope that there are a few moments of tension for the first real hilltop finish of the season.