On stage three of the 2020 Tour Down Under Richie Porte threw down the gauntlet to his rivals, out-climbing them up to Paracombe as he took the ochre leader’s jersey.
His nearest competitor after that day was defending champion Daryl Impey, the Mitchelton-Scott rider sitting six seconds back on GC.
Over the next two flat days Impey didn’t just bide his time, plotting for the final stage six featuring uphill kilometres, but managed to claw back three bonus seconds on stage four by winning the intermediate sprint to halve his deficit.
Then, on stage five with two early intermediate sprints, world champion Mads Pedersen was sent to the front to block Impey’s assault on his Trek-Segafredo team-mate’s lead, putting up a successful defence by pipping Impey to the line.
20km later another sprint appeared on the horizon and this one Impey wasn’t going to lose. Crossing the line first, the South African took the five bonus seconds on offer to overhaul Porte’s lead and eke out his own two-second advantage.
“It’s fantastic to lead the race going into Willunga,” Impey said after the stage, reported by AFP.
“The whole week we’ve been trying to get into the lead here and put myself in a position tomorrow to beat Richie.
“I’m two seconds up, I don’t know if it’s enough, but we’ve given ourselves every chance to win this bike race and it’s all up to tomorrow.”
The final stage six will provide a climactic finish to the Australian stage race, with two ascents of Willunga Hill, the second of which provides the summit finish.
The 3.7km climb with an average gradient of 6.8 per cent is a regular feature in the race, with Porte having won the stage featuring the climb every year since 2014. The Tasmanian acknowledges the challenge ahead of him but that the slender advantage Impey has isn’t insurmountable.
“It’s not a massive deficit tomorrow, but it will be hard,” Porte said.
“If we can win the stage, we can win the race. We are going to have to have guys up there tomorrow. I was a little isolated today, so hopefully tomorrow the boys are on again.”
Impey has won the previous two editions of the race, while Porte will be looking to equal the South African’s tally by adding to his 2017 victory.