Giacomo Nizzolo won the sprint finish on stage five of the Tour Down Under 2020 to deliver a first victory for NTT since Bjarne Riis became team manager of the South African squad.
Meanwhile, defending champion Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) snuck into the race lead by taking bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint and displacing Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) from the top spot ahead with only one stage remaining.
As Lotto-Soudal’s Roger Kluge drove the peloton into the final few hundred metres, with Nizzolo in his wheel, one of his NTT team-mates in fourth position lost the wheel of Cofidis’ Simone Consonni, allowing the trio to open up a gap.
This left Nizzolo and Consonni to battle it out for the stage win, with Nizzolo proving the stronger, leaving his compatriot to take second.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Sam Bennett came in third with his lead-out man Michael Mørkøv behind in fourth. André Greipel finished sixth and Caleb Ewan came eighth.
Impey leads Porte by just two seconds going into the final stage six, with the decisive summit finish on Willunga Hill set to decide the race.
How it happened
Stage five was the last chance for sprinters to contest the victory before the final stage six pits the GC contenders against each other with a summit finish on Willunga Hill.
Two intermediate sprints early on provided valuable bonus seconds to GC riders. Towards the end of the course the category two climb to Kerby Hill, 1.6km long with an average gradient of 8.7 per cent, would provide the only potential stumbling block for the fast men before a sprint finish in Victor Harbor.
Ag2r La Mondiale’s Axel Domont was the only rider allowed up the road briefly before the intermediate sprint but was soon reeled back in due to the valuable bonus seconds on offer.
Mitchelton-Scott led out Daryl Impey towards the sprint point, the South African trailing race leader Richie Porte by only three seconds, but he was foiled by Porte’s team-mate, the world champion Mads Pedersen.
However, Impey got the better of the Dane at the next sprint point 20km later, pumping his handlebars in delight as he took the five bonus seconds to leapfrog Richie Porte and open up a slender two-second advantage in the overall classification.
Rohan Dennis (Ineos) countered after the sprint alongside Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) with Porte then closing the gap to join them. However the group had too many GC contenders to be allowed up the road as Jumbo-Visma helped close the gap.
With 70km to go, Ineos’ Ian Stannard, Mads Pedersen, Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Josef Černý (CCC) went off the front as a more acceptable breakaway contingent.
Černý actually took the virtual lead for a moment, the Czech less than two minutes down on GC, until the four riders were brought back in with 20km left.
Lucas Hamilton put the hammer down for Mitchelton-Scott on Kerby Hill as a group of 11, mostly the race favourites, broke away.
Caleb Ewan nearly took a tumble in the chase group behind, swerving out violently onto the side of the road before regaining balance and recovering.
Ewan’s group also contained Sam Bennett and André Greipel, so they worked to bring the leaders back in with 6km to go in order to contest the stage victory.
NTT led the peloton under the 1km banner before Lotto-Soudal’s Roger Kluge took over. With Nizzolo in second wheel, his team-mate in fourth either couldn’t or chose not to hold the wheel in front of him. This allowed a gap to open up with the finish line fast approaching and Nizzolo only had to beat Cofidis’ Simone Consonni to take a first stage win for NTT under new manager Bjarne Riis.
Tour Down Under 2020: Stage five, Glenelg to Victor Harbor (149.1km)
1. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, in 3-32-45
2. Simone Consonni (Ita) Cofidis
3. Sam Bennett (Irl) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
4. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck – Quick-Step
5. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
6. André Greipel (Ger) Israel Start-Up Nation
7. Kristoffer Halvorsen (Nor) EF Pro Cycling
8. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal
9. Fabio Felline (Ita) Astana
10. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
General classification after stage five
1. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, in 17-12-15
2. Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo, at two seconds
3. Robert Power (Aus) Sunweb, at 9s
4. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 13s
5. George Bennett (NZl) Jumbo-Visma, at 16s
6. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 17s
7. Simon Geschke (Ger) CCC
8. Rohan Dennis (Aus) Ineos
9. Dylan van Baarle (Ned) Ineos, all at same time
10. Lucas Hamilton (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 25s