Tour Down Under 2018 – 4th Stage Norwood – Uraidla 128,2 km – 19/01/2018 – Peter Sagan (SVK – Bora – Hansgrohe) – Daryl Impey (RSA – Mitchelton – Scott) – Diego Ulissi (ITA – UAE Team Emirates) – Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP – Astana Pro Team) – photo Dario Belingheri/BettiniPhoto©2017

Stifling heat and a tough climb just a few kilometres from the end of the stage meant that most wouldn’t think a sprinter would be in with a chance of taking the win today at the Tour Down Under. The normal rules go out of the window though when the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan is in the race. After spending the day riding hard in forty-five degree heat, the Slovak rider crested the climb of the day only to go on the attack. In a reduced bunch sprint, there was no doubting who the strongest rider would be, taking his and the BORA-hansgrohe team’s first UCI WorldTour win of 2018, as well as the race leader’s ochre jersey. Jay McCarthy’s strong sprint finish moves him into a podium spot with two stages of the race to go.

The Stage
It was an altogether more hilly affair on today’s stage. After the previous three stages had given the advantage to the sprinters, today’s route was one that the fast men would struggle with, featuring an undulating profile and the climb of the day taking place shortly before the end of the 128.2km stage. Like yesterday, the race organisers had concerns about the impact of the heat on riders, and brought the start of the race forward by an hour – a wise decision on what would be the most challenging day of the Tour Down Under so far. Today would see the GC race come to life and might even see some changes at the top of the leaderboard.

The Team Tactics
After three stages contested by the sprinters, the climbers and GC riders would have a chance to make an impact on the race. Sitting in fourth in the GC and just a second behind a podium position, BORA-hansgrohe’s Jay McCarthy would have his eye on taking some time from his rivals, while the team would be aiming to help the Australian rider to take time bonuses and protect his position going into the final two days. However, in spite of the more difficult terrain, a downhill section after the climb of the day would give some of the stronger all-rounders a chance at the win if they managed to stay in contact – something nobody could put past Peter Sagan.

The Race
The start of the day saw two riders go off from the drop of the flag, making the most of the cooler weather at the earlier start to pull together a huge advantage. Putting more than nine minutes between themselves and the peloton, the escapees were looking confident, compelling the bunch to work harder to reduce the gap. As expected though, the terrain and heat were a massive drain on the escape, and one of the two dropped off just as BORA-hansgrohe took control at the front of the peloton. With 17km to go, at the foot of the day’s categorised climb, it was all back together just as things became really heated. Stringing out the peloton, the 5% climb would have felt many times more difficult in the oppressive forty-five degree heat, but BORA-hansgrohe stayed in contact and joined the attacks from the summit, with UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan putting pressure on the bunch, making the most of the downhill run to the finish. A reduced bunch fought it out, but there was never any doubt who was going to take the win with the rainbow stripes of Peter Sagan in the mix, the Slovak rider taking both his and BORA-hansgrohe’s first UCI WorldTour win of 2018.

Results
01       P.Sagan           3h21’07”
02       D.Impey           + 0:00
03       L.L.Sanchez    + 0:00
04       D.Ulissi            + 0:00
05       J.McCarthy      + 0:00

From the Finish Line
“It certainly was one of the hottest days I have ever raced. It was really tough but I felt in good shape. I managed to stay with the leading group on the climb, about 25 riders, and then made the right attack in the right moment. I’m, obviously, happy with my first stage victory at the Tour Down Under and the ochre jersey but I’m also very happy with the performance and result of Jay McCarthy. He’s now third overall and tomorrow we will work for him and his GC chances. It is an important race for him, in his home country and our plan here is for him to get the best result in the GC.” – Peter Sagan

“It was an extremely hard day! I think it must have been one of the hardest days I have seen in cycling so far! The heat was painful. The team did a fantastic job and Peter topped it off with a great win. We were chasing it for a couple of days and today we finally got it. I’m really happy with the team spirit and, of course, Peter’s performance today was incredible.” – Patxi Vila