Richie Porte stamped his authority on Willunga Hill with an incredible fifth consecutive win on stage 5 of the Santos Tour Down Under which put him into second overall on the same time as new race leader Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott).
The pressure was on defending champion Porte and his BMC Racing Team teammates with Porte lining up as the favorite for the stage win after showing his dominance on the climb in previous years.
The ochre jersey was up for grabs with 32 riders within 14 seconds of then-race leader Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) at the start of the 151km stage.
Seven riders went clear in the first 10km and with none posing a threat to the race lead, the breakaway gained an advantage of more than five minutes as the peloton sat back in anticipation of the iconic Willunga Hill battle.
Patrick Bevin went to the front to control the breakaway’s advantage after 30km and continued to set the pace, with the help of Danilo Wyss, in an impressive display of strength until the race reached the first ascent of Willunga Hill.
Porte reached the Willunga Hill summit for the first time at the front of the bunch which was closing in on the remaining breakaway riders before eventually catching solo leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) with 9km remaining as they approached foot of Willunga Hill.
Cross winds and a fast injection of pace caused a split in the bunch with Porte joined by Rohan Dennis and Wyss in the front selection.
Wyss led the reduced group to the base of the climb before Dennis took over to set the pace and prevent any attacks before powering on to set the stage for Porte to attack with 1.8km to go.
Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) was the only rider who could match Porte’s speed but 500m later, Porte attacked again to go solo as he has every year.
Porte pushed on through the pain in the final kilometer to reach the finish line and raise his arms in his signature victory salute while behind, the battle was on for minor places and to determine the General Classification.
Impey crossed the line in second place, eight seconds behind, which was enough to equal Porte’s overall time but move into the race lead on a count back of previous stage results.
With just one stage remaining, Porte is all but guaranteed to stand on the Santos Tour Down Under podium in Adelaide for the fourth time in his career.
The Winner’s Interview with Richie Porte
Richie, congratulations! How does is feel to win Willunga Hill for the fifth year?
“I tell you what that was the hardest one to win so far. I think it was such a hard lead in there at the bottom when Education First put it into the gutter. I felt great and the guys looked after me all day but it hurt so much. We talked about it this morning with guys like Simon Gerrans. He has been a fantastic addition to our team. I couldn’t look back, I just had to go. Of course, you look back a bit and I could see that Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) was strong to start with. I think this stage is much better for me than it is for him so I just stuck in. I must admit with 300 meters to go, I almost stopped. Maybe I went a bit too hard. Last year winning with the ochre jersey was special but this is up there as one of the most special too.”
How did you feel on the climb?
“It’s probably the hardest time that I have done this climb. It really hurt today. There were guys in the gravel and it was absolute carnage. You can’t say it was unexpected, it’s what happens every year. My team were fantastic today as per always. Rohan Dennis really laid it all on the line there.”
You now sit second overall. What are your thoughts going into the last stage?
“Realistically, I don’t really have a chance to move up. I’m happy with where I am all things considered. I had a tough second half of last year so to be up here and win Willunga for a fifth time in a row, I have to say I’m happy. But of course, I would have loved to have won the overall. If I was good enough to win, I would have done it here today on Willunga. Hats off to Daryl. He’s a good mate and a fantastic bike rider. It was up to me today to put more time into him and I wasn’t good enough to quite finish the day off. I’m happy with another stage win. I have to be happy with second.”
This is your first win since your Tour de France crash. How important is that?
“It has been a tough time. It was a nasty crash and it knocked me around but I think I can have the best season and I’m motivated for that. I worked hard back in Tasmania and did some fantastic training so I am super motivated for this season. I just hope come July I can be on top form. I have a fantastic bunch of people around me from my team, my wife, and my family.”