Team keep Thomas' lead safe

Greipel continues sprint dominance in Tanunda

By Richard Simpson   Last updated: 26th January 2013

Team Sky rallied around Geraint Thomas to protect the race lead on stage four at Tour Down Under.

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The Welshman stayed safe on the run-in with the help of his team-mates and retains a five-second overall lead heading into Saturday's showdown on Old Willunga Hill.

The team again set about controlling the peloton on behalf of the Ochre jersey but received help from the sprinters' teams during the 126.5-kilometre test.

At the finish Andre Greipel continued his sprint dominance with the stage win, the powerful German (Lotto-Belisol) claiming a race record 13th victory as he powered into the headwind finish in Tanunda.

Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) and Jonathan Cantwell (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) rounded out the podium but were unable to live with the speed of Greipel in a crash-filled finale.

At the finish Thomas said: "It was a stressful day as there was a bit of wind and I think everyone was thinking about the potential cross-wind sections. The boys were great. We stayed near the front with about 10 kilometres to go and they kept me out of trouble."

Willunga showdown

The Welshman holds a slender advantage over Tom Jelte Slagter (Blanco) but with a 10-second time bonus at the finish and so many riders in close proximity the penultimate stage promises to be a spectacle.

"Tomorrow it's two times up Willunga and last time up is going to be a hell for leather race to the top I think," Thomas explained.

"RadioShack have three guys, Blanco two, Euskaltel two so they all have different cards to play. Hopefully our boys will still be as strong as they have been for the rest of this race so far.

"As long as I’m empty by the top and I’ve given it everything then that’s all I can do."

Sports Director Kurt-Asle Arvesen reiterated the plan for the queen stage and also reflected on a successful day for the team.

"The plan is to make sure G comes into the climb with as fresh legs as possible and a couple of riders around him," the Norwegian explained.

"Today was a really good day for us. It was a fairly easy start with two guys away and we were able to control that. It was a bit chaotic at the end but luckily for us we didn’t have anyone go down in the crashes."

Day for the sprinters

After a tough stage on Wednesday the peloton were happy to be greeted with slightly cooler conditions as the race headed out of Modbury.

As the stage kicked off few people expected world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) to go on the attack, the Belgian powering clear alongside Damien Howson (Uni-SA).

With the duo given the peloton's blessing the gap spun out to the three minute mark as Team Sky kept a watching brief, no doubt relieved to receive help in the pace-setting from sprinters' teams Lotto-Belisol and Argos-Shimano.

With the two men clear Blanco deployed sprinter Graeme Brown to prevent Thomas from claiming all important time bonuses with two sprint duels in quick succession.

On the missed seconds Thomas admitted: "[Brown's] team-mate is lying second overall so he was sent up to try and stop me getting those seconds which he did. We thought we may as well have a go and it wasn't a full-on sprint. It only started from about a k out so it didn't take too much out of me. We tried but it's all going to be down to Willunga tomorrow."

A late threat of cross-winds saw teams mass on the front heading into the final 10km, the break caught shortly after before a sketchy finish.

A nervous peloton and some parked cars contributed to two separate crashes on the run-in but there was no stopping Greipel who was oblivious to the drama as he romped home.