Germany's Andre Greipel won the fourth stage of the Tour Down Under when he overpowered the field in oppressive conditions at the end of the 134km route on Friday. Australian Mark Renshaw (Credit Agricole) finished second to retain the ochre leader's jersey on an eventful stage from Mannum to Strathalbyn in South Australia.
Italian Elio Rigotto (Team Milram) was disqualified after he brought down Mathew Hayman in the finishing sprint. The Australian crashed heavily and fractured his left collar bone after Rigotto lifted his head into the Rabobank rider's elbow and knocked him off his bike. He was due to be operated on later Friday evening.
In contrast to the three previous stages, when the weather stayed relatively mild, South Australia turned hot for the 132-man peloton, with temperatures nudging 40 degrees during the three-and-a-quarter hour ride.
Greipel, from the German Team High Road, finished the strongest for the second time in three days to take the stage from Renshaw and Jose Joaquim Rojas Gil (Caisse D'Epargne).
The first three stages of the Tour Down Under all followed a similar pattern, with three riders breaking away from the group early and trying unsuccessfully to hang on.
On Friday the teams took a different approach, with the opening 75km marked by a continuous series of attacks, the first within the opening two kilometres, as the teams strived to get a breakaway going. The break, when it did happen, came as a surprise as 21-year-old Spaniard Javier Aramendia Lorenti took off at the 80km mark and got clear of the peloton.
He increased his lead and was four minutes clear at 102km, but it was always a forlorn hope that a lone rider could hang on and he was inevitably regathered with 10km remaining, leaving the way clear for the sprinters once again.
Saturday's penultimate stage features the most difficult climb on the tour, a 12km haul up Willunga Hill, which has had the sprinters concerned since the opening day.
"I'm not the worst rider in the mountains but I think there are some other teams that are really good on the climbs, like CSC or Caisse D'Epargne," Greipel, who rode Willunga Hill in training last week, said. "I think they will attack the whole time on the climb - it's going to be really hard."
Renshaw said he was hoping just to hang on over the hill, which comes only 20km before the finish. "It's going to be hard, that's for sure," he said. "I'm not looking forward to it but I'm going to take it by the horns and I think that if I can stay within a minute over the top my teammates will be able to drag me back up, and we're just going to have to bank on that."
One man who is looking forward to Willunga Hill is Belgium's King of the Mountain leader Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux). Gilbert believes he still has a good chance of winning the overall tour and said Saturday's stage could clinch it for him.
"I feel pretty good (about Willunga Hill). It's a hard climb but maybe tomorrow it's more easy for me," Gilbert said. "I hope tomorrow we can attack from the foot of the climb so we can (split the peloton) and have maybe 10 riders at the finish so I have the chance to maybe win the stage and take the leader's jersey."
The town of Strathalbyn presented Greipel with a jersey cow, complete with replica race jersey, as a reward for finishing first.
"I didn't know about it - it was a surprise, but I think it's not possible to go to Germany with the cow in my suitcase," he joked.
© AFP 2008