Sitting pretty ... Andre Greipel and a teammate back in the peloton salute the Lotto-Belisol victory in stage four in Tanunda. Photo: Kathy Watt
HAVING survived the ''argy bargy'' of another crash-marred, high-speed finale in the Tour Down Under on Friday, British race leader Geraint Thomas and his teammates were bracing themselves last night for a multi-pronged attack on his overall race lead in Saturday's stage finish on Old Willunga Hill.
Thomas (Sky) was confident he and his teammates can muster the strength and game plan to fend off expected assaults from up to seven teams who have riders within 15 seconds of the lead.
After Friday's 126.5-kilometre fourth stage, from Modbury in the Adelaide Hills through the Barossa to Tanunda, won by German Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Thomas's overall lead was five seconds on Dutchman Tom Slagter (Blanco) and six seconds on Spaniard Javier Moreno (Movistar).
But another 10 riders are also within 15 seconds of Thomas. He was particularly wary of the dangers posed by Blanco, RadioShack-Leopard and Euskaltel-Euskadi in Saturday's 151.5km fifth stage from McLaren Vale to the summit of Old Willunga Hill, which the peloton will climb twice.
Nevertheless, Thomas was grateful for having escaped the hazards of Friday's stage that included two crashes in the final 3km. The last came with just 700m to go as the bunch was preparing for the mass sprint finish, and someone took out Australian Graeme Brown (Blanco), who somersaulted, crashed and was later taken to hospital where a medical assessment showed no broken bones.
The spill also involved three Orica-GreenEDGE riders in Matt Goss, Daryl Impey and Jens Mouris who was positioning Goss for the gallop home.
The stage finally went to Greipel from Italian Roberto Ferrari (Lampre) and Australian Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff) in third.
''It was pretty dodgy and a stressful day really because there was a bit of wind. I think everyone was thinking about the potential crosswind sections,'' Thomas said. ''But I'm used to a bit of argy bargy. The boys were great as well. We stayed near the front with about 10km to go and that kept me out of trouble.''
With the race ending on Sunday with a 90km circuit race in Adelaide, Thomas is not taking his overall rivals' threat lightly. And he showed that on Friday by trying to challenge for third place in the two intermediate sprints. They offered time bonuses of 3, 2 and 1 second for the first three places.
First and second places in both sprints went to the daylong two man attack of Belgian world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Australian under-23 time trial champion Damien Howson (Uni SA-Australia) that began soon after the start and was only caught with seven kilometres to go.
But Thomas tried for third place and the 1 second bonus. Although, Brown, a sprinter, snuffed those hopes by beating him to ensure his team leader Slagter's time gap on the Briton did not increase. ''He was sent up there to stop me getting those seconds and he did,'' Thomas said of Brown's sprint.
Asked about the threat on Saturday of RadioShack Thomas said: ''They are strong. They have three guys all within 15 seconds. Blanco as well, they have two guys. Euksaltel have two guys … ''