Richie Porte of BMC Racing once again took the stage win on Willunga Hill, but the overall race lead changed back to Mitchelton-Scott and the shoulders of Daryl Impey. Porte took line honours ahead of Impey and Tom-Jelte Slagter of Dimension Data, while George Bennett remained in the top ten overall.
Today was always going to be the decider for the general classification. The 151.5km of road that started in McLaren Vale finished on the climb of Willunga Hill which would be tackled twice in all. Traditionally this had been the stage where Richie Porte had thrived and he was very much the marked man as he searched to do it all again this year.
A breakaway group containing Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Nuno Bico of Movistar, KOM leader Nicholas Dlamini of Dimension Data, Fumiyuki Beppu of Trek-Segafredo, Zak Dempster and Scott Bowden of UniSA-Australia and Mads Würtz Schmidt of Katusha-Alpecin formed in the early stages of the race. The move was aided in a big way by the big engine and sharp tactical awareness of Thomas De Gendt who was more than a little experienced at these types of moves.
Back in the peloton BORA-Hansgrohe originally led the pack before BMC Racing, and in particular a bandaged Patrick Bevin took control of the peloton. Bevin spent a large bulk of the first half of racing at the very head of the race, pulling the peloton along and cutting the break’s advantage back to 3.30mins with 90km remaining. The break ahead worked efficiently together though, and despite a nasty looking injury sustained by Nuno Bico from a crash earlier in the stage, the group continued on with a stabilised advantage that took them to around 60km to go before the lead dipped noticeably beneath 3.30mins.
At around the 50km mark though a changing of the guard took place behind Bevin. The former national time trial champion still led, but UAE Team Emirates were very close behind him, marshalling their troops at the front of the race. With Matteo Bono on the front the gap toppled to 3 minutes with 41.2km to go. Behind him Trek-Segafredo and EF Education First-Drapac also came forward, with BMC Racing – aside from Bevin – pretty inconspicuous in the pack.
Finally with 27km to go the gap dropped below 2 minutes and that also signalled the end of Patrick Bevin on the front of the race. Trek-Segafredo, BORA-Hansgrohe and Bahrain-Merida were all looking to get amongst the action; and so too were George Bennett’s LottoNL-Jumbo squad.
The breakaway would last ahead of the field the first time up the climb, but the race was already very much on for the peloton who were trying to position their riders as well as possible for the first ascent of Willunga Hill. Bahrain-Merida hit the climb hard the first time up, with the gap to the leaders dropping to 32 seconds with just under 24.5km remaining. Up ahead the five leaders became three leaders with De Gendt, Bowden and Dlamini dropping their company and pressing on to try and reach the summit ahead of the rapidly closing peloton.
Bowden was the next to go back in the break, leaving De Gendt and Dlamini to try and withstand the pace. This they did successfully with De Gendt taking maximum points ahead of Dlamini. That was enough to secure Dlamini the jersey outright. At the summit of the climb Team Sunweb led the way through to the start of the last lap, while ahead Dlamini dropped back to allow De Gendt to charge on solo.
De Gendt had 1.13mins with 20km to go as LottoNL-Jumbo moved to the front of the race. It would be particularly interesting to see whether George Bennett would work for Thomas Gesink or whether it would go the other way. Bennett was sat third wheel at the front of the pack, with Gesink on his wheel; giving the impression that Bennett would play the role of super domestique on the climb.
At 14km to go the advantage for De Gendt dropped to beneath 30 seconds. The pack behind the Belgian were flying down the descent and next it was the ochre jersey himself of Peter Sagan leading the way. With 9km remaining De Gendt was finally swept up and BMC Racing returned to the front of the peloton for the first time since Patrick Bevin had been on the front. They were challenged for the lead by EF Education First-Drapac. The team of Tom Scully spied an opportunity to drill the race as the crosswinds really threatened the pack behind. The pace really threatened a number of riders including Peter Sagan and Richie Porte who had to work their way to the front from quite a long way back.
As the roads ramped up for the final time UAE Team Emirates hit the front of the race. George Bennett was sitting about 12th wheel at this stage as the jostling continued to unfold. Teammate Gesink was third on the road as Rohan Dennis took over on the front, while Richie Porte sat in sixth wheel. Peter Sagan found that he couldn’t match the pace and the ochre jersey quickly fell back as the riders reached 2km to go. Dennis was continuing to lead the way with Bennett about 8th on the road.
At 1.5km to go Richie Porte attacked just as he had every time before. The Tasmanian struck for home and immediately Jay McCarthy of BORA-Hansgrohe leapt onto his wheel. Inevitably though as Porte went through the 1km to go banner he kicked again in a bid to take his fifth win on Willunga Hill. No one was with him now and no one was coming up in the chase group that was still very large at this point.
Porte buried himself as he sprinted to the stage win, his fifth in succession. But behind him Daryl Impey produced a radical turn of speed to take second place across the line; and with the time bonus for second he also claimed the overall leader’s jersey. Tom-Jelte Slagter of Dimension Data was third across the line with Dries Devenyns of Quick-Step Floors and Egan Arley Bernal of Team Sky completing the top five.
Robert Gesink claimed 8th place, while teammate Bennett crossed the line in the second chase group on the road, dropping just one place to 9th overall. If Bennett maintains that position it will be his best Tour Down Under finish by one position.