The queen stage of the tour was always expected come on Stage 4 of the Herald Sun Tour. Despite a deceptively tough test on Stage 2 with a gravel climb at the finish splitting up the race, there’s still a lot to be decided on the four ascents of Arthur’s Seat.
Current race leader Michael Woods (EF Education First) and pre-race favourite Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo squared off in the sprint finish into Churchill, and look to be the big names to watch ahead, at least according to each other.
“I am looking forward to tomorrow,” Porte said. “I think Woods is the man to beat. Obviously, it is the biggest day in the race, probably the hardest race day of this year to be honest.
“I think it’s going to be hard for any one team to control, and Sky has some guys up there on the GC – there’s a lot to play for tomorrow."
Woods was very complimentary of Porte in his post-race press conference and clearly would rate a win against the Tasmanian higher than against lesser competition.
“He’s a really classy guy, a guy I look up to,” Woods said. “He’s certainly got a better palmares than I have, he’s had some big wins. He got the better of me down at the Tour Down Under this year already.
“I have a lot of respect for Richie, it’s going to be a bit of a battle between us tomorrow. I’m just excited to race him, I’m happy with my performance yesterday and I want to see how I stand up against him tomorrow.”
EF Education First has had a very good race to date, winning the opening stage with Dan McLay, the second with Woods, and maintaining their hold on the yellow jersey the entire way.
“I think this bodes well for the team,” Woods said. “We came in with the goal of winning the race and winning some stages. We’ve already checked the stage wins off the list, now it’s time for GC.
Despite the early success, Woods made clear that he and the team knew it would be far from a coffee shop ride, with Mitchelton-Scott and Team Sky expected to be very aggressive, in addition to the threat posed by Porte.
“Yes, certainly,” Woods said of the prospect of attacks coming from other teams. “The onus is on a lot of teams to really be aggressive tomorrow and we’re prepared for that. I’m going to have to lean on my guys a lot and ride smart.”
Stage 3 winner Owain Doull flagged that Team Sky, who have already been very aggressive throughout the race, would continue to push the envelope and be aggressive on Stage 4.
“We won’t put all our eggs in one basket,” Doull said. “We have three guys in the top 10, all within striking distance and it’s four times laps Arthur’s Seat.
“I’ve never done it before, but I’ve heard it’s a really hard climb and the circuit element of it. We’ll be trying to cause some trouble again and pull off an upset.”
With Porte separated from Woods by just four seconds and Kenny Elissonde (Sky) and Lucas Hamilton (Mitchelton-Scott) expected to lead multiple prong attacks against the tour leader, the four ascents of Arthur’s Seat shape as a tantalizing battle between some of the best climbers in the world.
SBS will be broadcasting Stage 5 of the Herald Sun Tour, Sunday 3 February with coverage starting from 1.30 pm AEDT on SBS VICELAND and streaming online.