Xanadu winery hosted the start of stage 3, which included a neutralised 7.5km ride through the center of town to the delight of the watching public, and supportive local community.
Going into the stage, the previous nights ‘Redbull Shoot-out’ hadn’t had any material change on the GC, other than awarding Andy Blair with an additional minutes lead.
This result, and time gap meant that (as any team Sky fan will acknowledge) all he needed to do was cover moves to remain safe in the overall lead.
The women’s race has Jenny Fay leading, with no obvious challenger at this stage. A strengthening Tory Thomas went well in the shoot-out, bringing her closer, and Jo Bennett continues to look strong, but Fay was relaxed before the stage 3 start.
After the race was waved off from the lead car, we hurtled down a steep bitumen hill, at about 60kph, into a right angle turn off the tar onto pea-gravel. All 1200 riders, at once. It was hectic, but no one seemed to suffer or fall (at least that I could hear!).
A bit of rolling ups and downs lead the into what is certainly the best singletrack of the race so far. Very similar in a style to the work of the Kowalski crew in Canberra, but on pea gravel. It really was great fun, and had riders within the bunch saying things like “I forgive them for the sand sections – this makes it all alright in my book”.
Reports are that at the front, true to the form guide, a few riders were hitting it had to get a gap – Tupalski, Hatton and Ward were the names on everyone’s lips after the stage, but Blair closed the gaps each time, and ultimately took the stage win in a sprint.
In the women’s race, Jenny Fay was untroubled, winning comfortably. Tory Thomas came in 2nd with Jo Bennett in 3rd. This result actually means that Tory has leap-frogged Jo on the GC – the final stage will see some tactics being played out, and the parcours possibly suiting Jo’s style over Tory’s skills….
A quick mention must also to the Master men’s race – John Gregg and Mark Fenner are knocking seven bells out of each other in what is a very tight race. Expect some fireworks tomorrow with Fenners road strength and savvy coming to the fore. These guys are flying and it’s very tight.
So, one stage to go – reputedly flat and fast tomorrow. It’ll take something of an unfortunate accident to change the overall result now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fast, aggressive, and on from the gun.