by Justin Davis
ADELAIDE, Australia, Jan 24, 2009 (AFP) – Australian sprinter Allan Davis tightened his grip on the ochre leader’s jersey at the Tour Down Under after winning his third stage of the race here Saturday.
On a day that yet again saw comeback king Lance Armstrong put his racing form to the test, Davis prevailed in a bunch sprint at the end of the 148km penultimate stage from Snapper Point to Willunga.
Ahead of the sixth and final stage, a 90 km race held over 20 laps of a 4.5km inner city circuit, Davis holds a 25 second lead on compatriot and two-time winner Stuart O’Grady of Saxo Bank.
Five seconds further back is last year’s runner-up, Spaniard Jose Rojas of Caisse d’Epargne who was second behind Davis on the stage.
With 10 seconds awarded in bonuses for each stage victory, Davis’s successful past few days have been crucial to a campaign in which he had simply hoped to win a stage.
But ahead of what would be the first notable stage race victory of his career, he was quick to pay tribute to the teammates who helped keep him in the race after a crash on Thursday and led him throughout Saturday’s tough climbs.
“Absolutely unbelievable, I wouldn’t be here without my team,” said Davis.
“The only time I spent in the wind was in the final 100 meters. A massive thank you to my team. Thank you.”
After the triumph of German sprinter Andre Greipel last year, organisers toughened up this year’s course in a bid to give the specialist stage racers a run for their money.
But despite going twice over the short but steep Old Willunga Hill, instead of the traditional once, it appeared on Saturday the race was not quite selective enough to keep the more ambitious sprinters at bay.
To his credit, Davis stayed well in touch of the main bunch when the crucial breaks, one of which included Armstrong inside the final 25km, went after the first descent of Willunga.
Armstrong and Adam Hansen tried to close a small gap to three front runners on the second climb of the hill, but shortly after joining the trio the chasing peloton – including Davis – also joined up.
Armstrong said the stage had allowed him to crank his race form up another notch, but he admitted he had lacked the tools necessary to help take their attack all the way to the finish.
“I thought we’d get a group away over the top,” said Armstrong, who after Australia will head home to train for the Tour of California on February 14-22.
“A little group stayed together behind us then Davis’s group stayed together behind them, so in the end it was just too hard to make a big enough difference to stay away all the way to the finish.”
By the final eight kilometres the peloton was all together.
In the final kilometre Davis jumped out from behind the wheel of teammate Matteo Tosatto before following a few rivals’ wheels and sealing a convincing victory with a final surge.