Santos Tour Down Under
Stage 5 – McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill (151.5km)
Jack Bauer was already the most competitive rider of Stage 4 when he apparently decided it was worth doing all over again on Stage 5. Not only did that make him the most combative rider, but probably the craziest too. At least that was the general consensus, given that this was too heroic an attack to have any chance of succeeding. Mad Jack Bauer begged to differ, and you couldn’t help but take his side as he pedaled away to glory, joined by Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, and William Clarke of Cannondale.
Still, three in the break, with 143km to ride, would be difficult. So when Bauer turned to see that Jeremy Maison, a first year pro from FDJ, was trying to reach them, he slowed, gave Maison a thumbs up, and let him join them. It was a nice moment, (one Maison will never likely see again in his career) and it improved their situation. Now they were four, which as Bauer knew, gave this heroic, if doomed attack, a fighting chance.
But this was less a hopeless breakaway than a boys own action story about four men with something to prove.
Thomas De Gendt, the Lotto Soudal rider, was on an all-or-nothing mission to lock up the KOM jersey on his back. He needed to reach the summit of Willunga Hill first, and he’d destroy anyone who tried to stop him.
A good enough motive, but what saved the others from the label lunatic?
The plucky Jeremy Maison wanted to prove something in the first race of the year. Notably smaller than the others, he looked to struggle at times, but this was his chance to put in a good show for his employer.
Then there was Mad Jack himself, chasing of his own mythical Green Place, away from the demons of last season, and chased by a bike gang of a different sort. He seemed to want De Gendt to get up his hill, to want to drag Maison along in his first breakaway. As for Clarke, he was happy to let him be the eyewitness. Sure success seemed unlikely, but Bauer, like Maison and indeed Clarke, knew simply that this is what bike riders do.
And so they took turns setting the pace, Bauer, at one point putting an arm on Maison’s back to encourage the new boy, De Gendt determined with that one mission in mind.
It was now a big adventure. De Gendt had his mission to complete; Bauer was the man holding everyone together. Maison the young kid who we worry might not make it. Clarke, well, there’s always someone in stories like this that has to die, taking the role of Shelley Winters, reminding the others of the danger they’re in. In keeping with the role Clarke faded and dropped off.
With Clarke gone the writing was on the wall.
With 33km to race their lead was down to 3min 05 seconds, teetering on that borderline between what amount of time can be closed within the distance remaining. But that included two climbs of Willunga Hill, and 3km later the gap had closed even more.
Bauer, riding alongside the young Maison, smaller in both experience and stature to himself, gave him a fist of encouragement. At this point Bauer was the virtual race leader. Was he really trying to hang on? Probably not. But the implication that he was seemed heroic enough.
They would get up Willunga Hill, and De Gendt would get his points. But by that time the gap had dropped to 1 minute 55 seconds, and with his mission accomplished De Gendt had no reason to chase the impossible.
With 15 km to go the gap hovered around 1 minute 20. Five kilometers later it was down to 45 seconds. Five kilometers after that it was all over.
It was inevitable that the peloton would swallow them up, and the real story of the day would finally begin. Now on the final climb, Richie Porte would climb best, taking the stage (fourth he fourth time), and the overall lead, although not quite De Gendt’s KOM jersey.
But not before Mad Jack Bauer, finding something left in his legs – pride, adrenaline, simple enjoyment – led his Quick-Step team to the base of the climb. Some would say with a grimace on his face. To others though, it could only have been a smile.
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