Bauer named most aggressive rider on Tour Down Under queen stage
For the second day in a row, Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team's New Zealander booked a place in the escape and stayed at the front until the closing kilometers.
Once he starts, Jack Bauer is unstoppable: 24 hours after making it in the breakaway and being rewarded with the red bibs for his effort, the 31-year-old decided to give it a go once again, this time on the penultimate stage of the Tour Down Under (McLaren Vale – Willunga Hill, 151.5 kilometers). Bauer ignited the day's escape together with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), and the two were soon joined by Will Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Jeremy Maison (FDJ), with the peloton keeping a close eye on the quartet and not allowing them to take their gap to more than three minutes.
The day's menu included a double ascent of Willunga Hill, the 3km climb which made its debut in the race 16 years ago. Averaging 7.6%, the iconic ascent in South Australia featured first after 125 kilometers, when the front group's advantage began to come down to two minutes, as the bunch turned the screw. Over the top, Jack attacked and was followed only by De Gendt, with Maison linking up with the duo on the descent.
The general contenders' teams blew up the race in the run in to Willunga Hill, chewing into the trio's gap and whittling down the peloton. With five kilometers to go, it was game over for the escapees, but that didn't stop Jack Bauer from driving the pack on the first slopes of the climb, helping his Quick-Step Floors teammates position themselves before the big battle of the stage.
Then, several riders decided to wind up the pace, thus splitting the bunch, and soon after only seven men were left in the lead. Ochre jersey wearer Richie Porte (BMC) was one of them, and the Australian surged clear to take the win and extend his advantage in the overall rankings over his closest opponents, with one day to go.
Jack Bauer arrived around two minutes later, and was soon informed that a visit to the podium is in store, as the race jury decided to award the Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team rider the most combative rider prize for the second day in a row, a first in the history of Tour Down Under.
Sport director Rik Van Slycke explained the team's strategy at the start of the penultimate stage, which everyone viewed as being decisive in the final outcome: "The plan was to put a rider into the breakaway, to get someone over the climb in case the peloton was put under pressure earlier than expected. The idea was for that rider to be able to help our leaders after the climb. At the beginning of the stage, the bunch didn't let the breakaway gain too much of an advantage, but in the end they let them get over the top of the climb. We then wanted then to put Enric Mas into third, fourth or fifth position, on the wheel of riders like Porte and Chaves."
Despite not getting the expected result, Van Slycke still had reasons to smile at the end of the stage to Willunga Hill: "At the base of the second climb, the riders were all in position, but when the attacks started immediately as the climb began, Enric wasn't able to follow, as he unfortunately experienced cramping after two kilometres of climbing. In this respect, the combativity award was an extra bonus, and it was nice to have Jack Bauer on the podium for a second day in a row."
He really deserved to be awarded these prizes after all the time he spent in the breakaways these past couple of days.
"It's nice to go again to the podium here at Tour Down Under. Got a little bit of cash and a nice bunch of flowers", a smiling Jack joked after being named the most aggressive rider in the race for the second day running. "Seriously now, I'm happy to get again this prize and to show myself in what's my first race with Quick-Step Floors Cycling Team. It's still very early in the season, but the feeling in the squad is great and it gives me huge confidence for the next races. I really enjoy being part of this group."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele