One of cycling’s unsung heroes today scored victory in the fourth stage of the Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under when Matt White, 30, cruised across the finish line in Hahndorf with his arms raised in celebration.
White, who is married to and coaches Olympic walk medallist Jane Saville, is the faithful lieutenant of Tour de France and World Cup star Stuart O’Grady in the French registered professional team Cofidis and last year was unlucky to crash just hours before the start preventing his scheduled Tour de France debut. But today was White’s day of glory and he admits it was a long time coming.
"About time," said White whose last international win was six years ago in the Tour of Switzerland. "Six years I’ve waited for that and I’m pretty bloody happy!"
White engineered his victory by breaking away from the lead group of six riders four kilometres from the finish line. He crossed the line in a time of 3hr35min00sec after the 152 kilometre ride from Adelaide’s cafe suburb of Unley. Tour de France sprint star, Robbie McEwen (Davitamon Lotto) was next across line two seconds later with Frenchman Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole) third.
"I knew what the last climb was like.... that’s the best time to go, if I can get a bit of a gap over there (I can do it)," said White.
White’s margin at the finish would have been greater but his excitement was such that he was savouring the win as he rode over the final 300 metres in front of an appreciative crowd as his rivals began a furious sprint for the minor placings.
Stage Four was eventful from the gun with riders on the attack from the moment the flag dropped at the climb up the expressway towards Stirling. But despite repeated efforts no lead group was established and all the main contenders were together for the first intermediate sprint at the 28.3 km in Echunga.
Ceramiche Panaria provided the perfect lead out for Italy’s Paride Grillo who picked up a valuable three second bonus to move him up one place on the overall standings ahead of Australian Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros). Olympic track gold medallist Stuart O’Grady sprinted across for a two second bonus and dual Olympic gold medallist Graeme Brown picked up third place.
More attacks were launched after the first sprint but it wasn’t until the 50 kilometre mark that a group of six riders finally managed to ride away from the peloton and establish a significant margin.
In that group was the winner of stages one and two, McEwen, White (Cofidis), Nicolas Portal (AG2R), Italian Fortunato Baliani (Panaria), Joly and Frederic Finot (FRA Francaise des Jeux)
By the time they reached the bottom of the only categorised climb of the day at Checker Hill ( 86.6km) they had a lead of more than three minutes and over the summit it was Baliani first, Portal second and White third.
The six in front continued to increase their lead and by the second intermediate sprint at Woodside (119km) were more than five minutes ahead. McEwen took the maximum points ahead of White with Baliani third.
With the major players together in the main field and the front six no threat to the overall standings the mind games then began in the front group as the riders set themselves up for the final sprint in Hahndorf.
"I’m not going to sprint against Robbie...I couldn’t beat him down a mineshaft," said White who was heartily congratulated by O’Grady after the stage. "Stuey knows how good I am... I helped him win a World Cup with one arm tied behind my back.
"I’m a good bike rider, I know that and so do the boys," he said. "It’s my job to help those guys out - I’ve been kept professional for 10 years and it’s not because of luck, that’s for sure."
"To ride with (Lance) Armstrong and win Tour of Switzerland, to ride with (Roberto) Heras and win the Tour of Spain and to (help) Stuey win the World Cup, they’re all big feats - but for me to win here at home, I’m rapt."
White says he had planned to try for a victory this year in the Tour.
"I thought I’d have a crack for a stage here with the form I’ve got, it’s always good when you’ve got the Tour of Spain in your legs at the end the year, the form comes back pretty quick," he explained. "I looked after myself over the winter (Australian summer) and limited the old drinking to the weekends.
White will now concentrate on working for O’Grady who is currently lying fifth overall, 18 seconds off race leader Luis Sanchez of Spain (Liberty Seguros).
"The Tour hasn’t finished yet - Stuey has got good form," said White. "It’s going to be hard to beat the Spanish guys, but we’re going to go out with a fight, that’s for sure.
White believes the Tour will come down to bonus seconds on offer in the intermediate and finish sprints but first the main contenders have to make it through tomorrow’s 147 kilometre stage which starts and finishes in Willunga in the McLaren Vale wine growing region.
"The problem is Al Davis (Liberty Seguros and sitting fourth at 13 seconds) is bloody quick, just as quick as Stuey," said White. "If we don’t drop his team-mate (Sanchez) tomorrow, which I don’t think we will, we’re going to have to try to attack at the finish but I think it’s going to come down to time bonuses on Sunday."
Davis and his team mate Sanchez will be out to ensure they match every move
"It’s going to be a hard day tomorrow up that Willunga climb, there’s going to be a lot of action," said Davis. "Hopefully the boys have got enough gas in the tank to hold them off."
But Davis took time out to express his pleasure with White’s win.
"Whitey- I’ve got goose bumps thinking he’s won, because there’s not another guy in the peloton ...... that deserve the win (more)," he said.
The main field, containing all the main contenders, was led home by Bathurst cyclist Mark Renshaw (Francaise des Jeux) 3m42sec behind White.
Overall Sanchez has maintained his two second lead over Johan Van Summeren (BEL - Davitamopn Lotto) with Italy’s Paride Grillo (Ceramiche Panaria) now third at 12 seconds. Davis and O’Grady are fourth and fifth and South Australian Gene Bates (UniSA) is sixth at 20 seconds.
The lead in the SA Lotteries sprint classification has been reclaimed by McEwen, Bates still leads the Laubman and Pank King of The Mountain competition. Sanchz, 21, remains in the lead in the Share the Road Under 23 category and Joly was awarded the daily Century 21 Most Aggressive rider jersey. Credit Agricole is leading the Sensational Adelaide leading teams classification.