Sam Welsford celebrated his 28th birthday in absolute style when he claimed a third Santos Tour Down Under victory – this time at Port Elliot on Friday.
The Bora-Hansgrohe sprint gun smashed his rivals to pieces to claim the major prize for the Hahn Stage 4 from Murray Bridge to Port Elliot.
Welsford’s hat-trick of stage wins was a first for the Santos Tour Down Under since Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) claimed four stages during the 2017 event.
“It’s pretty special to get a win on my birthday,” Welsford said.
“For a minute I almost forgot it was my birthday because I was so into the race. The boys did an amazing job looking after me.”
Welsford finished ahead of Eritrean star Binian Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty).
He will keep the Ziptrak Sprint Jersey while Mexican sensation Isaac Del Toro is still race leader and 40 seconds clear of Welsford. The 20-year-old is one second ahead of Girmay and two seconds ahead of New Zealand’s Corbin Strong (Israel Premier Tech) before the back-to-back queen stages take the race by storm over the weekend.
Del Toro played down his chances of claiming the Think! Road Safety Stage 5 from Christies Beach to Willunga on Saturday before the 2024 edition of the race ends at Mount Lofty summit on Sunday.
“I feel good – a little bit nervous but good (about the weekend),’’ Del Toro said.
ARA Australia’s Luke Burns will keep the efex King of the Mountain Jersey for Saturday after another hard day of work.
His teammate Jackson Medway, the youngest rider in this year’s Santos Tour Down Under at 19 years of age, claimed the Yahama Most Competitive Jersey after being at the front for most of the race alongside Brazilian Movistar rider Vinicius Rangel before they were caught by the main peloton at Goolwa.
Bora-hansgrohe controlled the main bunch in an obvious bid to protect Welsford.
Australia’s reigning three-time road champion Luke Plapp (Jayco AlUla) was a non-starter after being injured in a nasty crash along Gorge Road during Health Partners Stage 3 on Thursday.
There was also crash on Friday in the peloton, this time about 100km before the finish. GC contender and climbing specialist Axel Mariault from team Cofidis was involved, along with team-mate Piet Allegaert and Arkea – B&B Hotels riders Louis Barre and Laurens Huys.
66.7km: Ziptrak Sprint 1 – Bridge Road at Langhorne Creek General Store, Langhorne Creek
ARA Australian Cycling Team’s Jackson Medway claimed Hahn Stage 4’s Ziptrak® Sprint #1. Medway crossed the line ahead of Movistar’s Vinicius Rangel after the pair broke away early in the stage. Kelland O’Brien from Team Jayco AlUla took the bonus second ahead of Jhonatan Narvaez from Ineos Grenadiers.
82.2km: Ziptrak Sprint 2 – Commercial Road near Colman Terrace, Strathalbyn
Alex Mariault made it two Ziptrak sprints from two and claimed very handy bonus seconds, pipping EF Education-Easy Post’s Stefan De Bod on the line. The Cofidis rider claimed the points in a photo finish while ARA Australian Cycling Team’s Tristan Saunders finished behind the pair.
88.3km: efex King of the Mountain 1 – Gemmell Hill (Category 3)
Movistar’s Vinicius Rangel took out efex King of the Mountain ahead of Jackson Medway from ARA Australian Cycling Team. Medway’s team-mate, efex King of the Mountain leader Luke Burns, crossed the line in third to add two points to his tally.
ALL THE JERSEYS
Santos Leader’s Jersey – Isaac del Toro Romero (UAE Team Emirates)
efex King of the Mountain – Luke Burns (ARA Australian Cycling Team)
Ziptrak Sprinter’s Jersey – Sam Welsford (Bora-hansgrohe)
Zwift Young Rider’s Jersey – Isaac del Toro Romero (UAE Team Emirates)
Most Competitive – Jackson Medway (ARA Australian Cycling Team)