ADELAIDE, Australia (AP) — Defending champion Simon Gerrans of Australia won the fifth stage of the Tour Down Under cycle race on Saturday from Dutch rookie Tom-Jelte Slagter who seized the overall race lead.

Gerrans was beaten by a hair's breadth in the same stage last year but went on to win the six-stage race in a countback, in the closest finish in its 15-year history.

The 151.5 kilometer (95 mile) stage - the longest of the tour - started in the township of McLaren Vale and featured two climbs up the steep and winding Old Wilunga Hill.

Gerrans attacked near the end of the second climb to take the stage win from Slagter, who took over the lead on general classification from British star Geraint Thomas.

Slagter claimed the first stage win of his professional career when he won Thursday's 139 kilometer (87 mile) third stage between Unley and Stirling. He started Saturday's fifth stage in second place on general classification, five seconds behind Thomas, who won the race's second stage and performed steadily throughout the week.

Saturday's penultimate stage, with its dual climbs and its finish at the peak of Old Wilunga Hill was seen as influential and Slagter staked his claim for overall Tour honors when he shadowed Gerrans' winning break.

Spain's Javier Moreno, riding for the Movistar team and in third place on general classification at the start of the stage — six seconds behind Thomas — was the first to stake his claim for victory in a dramatic finish.

He dashed away from the bunch near the end of the stage but Gerrans chased him down to grab the lead. Slagter then dashed out of the bunch to fight out the stage finish with the Australian, going down narrowly but displacing Thomas as the overall race leader.

The 23-year-old Slagter now has a strong chance of following his debut stage win with an overall win with only Sunday's 90 kilometer final stage remaining over a street circuit in downtown Adelaide. That stage traditionally allows few attacks which can upset the general classification.

"I can only say that I am really, really happy that I could do it today so it's a big thing for the whole team as you can see," Slagter said. "The whole day I felt good.

"Actually the whole week is going well so I had the confidence. It's great to be on the podium but to have the Ocher (tour leader's) jersey is incredible.

"I've never been on a podium before. Stirling was my first victory so really it's an incredible week for me. I don't know what the time differences are at the moment but the team showed they can help me from start to finish so I have the confidence."

No Australians currently feature in the top-10 on general classification but Gerrans gave his homeland some consolation by winning Saturday's stage on the Australia Day national holiday.

"Obviously I was pretty disappointed to drop out of contention on stage two for the overall and had one chance to make up for it today, so I am rapt," he said. "To win here on Australia Day is a fantastic feeling.

"I never gave up right to the line, especially when the young Blanco guy (Slagter) jumped across and went straight past me.

"I have had two finishes up here, second last year and had a win here this year so it's a nice way to finish off."

Slagter's bold ride knocked Thomas back to fifth place on general classification. The Dutch rider leads the overall standings from Moreno, Belgium's Ben Hermans and Ion Izagirre of Spain while Thomas is now 29 seconds behind.

 

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