Cadel Evans has staked his claim for the overall Tour Down Under title with a crushing performance in stage three to grab a 12-second lead.
The only Australian to win the Tour de France and the 2009 world road champion unleashed one of the best rides in the event’s 15-year history.
The BMC team leader broke clear of Australian rivals Richie Porte (Sky) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), the previous race leader, on the crucial Corkscrew Road climb.
Evans then showcased his peerless descending skills to stay clear of his pursuers on the tricky 7km ride to the finish at suburban Campbelltown.
The 36-year-old won the 145km stage by 14 seconds and now leads Gerrans by 12 seconds.
“I had an idea of what we might have an opportunity to do and it’s always might, if, maybe,” Evans said.
“But in this sport when you have an opportunity you have to run with it.
“Right to the last 300m I wasn’t sure if I had it.
“The stage win is of course great, but GC (general classification, or the overall result) is what we’re really here for.”
Evans is riding in the Adelaide race for the first time since 2010 and has never won the overall title.
Porte hopes to challenge Evans on Saturday in the fifth stage, which features two climbs of Willunga Hill south of Adelaide.
“Cadel obviously is absolutely flying,” Porte said of the 2011 Tour de France champion.
“I tried to go with him, but in the hairpins there he just rode away and there’s not much you can do.
“It was a little disappointing, I thought I was in a bit better nick.
“But Saturday, a hilltop finish, I’m quite hopeful we have the team to at least get up there on the podium.”
A four-rider break featuring Australian Travis Meyer (Drapac) and German veteran Jens Voigt went clear early but were never allowed to build a lead of more than two-and-a-half minutes.
They were caught inside the last 17km and the peloton then ramped up the speed to nearly 70km/h as the riders hit the foot of Corkscrew, decimating the field.
It came down to a select group of 20, featuring all the overall contenders.
Evans and Porte attacked on one of the steeper sections and immediately gained a gap, then broke clear of Porte and led by more than 10 seconds at the top of the climb.
Australian Nathan Haas (Garmin Sharp) finished second on the stage and Italian Diego Ulissi, the stage two winner, was third.
Gerrans was fifth, meaning he missed out on the crucial time bonuses.