Adelaide - Andre Greipel of Germany won the fourth stage of cycling's Tour Down Under on Thursday, claiming his second stage of the current tour and the 13th of his career in the season-opening race.
The relatively flat 126.5km stage between Modbury and Tanunda in the wine-producing Barossa Valley favored sprinters, and Greipel was the overwhelming favorite to win.
He won the stage from Italy's Roberto Ferrari, Australia's Jonathan Cantwell and Britain's Andrew Fenn, but Welshman Geraint Thomas retained the lead on general classification.
World road race champion Philippe Gilbert made the day intriguing when he featured in a two-man break with Australia's Damien Howson, which led until 8.5km from the finish.
Greipel, who won the tour's opening stage on Tuesday, was again set up for the stage-win by the outstanding lead-out work of his Lotto Belisol team-mates, notably New Zealander Greg Henderson.
Strong crosswinds made the last few kilometres of the stage testing, but Greipel was able to shelter within the peleton until Henderson helped him to the front of the bunch and launched him on his winning sprint.
Thomas led the race by five seconds after the third stage Thursday and did enough, with the help of his Sky team-mates, to defend that lead.
Gilbert, who started the day 2 minutes, 53 seconds down on general classification, shared a lead with Howson of up to 3 minutes, 10 seconds which made him the leader on the road. But the peleton kept a close eye on the break and reclaimed Gilbert and Howson at the 118km mark, on the windy approach to Tanunda.
Greipel had, by then, worked his way into an attacking position and showed again he is the tour's paramount sprinter.
"There was a bit of crosswind on the finish today and with the headwind in the last two kilometres it was pretty messy," Greipel said. "The team did a good job to keep me in the front with a headwind.
"It wasn't easy but we waited as long as possible and I think we did a perfect lead-out. We work good together and it's nice to have those team-mates."
On a tactical stage, Thomas was prevented from collecting time bonuses in intermediate sprints but continued to lead the race on general classification from Gorka Izagirre of Spain and Tiago Pinto Machado of Portugal.
Saturday's fifth stage features two climbs up the demanding Old Willunga Hill, again taking the sprinters out of winning contention.
STAGE FOUR RESULTS
1. Andre Greipel (Germany / Lotto) 3:02:52"
2. Roberto Ferrari (Italy / Lampre) ST
3. Jonathan Cantwell (Australia / Saxo - Tinkoff)
4. Andrew Fenn (Britain / Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
5. Barry Markus (Netherlands / Vacansoleil)
6. Marcel Kittel (Germany / Argos)
7. Mark Renshaw (Australia / Blanco)
8. Kenny van Hummel (Netherlands / Vacansoleil)
9. Arnaud Demare (France / FDJ)
10. Klaas Lodewyck (Belgium / BMC Racing)
1. Geraint Thomas (Britain / Team Sky) 12:59:09"
2. Tom-Jelte Slagter (Netherlands / Blanco) +5"
3. Javier Moreno (Spain / Movistar) +6"
4. Ben Hermans (Belgium / RadioShack) +8"
5. Gorka Izagirre (Spain / Euskaltel) +15"
6. Jon Izagirre (Spain / Euskaltel)
7. Jack Bauer (New Zealand / Garmin)
8. Tiago Machado (Portugal / RadioShack)
9. Adam Hansen (Australia / Lotto)
10. George Bennett (New Zealand / RadioShack)