THE Tour Down Under has come down to a race of three cyclists who have officially distinguished themselves from 130 others – some, like Robbie McEwen, Allan Davis and defending champion Andre Greipel, remained in contention until yesterday, while the likes of Mark Cavendish and Lance Armstrong were never really in the hunt despite their superstar status.

Fittingly, the major pieces in what will be a furious game of chess today in downtown Adelaide are three of Australia’s brightest young things.

A glance at the overall standings would suggest it is 23-year-old Cameron Meyer’s crown to lose given the national time-trial champion and Garmin-Cervelo pro has a handy eight-second advantage over 24-year-old Matthew Goss, and 12 seconds over Michael Matthews who, at age 20, became world junior road-race champion last October. But anyone who hasn’t heard Goss, or his HTC-Highroad teammates, spruik the burning form he is in hasn’t been concentrating. And in a flat, 90-kilometre street race that will determine the tour’s 2011 king, he is the far better bet.

Those partial to smokies will tip that Meyer, Goss and their respective teams will be so obsessed this afternoon with monitoring and covering each other’s every move that Matthews will spring up from fourth in the general classification and surprise them all.

Interestingly, at the conclusion of a tense stage five yesterday, which was won by Spanish Movistar rider Francisco Ventoso, Meyer’s team boss declared it a race of just two.

”For sure, [it’s now] a two-horse race,” Matt White said after a day that didn’t go entirely to plan after Jack Bobridge, set to claim the stage and thereby protect the 10-second time buffer Meyer had held, crashed.

That Meyer’s advantage was reduced by two seconds put the race on a knife’s edge after Goss and Matthews snuck in for minor placings after the most taxing stage of the tour at Old Willunga Hill.

”I am feeling good. The sprint is there. My legs are good,” said Goss, confident he could make up the difference and win his first top-division stage race.

”There are 16 seconds of [time] bonuses tomorrow, so it’s still do-able.”

Matthews’s Rabobank camp was not shy to talk up the chances of its main man.

”Wow, it’s gonna hurt tomorrow. He’s going to have to win both intermediate sprints and the stage basically, and if he can do that he can win the tour,” veteran Graeme Brown said before adding he thought all of that was possible.

Matthews considers Goss the man to beat, but didn’t discount that he could do it: ”Gossy’s in awesome form so it’s going to be really hard to beat him, but we’ll try to make him make a couple of mistakes and try to hurt him a bit coming into the sprints.”