Lessons from the Tour Down Under

Tour Down Unde Willunga 2013

What can we learn from the start of the season? We might have had only a few days of racing but there are a few observations to make and points to note from this race and the way it sits alongside the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.

André Greipel was comfortably ahead of the others. His finishing speed was that big higher but his team worked to perfection. The teamwork looks easy on TV but that’s only because it’s so good. Holding off rival teams and imposing order on the chaos of a bunch sprint is an impressive feat.

Greipel’s a big guy and you might not want to battle with him during the final moments of a race. But the brute force seems to stay on the bike. Everyone seems to have a good word to say about him… and not out of respect but genuine admiration. He’s now got 100 wins, an impressive feat as he’s 30. Also note that he looks huge but he’s 80-82kg which is certainly big for the pro peloton but he’s far from the heaviest. It’s a little known fact that he was German national hill climb champion as a junior. I can’t find out if this was on a 100 meter berg or in the Bavarian Alps but just remember he can climb. The Poggio is the ultimate test as he wants to win Milan-Sanremo.

Team Sky aren’t invincible. Maybe it’s obvious but on Stage 2 Geraint Thomas was fastest up the Corkscrew and then outsprinted his rivals into Rostrevor. With this kind of display and the likes of Edvald Boasson Hagen playing domestique it seemed that he was destined going to win the race overall. But instead he was outplayed by Tom Jelte Slagter of Blanco who was the strongest on Willunga Hill. Simon Gerrans had a good go but perhaps got more room as he had dropped out of contention for the overall win. But when Slagter attacked, nobody could follow. It was the moment the race was won.

Slagter is Dutch for butcher, at least in old Dutch so the Dutch media have something to play with when it comes to headlines. It’s good news and makes a change from all the doping scandals in the Dutch media of late with many ex-pros confessing to EPO use during their careers. In fact it’s better news in the long term as for years the Dutch squad came close to victory but often didn’t match rivals with a similar spend. There have been wins along the way and the team will need more to secure a sponsor but this is very well-timed fr them.

The butchers of Adelaide will have been busy as many cycling fans in Australia got the barbie going. Big crowds lined much of the route, estimates say 110,000 on Sunday alone. For some time politics and power-plays have messed with the Australian calendar. Put simply Tour Down Under promoter Mike Turtur had a seat on the UCI’s management committee and acted like a handbrake to stall other races in Australia, thus ensuring the primacy of his event. The UCI blocked attempts by the Sun Tour, arguably the country’s second biggest race with a history going back to 1952, to reposition itself on the calendar. Some might call this an outrageous abuse but others might not. What is certain is that Australia deserves more racing.

As well as quantity, Australia could also get a greater quality with the Tour Down Under itself being reformed. It’s been said the Tour Down Under can’t have a time trial stage because the logistics of flying out time trial bikes for the peloton is too much, hundreds of bikes and special wheels just for one stage. But if you’ve got teams flying out the equipment to Argentina for the time trial stage of the Tour de San Luis then then you can do it for Australia given the World Tour points and the TV coverage.

That said the 2013 race was an improvement, especially the addition of the Corkscrew Road climb which helped to break up the overall classification and give a move mixed result to the race.

A reminder that Slagter wins as many points from the Tour Down Under as if he’d won the Dauphiné, Tour de Suisse or a spring classic like Paris-Roubaix or the Tour of Flanders. Now we can debate whether this is right… but that’s conversation. What is certain is that this is a race not to be missed by teams anxious to earn points. Especially since the result is so obvious. Crosswinds, punctures, even cracking after hours on the bike – none of this exists. Instead the overall classification is decided by the modest climb of Willunga. As such this is a race to target, 100 points can be won after a seven minute effort and points go down to 10th place overall. We might say there’s no point being in shape so early but these points – like or not – are so valuable that teams have to consider naming a couple of riders to be in peak form for January, if only so they can rest afterwards and build again, say for the Ardennes Classics.

Perhaps fans should not have to decide as the racing in the Tour de San Luis has been varied this week but it’s still a strange sport where Alberto Contador, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish are racing in Argentina whilst there’s a World Tour race on. Perhaps you or I can grasp the subtlety of the calendar but it’s still a strange sport for outsiders who see the premier calendar of UCI races only without many of the best racers. Put yourself in the shoes of one of the Tour Down Under sponsors. You’ve just forked out hundreds of thousands to back this “World Tour” race only a lot of the big names aren’t there. Now we can’t have all the riders racing all year but still, perhaps there’s a way to imagine a calendar where, if there’s a World Tour race on, nobody ranked in the top-100 can race in another event elsewhere. A subject to return to.

Finally on the subject of the calendar, note the calendar page on inrng.com. If you’ve downloaded the iCal file then be sure to update from time to time as races are vanishing and others are changing slots.

…Actually, I said finally but talking of last place a quick mention of Andy Schleck. He quit the final stage in Adelaide. I’ve got time for him although a lot of followers seem frustrated. His attack in the 2011 Tour de France and stage win on the Galibier was impressive alone. But the sport is full of myths, labels and legends. Just ask Raymond Poulidor, the “eternal second” who made a career out of playing the country bumpkin loser when in fact he was razor sharp although certainly he had a share of bad luck. Schleck’s misfortune is worse, instead of finishing runner up he’s quitting plenty of races. But give him time, if he can recover from the spinal injury he can improve.

Don’t extrapolate too far from one early season race. André Greipel has won 100 races now so he’s no surprise and he came equipped with the best wagons of his sprint train. Blanco are no longer blank as they’ve won a race. Beyond this the Tour Down Under is now past 15 years and is continuing to evolve. With more work and perhaps supported by other races it can grow.

Now on to more races. Many riders from Adelaide will fly to Doha for the Tour of Qatar starting next weekend. Before this is the Etoile de Bessèges race in France and the start of the women’s season with the Ladies Tour of Qatar. The off-season is over.

65 thoughts on “Lessons from the Tour Down Under”

  1. Perhaps Blanco will win more races this season simply because they are somewhat anonymous — well at least in comparison to Rabobank whose reputation and colours in the peloton were always noticed.

  2. It’s been enjoyable just to have racing back on! The Tour San Luis was very difficult to follow with a terrible website and laughable coverage when it appeared and very little buzz online in terms of people reporting on it and real time updates.. what drives the teams to compete there in, what appears to me anyway, relative obscurity? Whilst the Parcours of the TDU is a little timid they’ve got they’re media package nice and tight..

    • I don’t understand that either. “If a race is raced in Argentina and nobody watches, did a race even take place?” re: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

      I would have watched, but when I tried, it had no English commentary and poor video.

      No idea why the big names even raced it. Points, maybe?

  3. Rabo usually peaked for the big classics and the Tour de France and came home with anonymous sixth or seventh places. Not bad, but very very grey.

    I always hoped they would focus on the smaller WT-races and score there big time. A win in a smaller race is more attractive than a seventh place in the Tour and may give confidence for these bigger races also. Seems they are thinking the same now.

    • I know there was doping involved, but Rabobank did have some very good results you’ve not factored: Menchov won a Giro and Vuelta, Freire got two MSR and the green jersey, and Gesink has had some excellent results.

  4. I was thinking whilst watching the race that this is what the future of cycling looks like. Lots of circuits on most stages providing a more spectator/sponsor/VIP marquee friendly set up. Less road closures, more easily contained for organisers, TV etc, and allows sponsor hoardings to be featured on coverage multiple times per stage, a major Gran Fondo attached, each stage named after a sponsor (rather than stage 5 it was the “Jayco Stage 5”), all ways to help better monetise the sport. Add to that the centralised location with stages fanning out from a hub allows the set up of an ‘expo’ site for 5 days producing rent revenue, a tourist hub where spectators from out of town can fly to a single city and enjoy a week’s racing without driving from town to town (which the riders seem to love), whilst I don’t mind driving around following the tour, for smaller races making it a convenient option for fans/families can’t hurt. I don’t know that this is too far from what Bakala sees on the horizon.

    And riding back to the CBD with the pro’s is a bit of a thrill for the fans.

    And in an interview after the stage Phil Gilbert said that he felt Thomas lost the race the day before Wilunga noting that it was an extremely hot day and he had noticed that Thomas had a lot of salt forming on his shorts.

  5. My biggest compliment is this,I have stood upon Cols and pavements throughout Europe watching the sport I love and now because of the TV coverage from Adelaide showing fantastic weather and carnival crowds ,man I`m going …the idea has been sold to me hook line and sinker, so next year Adelaide here I come, and btw we never said we were invincible but you have to admit we are mighty impressive,other teams yesterday would have chucked the towel and had jolly but not us we were focused and determined to reinstate ‘G’ onto the podium.
    3 cheers for Adelaide.

    • Good on you, don’t listen to the fat lazy cycling journo’s grumbling about having to roll off the couch to cover a race more than a mile from their local pub.

      From the fan’s perspective, it’s got great access to the riders, still plenty of big names (ie. PhilGil) who are more relaxed as well, great weather, easy access to stages, small enough city to be totally focussed on the event, and now a slight tweak in the parcours to make it interesting racing as well. So what if it’s almost a training race, would the fans care if they get all of this?

      Blanco rode well to get Slagter up, with some hurt bodies amongst them it was a gusty team ride all round.

      In terms of peaking, it makes no sense that riders can’t peak 2-3 times a year, with the TDU being one.

      The bigger question is where is Neil Stephens, I haven’t seen him in the OGE team clips lately, or at the Aussie nationals. Has he been quietly shuffled aside…?

    • I went down (from Sydney) this year for the the first time and it was great fun. Rode a bit over 700km through nice, rolling terrain, refuelling at small-town bakeries. Climbed all the main climbs in the race. Watched the pros blast past at various points and got to test-ride a bunch of WT bikes from the expo. All in great weather. Will definitely be going back and my Canadian boss is now considering a trip next year for a training block 🙂

  6. The TDU is a pretty attractive race. Not so much because of the courses, but mostly because of the big, enthusiastic crowds. Refreshing after such a depressing off-season.

  7. “the 2012 race was an improvement…”

    2013? (Still doesn’t seem right typing it, perhaps the year should have a officially begin in February with January a neutralised month.)

  8. The TDU is not run for parcours kudos from the international cycling press, or the teams for that matter. It’s run to be a profitable commercial event (for the sponsors), and primarily – to be a tourist attraction for the State of South Australia. And it is clearly acheiving that goal, with ever-increasing crowds flocking to a spectator-friendly course. To really appreciate it, you have to be there – PeterC above is correct. It’s a cycling celebration for amateur fans, especially if you take your bike and join in. No better holiday week….

      • To some extent.

        But the calendar is restricted by school holidays – if they put the race any later the holidays would be over. Even if South Australia changed the school terms to allow locals to attend the race, interstate tourists would find it much more difficult to bring their families.

        The other thing to keep in mind is that the Australian Open is in Melbourne; the Tour Down Under is in Adelaide, 800 kilometres away.

  9. Greipel wins half of the stages of the TDU, but that only earns him ninth place in the WorldTour standings?!? And he earned 16% of the points of the guy who only won one stage.

  10. The TDU is a wonderful event for the spectator whether live or via the first class TV coverage that is really Td’F quality. The parcours is improving and ISTM that there was enough selection to provide some separation and variety in the outcome. While the TDU doesn’t attract a slew of the top riders there are enough there for interest sake. I actually appreciate the fact that for many teams, the lieutenants and neo-pros get opportunities to show their mettle that we don’t necessarily get to see with television coverage limited to grand tours and monuments.

  11. Any reason a TDU TT couldn’t be on road bikes? A la the Tour of Beijing in 2011? Far from ideal (and a terrible race as a comparator I know) but a simple solution?

    • Turtur seems to have something against this idea but I reckon it’s a goer to add another level of interest to the race.
      Have it short enough to create some time gaps but stll give climbers a chance to make up GC time on other stages. Plus with Durbo, Meyer, Bobridge, etc usually in good form from Nationals we’d be giving ourselves a chance for a good result.
      Sun Tour Prologue was on regular road bikes, Tour of Qatar has even had a Team Time Trial on road bikes.

        • It is lame, even to most cycling fans I’d wager. Best part is hoping a rider crashes off the ramp. Haing it on road bikes is like synchronised swimmers wearing pretty costumes, sooner or later someone’s going to notice the event is rubbish.

  12. You’ve just forked out hundreds of thousands to back this “World Tour” race only a lot of the big names aren’t there. Now we can’t have all the riders racing all year but still, perhaps there’s a way to imagine a calendar where, if there’s a World Tour race on, nobody ranked in the top-100 can race in another event elsewhere. A subject to return to.

    Finally on the subject of the calendar, note the calendar page on inrng.com. If you’ve downloaded the iCal file then be sure to update from time to time as races are vanishing and others are changing slots.

    Good subject to return to. I’m sure you see the connection between ‘races vanishing’ and forcing riders to ride new World Tour events all over the globe.

  13. If I were a sponsor of a pro tour team I would wonder at the cost v return of sending my team to a Pro Tour event that is not shown on European TV stations that have a cycling pedigree, despite all this talk of globalization of the sport, the majority of team sponsors are still looking to a European audience.
    Even if the race was on TV stations in Europe with a cycling pedigree, I would also be perplexed at the thought of how many people in my core market would not be looking at my team given that at the same time most people would be looking at the tennis!
    It would seem to me as a “fantasy” sponsor I would only be sending a team to this race because the DS would be telling me that we need UCI points.
    I think that to really win hearts and minds the TdU should be slotted between the tennis and the f1 race, and shown to as wide an audience as possible.
    Maybe that is what the people behind the Herald Sun Tour should be thinking of doing while their race may have been downgraded they might still attract a good field if team sponsors thought that they would get good TV, as happens in other events.
    Talking of other events bring on 4th February when racing really does return to the pan European TV market, in a race that is not a pro tour event but most pro tour teams will be there!

  14. The TDU and the Australian Open are hosted by two different states – who would be competing against each other. Therefore you would need one state to agree to move their calendar. With two different organisations running each.

    So when would you move the TDU into the calendar (being the smaller of the events) – considering the riders now head off to Qatar and then Oman?

  15. “Don’t extrapolate too far from one early season race.” Excellent point. As to why more of the top teams choose to go to Argentina….40+ C in January down in OZ might be one reason? Anyone with classic ambitions is perhaps not-too-keen on racing in those temps only to come back to northern Europe in a couple of months to face the cold, rain, cobblestones, etc? Add in that it’s LONG way down there and it’s easier to see why the choice of early season races where nobody much cares might end up not being TDU. I watched some video here in Italy on RAI Sport 2 and the crowds looked about the size of what they get at ToC – maybe big for non-European crowds but looked a bit small compared to most of the big-time events in Europe. But wherever it is, it was nice to see bike racing again – now to decide if seeing any of the Reggio-Calabria event is worth renting a car, driving to Messina and taking the ferry over? Then there’s the temptation of Strade Bianche/Giro di Lazio the next month…farther away but….?

  16. On a similar vein to building up the Aussie calendar around the TDU. Surely teams/organisers/UCI are looking at San Luis and planning a stage race in Brazil for the early season? Seems like a logical move to quickly and easily set up a big race in a brick economy.

  17. Andy Schleck is still a complete waste of talent, why would anyone in their right mind stop on the last day??? Riders with more backbone and the drive of a racer can’t get contracts yet he attracts a massive contract every year….he’s a joke!!

  18. I thought I’d read Andy Schleck had some sort of mechanical? The piece didn’t go into detail, but it might not be as straightforward as him just giving up.

    I thought Modolo and Slagter’s wins were taken in impressive style this last week, will be good to see some new names mixing it up this season.

    Bit disappointed with Kittel’s showing though, maybe just too early in the season for him.

    • Yes, he had a mechanical and as the race was so fast he could not get back to the bunch on the short circuit.

      I was thinking Kittel would be there too but maybe he’s not in form yet and certainly his team wasn’t the full strength sprint train.

  19. I don’t get why Cav would race in Argentina rather than Oz.

    Contador I get, but Cav? A race in an English-speaking country. The title sponsors may not have a commercial interest in Australia, but Specialized sells a lot of Venges here. A lot of stages finish in a sprint. And I reckon that the South Australian government wouldn’t mind writing a cheque to Cav for him to show up.

    • So he doesn’t have to face Griepel?

      He’s just moved teams, needs a few months to iron the lead-out out, plus Cav isn’t always very good in the early races.

      • Also I don’t think Cav was originally down to go to Argentina. He went as Boonen’s replacement. He doesn’t usually race until February. I agree with both of the points above re fat cheque and not wanting to race the gorilla!

    • I don’t think they’re on the same level at the moment and surely he doesn’t want to lose to Greipel.
      The easiest way is to avoid him.

      • He also had a tough time downunder last time, crashed, hot weather, etc. Not saying he’s not tough enough, but I can see why he’d avoid it. Plus, he’s probably checking out Las Malvinas to see why the English would bother stealing it…

  20. One point worth noting is that of the TDU race format and the, dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t nature of a too difficult parcours, too early in season. An exemplar of this is Andy Schleck, seen by fans off the back of many bunches throughout the race, whilst his is an exceptional circumstance, programs do matter, regardless of points on offer. The conundrum the organisers have is to load a too heavy race program into such an early part of the season. As we have heard riders love no travel, we best not forget that they also despise a long season and an ardious toll so early in the season will more than weigh on the riders minds, ultimately affecting a ‘Griepel’ for example, who clearly has targeted the event to be a goal for the season.
    For mine I think they have done a good job at length & complexity, given heat and other factors that can come into play. As for more racing in Australia, there is no doubt that we have lots more to offer. An expanded HS Tour could even more highlight the diverse terrain & features Victoria has to offer, that in recent times has been limited. For mine id love to see the HST finish with a big bunch sprint in St Kilda, capping off a big week of racing in the Vic alps and coastline. Bring it on!

  21. Just further to some of the previous posts, here are some of the climbs that a Victorian race has available to it. Baw Baw is the hardest, it’s a bastard of a climb. Baw Baw, Buller, Falls Creek and Hotham are the best equipped from a logistics perspective to host a stage finish. Most of the climbs are close enough together that several could be done on a single stage. Whether you want climbs like these at the start of the season in very hot weather is another question.

    Name Climb
    Baw Baw – 11.3% 6.6km (av)
    Dargo – 8.3% 10.6km (av)
    Dinner Plain – 2.0% 54.00 km (av) with multiple climbs 2-9%
    Falls Creek – 5.7% 13.69km
    Lockhart Gap
    6.1% 3.60km
    Mt Buffalo – 5.5% 18.21km
    Mt Buller – 6.0% 15.79km
    Mt Hotham (from Bright) – 4.6% 28.71 km (av) with multiple climbs 2.5%-11%
    Tawonga Gap – 6.5% 5.91km, -6.2% 7.67km

    • Yes, Victoria has hands-down the most spectacular cycling in Australia and any fantasy “Tour of Victoria” you care to imagine could be a GC climber’s dream. You forgot to mention Mt Macedon, or the opportunities for a medium-mountain stage to the Dandenong Ranges or Arthur’s Seat, or a time-trial along the famous Beach Road.

      But the Victorian state government is much too busy throwing millions down the drain with the Formula 1 and building more freeways to consider a bike race. Also bear in mind that despite the colossal popularity of cycling in Melbourne, cyclists are hated by the same government as some kind of nasty insect getting in the way of all the trucks.

      And since they’ll lose the next election they don’t care about anything, really, anymore.

      Moreover, the logistics would be harder (and the event less well attended) because unlike racing in the Adelaide hills you can’t cruise back to Melbourne every day, those high mountains are a little too far out.

      Note that in Victoria we don’t actually do much summer road racing, local clubs mostly save it for the cooler months of March-November and just run short crits in the heat.

  22. the problem with this is many rider want to travel at a tour. being in one hotel the whole time is a big distraction.i agree for spectator it is good. but, the teams need to be more serious. party and drink most after every stage. for me is no good for the sport. it is a pity that more of australia is not visit. for me when i raced the tour down under, my team and me want to see more,the long roads and coast roads. a time trial also.

  23. ” perhaps there’s a way to imagine a calendar where, if there’s a World Tour race on, nobody ranked in the top-100 can race in another event elsewhere”

    While I understand your point regarding the desires of advertisers, your suggestion leads to serious problems wherein riders who, for example, skip the Giro to focus on the Tour cannot ride a shorter race like ToC to prepare.

  24. Events compete for the best participation and the most exciting racing. It’s logical and has always been so. TdU could do with one or two serious TTs, some decent climbing, and , above all, professional mileage, because it’s the early season and riders need a lot of kilometers (especially Andy S.).

  25. I’ve liked the idea in Tour of Qatar; running a team time trial with standard road bikes. The road-bike-only rule for TTs is also a growing trend in the U.S., when amateur races host a stage race or omnium format. With the abundance of power data available to all World Tour teams, it should make no difference to a rider’s training plan whether they use a TT or standard road bike in these early season “training” races. The only downside could be reduced publicity for bike manufacturers’ specialty TT bikes.

  26. Kudos to the TDU. Even though there are points, as an informed spectator, I don’t expect all the stars to show for the first couple of races of the year. As you mentioned, teams have to earmark riders to be on form for January. In fact, teams manage their riders through out the entire calendar to give both rider and team best chance to win. The days of riders competing in every pro race have long gone. When I came into it, Lemond had started to “specialize” in the TdF and not race all of the classics.

    Are there better, earlier examples of riders/teams specializing or targeting key races through out the calendar while not reading the entire year?

  27. Inner Ring – what did you think of Diniz’s rather inredible climbing performance in The Tour de San Luis? Just back off a doping ban and he still looked, err… remarkably well prepared.

    • Put it this way, he is allowed to come back after a ban but has to work to gain the trust of others. Or apply the presumption of innocence but be very vigilant.

      I’d like to see his stats on power and climbing speed for the stage and his past performances too.

  28. “Greipel was German national hill climb champion as a junior. I can’t find out if this was on a 100 meter berg or in the Bavarian Alps…”
    This was in the year 2000, and was held in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bavarian Alps. I don’t know which exact course that was, but definetely not a 100 meter hill 😉

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