It was the seconds that made him first. Simon Gerrans won the Tour Down Under after consistent performances allowed him to take time bonuses all through the race. On the first day he took third place in an intermediate sprint behind a breakaway and later beat André Greipel to win the stage and get more time. The maths would impress Albert Einstein as the faster Gerrans sprinted, the more time he gained.
Bonus time: if there were no time bonuses Cadel Evans would have won. But there were and Gerrans wins so there. And rightly so because he was all over the race and backed by the strongest squad too. Richie Porte and Evans each had impressive stage wins with Gerrans always close behind.
The moment the race was won? Gerrans was consistent all week but if there was one defining moment maybe it was on Old Willunga Hill. Richie Porte attacks early despite a high wind. Cadel Evans has to respond as the Sky rider is only 33 seconds down on GC and there’s a 10 second bonus waiting on the finish line. But as Porte rides away for the stage win Evans pays a price for his efforts and gets caught and passed by Simon Gerrans who finishes third and collects the four second time bonus to lead the race by just one second.
TDU 2.0: The event has been run since 1999 but this year had an upgraded contest. The event has gone from a string of sprints to a place where Cadel Evans can flourish. First Mengler’s Hill, then the circuit around Stirling, Corkscrew Road the next day and Old Willunga Hill. Hardly Alpine but that’s perfect, just enough to put a few photons of daylight between each of the riders rather than see huge time gaps and a settled GC. You wonder if the next step in a time trial but arguably the inclusion of a varied course means it’s not needed. The race had a bit of everything with climbs, bunch sprints and even crosswinds.
Tactics 101:It’s the kind of race you could show to a friend because there’s predictable action every day. However it’s just a taster as the tactics were simple and each day’s viewing was concise, the action only happened in the last 15 minutes of the stage.
He’s young, an Australian U23 champion and riding for the UniSA team. No, not Caleb Ewan who hopefully readers already know by now. Instead Jack Haig was the revelation of the race. A mountain biker, he’s aged 20 and has only been racing on the road for a short while. Last year he lead and won the NRS Series of elite road races in Australia, riding with the Avanti team. The squad has changed its name over the years but manager Andrew Christie-Johnson keeps bringing on talent. He’s helped Porte, Nathan Haas, Steele Von Hoff and several others onto bigger things, a conveyor belt to rival the Australian track squad. Haig’s got twin goals of success in the Commonwealth Games mountain bike race and more glory on the road. You wonder which team will sign him first but he’s said before he wants to take his time with any move to the pro ranks. Cycling Central have an interview from May last year if you want more. In 1999 a mountain biker called Cadel Evans won the best young rider competition too.
A few thoughts on other riders. A lesser revelation was Nathan Haas. A third year pro he’s impressed with his ability to climb and sprint. When Jens Voigt retires Adam Hansen could fill the role vacated but for now he’s been on team duty but good enough to take the mountains jersey and get in the top-10. Another ersatz Voigt was Will Clarke, the Drapac rider going in numerous breakaways and winning the most aggressive rider award on three days.
A surprise in the top-10 is Katusha’s Egor Silin. Who? Once an amateur tipped for the top he never improved beyond third on a stage of the Dauphiné in his first year. Two years at Katusha, two at Astana and now back to Katusha. “Sil” (Сил) is Russian for power or force.
Feel the rash
Less cheerful was the accident rate. Racing is risky but the Tour Down Under saw several accidents and seems more dangerous than the infamous Three Days of De Panne. But the first race of the year is always awkward. Reflexes and reactions have been lost over the winter and riders are back on carbon rims are just two possible explanations.
The Tour Down Under is also a lot more than a race. Australian fans travel in from afar to enjoy the week, they can ride out to see each stage and then pedal back with some competitors. Others come from further afield and it looked like cycling’s version of the Davos Forum with the wealthy and powerful flying in. Brian Cookson was there along with the Tour de France’s Christian Prudhomme and BMC’s Andy Rihs. Prudhomme wasn’t there to learn, ASO have a contract with the race to distribute TV rights.
Can Evans win the Giro? This race has showed him back at the top and he seems to flourish when all is going well so he’s on track but this week was neither necessary nor sufficient. Similarly Simon Gerrans looked sharp but remember Milan-Sanremo is twice as long as one of the stage this week and the new climb of Pompeiana is longer than Corkscrew Road and Willunga combined. There’s little correlation between race winners and those thriving on Willunga Hill and performances in the spring classics. If anything Simon Gerrans is the oddity with success in the TDU and his 2012 Milan-Sanremo win. Seven riders in top-10 last year didn’t win a thing for the rest of the year; one was Jussi Veikkanen who won the Finnish nationals.
Meanwhile in Argentina
You might have heard the solipsistic question “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound“. It’s similar to “if Nairo Quintana wins the Tour de San Luis but it’s not on TV does it count?” The Colombian ace has been storming San Luis only we can’t see it so easily so it’s harder to assess.
Conclusion: the biggest race on the planet? Of course not but after months of nothing it’s been an exciting week and both the Tour Down Under and San Luis set up plenty of the stories that will develop over the rest of the season. The Euro season starts next weekend.
1 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica Greenedge 19:57:35
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:01
3 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:00:05
4 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky 0:00:10
5 Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin Sharp 0:00:27
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team 0:00:30
7 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica Greenedge 0:00:34
8 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:37
9 Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Belisol
10 Egor Silin (Rus) Team Katusha 0:00:47
Stage wins: Simon Gerrans, Diego Ulissi, Cadel Evans, André Greipel, Richie Porte, André Greipel
Prizes: Points Simon Gerrans, Mountains Adam Hansen, Youth Jack Haig, Team Orica-Greenedge