Simon Gerrans has survived the attacks on the climb of Corkscrew road and now sprints for the double hit of the stage win in Campbelltown and the overall race lead thanks to the 10 second time bonus. This was the moment the race was won.
Gerrans rode the perfect race. He even crashed in the right place, when he took a fall in Stirling it was in the closing metres so the three kilometre rule applied and he lost no time; more importantly he didn’t lose much skin either. All week long he was in the right place, taking intermediate sprints to collect the time bonuses and bagging two stage wins. This was achieved thanks to the efforts of his team with Daryl Impey especially visible at the crucial moments to toil so that Gerrans could stay fresh for the sprints.
Gerrans is a master of staying cool when things heat up. He waited as Richie Porte, Sergio Henao and Michael Woods attacked on the Corkscrew climb. A gamble but it paid off and meant when they sprinted into town he was fresher for the sprint and could win the day and collect the time bonuses. He won the next day in Victor Habor in a similar manner, sitting tight on the climb and before being dropped off for the sprint by Daryl Impey to take the stage and the time bonus.
Willunga Hill is the big summit finish but it’s not proving decisive thanks to the addition of other hilly stages. Richie Porte took his third stage win here in three years but it’s never been enough to win the race outright, as much as Porte can put daylight between himself and the rest on a longer climb he’s not able to snipe the bonus seconds elsewhere.
With Porte’s win, McCarthy’s stage win plus two each for Gerrans and Caleb Ewan Australian fans would have been waltzing with delight as the home nation took every stage, a feat that hasn’t happened since 2002. Is this good or a sign of trouble? It’s both plus a bit of luck, had Diego Ulissi won in Stirling it wouldn’t be such a talking point. It’s good as Australians make up a large share of the pro peloton now and they want to shine while the majority of Euro and US riders are still emerging from hibernation. It’s problematic if the race becomes the Australian stage race championships in the same way the Giro excites the Italians but struggles to lure others. There are hints the race will be paying teams in 2017 to send more star riders. But will they race hard? It’s one thing to bring the stars, another to get them in the mix. The January slot means peak now and there’s not much else to race for. This can’t be changed short of moving the race to February to encourage others to arrive in top shape knowing their form can be carried into other races. The UCI has tried behind the scenes this but seems to be settling on the January slot with UCI President Cookson saying “if that means that we start the WorldTour at the end of January than the beginning of February I think we can do that. I think we have to do that.” As said before the contrast with the Tour de San Luis is flagrant, the least the UCI could do is put San Luis on a week later to save TDU race boss Mike Turtur’s face after he’s paid for a premium event only to see a constellation of stars assembling in San Luis instead. The race is working well now with a variety of stage finishes, gone are the daily sprint finishes, now it’s worth waking up for in the middle of the night albeit because the final 10 minutes of every stage contain 90% of the action. The combination of spiky climbs near the finish and time bonuses works well to engineer the suspense for those watching on TV while the hub format of stages radiating like spokes out from Adelaide makes this a draw for many Australians.
The TV broadcast is a curiosity. Robbie McEwen seems to have the telescopic ability to see deep into the peloton and pick out riders and is a great asset. The oddest part is watching the Channel 9 livestream as it cuts away to native adverts for South Australian tourism voiced by Phil Liggett. Many places use a race to promote their region but the TDU’s TV seems to be a part of the race rather than the observation of it. Talking of images were there any on-board cameras? Velon’s Twitter account chirped one link to a Tinkoff-Saxo “behind the scenes” piece. Has the onboard camera revolution stalled?
The race brings its revelations. Caleb Ewan’s doesn’t count already won a stage in the Vuelta and plenty more although this hasn’t stopped many from “discovering” his economical, low sprinting style. There’s an old French cycling maxim that says “rends-toi petit pour devenir grand” which translates as “make yourself small to become great” and Ewan perfects this. If anything a stage win and a spell in ochre is the minimum expectation and the real test is whether he can do it on a wet Wednesday in Wevelgem. He’s got years to try.
Jay McCarthy got a breakthrough win in Stirling after some promising results over the past two seasons like a podium in the last Tour of Turkey. Michael Woods impressed too with his riding, sticking it to Richie Porte on the Corkscrew climb and not for the first time: Woods recounts on his blog last year’s Volta a Algarve when he got slapped him on the back: “I heard an Australian accented voice say ‘Great race yesterday.’ The voice belonged to Richie Porte” and if you look at the results for the day Porte was talking about Woods was among fine company on a fierce stage.
Stealth revelation is Lucas Hamilton, the youngest rider in the race and 14th on Willunga Hill after attacking halfway up the climb and there’s no fluking this kind of power. Chris Hamilton, no relation, and U23 Aussie Champion was 11th on Willunga too. It’s all very reminiscent of Jack Haig.
An entertaining race that’s now close to perfection when it comes to fulfilling its curtain raiser. It provides a sunny introduction to the season and a week of condensed action thanks to punchy arrivals and time bonuses. This is canned racing but it works as the early season introduction. It does point to the incoherence the World Tour with the stars in San Luis and the long wait until the next premium race in March.
After missing out last year Simon Gerrans is back and we’ll see what he does during the rest of the year, especially alongside Michael Matthews.