Tour Down Under Preview

The Tour Down Under resumes and there are some subtle changes from race organiser Stuart O’Grady who gets to run his first post-Covid event, in comes a prologue time time trial and out goes the Old Willunga summit finish.

As yet there’s no sign on social media of riders cuddling kangaroos so that looks like another tweak. Right now the women’s race is on and one more significant change is everyone is hosted in the Hilton Hotel, no dormitories for the women any more. Stage 3 today/tonight/tomorrow (Tuesday arvo for locals) is going to be the decisive showdown and features the Corkscrew climb in the final so if you want some action before the men’s race starts, tune in.

Prologue, Tuesday 17 January

A prologue, a novelty for the TDU. It’s road-bike only, no TT bikes because of the hassle of transporting them around the world only for a seven minute outing. The course has several corners as it works its way through the Oval park and along the river but it’s not as tricky as feared, riders can carry speed through the corners and most of the roads are wide, the toughest part looks to be the chicane-style bend towards the end.

  • Forecast finish: 8.30pm / 11.00am CET / 10.00am GMT / 05.00am EST

Stage 1, Wednesday 18 January

A trip through the Barossa vineyards and a likely sprint finish in Tanuda. As the profile shows it’s not flat so several will be interested in the mountains points on offer twice and Menglers Hill can be just enough to make life hard for some sprinters.

  • Forecast finish: 3.20pm / 05.50am CET / 04.50am GMT / D-1 11.50pm EST

Stage 2, Thursday 19 January

The coastal stage to Victor Harbor. The crossing of the Fleurieu Peninsula can cause trouble if the wind is up as it’s often on exposed scrubland. The race almost reaches the finish only to head out for a lap around Mount Billy and the Nettle Hill KoM point which is mainly on a big road north before turning at the top onto a backroad to go south and for the traditional finish in Victor Harbor, complete with the right bend-left bend in the final kilometre.

  • Forecast finish: 3.30pm / 06.00am CET / 05.00am GMT / D-1 midnight EST

Stage 3, Friday 20 January

On paper the decisive stage of the race with the Corkscrew climb. The approach to the climb matters a lot as the race thunders down a gorge where riders will scrap for position, a nest of nerves to see who can hold their place and not brake. The climb doesn’t take its name from the local wineries instead it’s got several hairpin bends, a rarity for South Australia and an obvious draw for local cyclists. It’s 3.7km long and the gradient hits 10% with the bends towards the top as an ideal place to shake off riders. There’s a fast, twisty descent into town and a flat finish.

  • Forecast finish: 2.30pm / 05.00am CET / 04.00am GMT / D-1 11.00pm EST

Stage 4, Saturday 21 January

The Willunga stage… only without Old Willunga Hill. There’s more vineyards and a likely sprint finish but watch out for any splits if there’s a breeze as the course changes direction abruptly making echelon-formation obvious and so creating a self-reinforcing phenomenon.

  • Forecast finish: 2.50pm / 05.20am CET / 04.20am GMT / D-1 11.20pm EST

Stage 5, Sunday 22 January

No Willunga summit finish, instead it’s a hilly circuit with five climbs of Mount Lofty which isn’t that mountainous nor lofty, it rises for about 1.5km, then levels out and dips briefly before kicking up to the line again, on average it’s 2km at 7% and all on a wide road, it’s hard to make a stand out attack. Still, the difference here is that the final stage is not about one final climb but instead the accumulation of effort and if someone like Michael Matthews or Daryl Impey is in the lead here, whether they can be distanced. The multiple laps bring close to 2,500m of vertical gain and ensure we get the GC contenders together to dispute the final.

  • Forecast finish: 2.30pm / 05.00am CET / 04.00am GMT / D-1 11.00pm EST

The race has time bonuses of 10-6-4 seconds for the first three on Stages 1-5. They’re crucial to the outcome of the race given the slender margins between the riders, plus there are 3-2-1 seconds at the intermediate sprints. The prologue this year will spread things out a touch though.

The Contenders
It’s always a difficult pick as the race is often finely balanced, a time bonus here, a split there and voila, there’s your top-10.

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Jayco-Al Ula have two riders to cover the two paths to victory in the race. Michael Matthews has won opening time trials before, can handle short hills and and bunch sprints alike so he can place and take time bonuses as often as possible, all with team motivated for the win made up of Australians who have been training for this moment. The Corkscrew climb is going to be a big test, and the final stage to Mount Lofty as well. Here’s where Simon Yates comes in, handy in a time trial especially if it’s got corners and changes in pace and he can handle himself in a sprint among a small group and he excels on the climbs.

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Ineos look like the big rival outfit. Ethan Hayter can do it all, from time trials to uphill sprints although his weakness can be scrapping for positions but we’re likely to see Geraint Thomas shepherding him down Cudlee and Kangaroo creek into the Corkscrew climbs. Luke Plapp is one rider whose form is a known quantity as he has just won the Australian road race title with a show of form and tactical sense while Magnus Sheffield capable of placing well in the prologue.

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UAE bring a good team but have they got the hustle? Jay Vine was a surprise winner of the Aussie TT championships, proof there’s a lot more to him than the uphill only specialist. George Bennett is suited to the climbing parts of the race, he might have to take some longer range risks with someone like Yates. New signing Michael Vink is also said to be in great shape and the likes of Marc Hirschi and Alessandro Covi ought to win big this year but might be in service of others this week.

On paper Max Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe) is the archetypal rider for this, great at short time trials, suited to punchy climbs, he’s won week-long stage races. But form’s unknown and just putting an end to the rotten luck of last year with injury, illness and mishap would be a booster. Jai Hindley a grand tour winner but how to scrap for the bonus seconds? Hard and he’s unlikely to just ride away.

Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) is a dark horse pick, form unknown and he’s won uphill finishes in the TDU before but jostling every day for time bonuses is harder work. Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën) is always up for having a go, expect him to try on the Corkscrew and again on Mount Lofty.

Daryl Impey (Israel-PremierTech) no local but another southern hemisphere rider who has been able to train all summer and he’s long been suited to this kind of race, he’s won the Corkscrew stage on his way to the overall win in 2019. But he’s 38 now and won’t have it so easy. Corbin Strong could be one to watch, the Kiwi rider’s a finisseur who might be able to learn from Impey.

Among others Paddy Bevin (DSM) crashed hard in the criterium race at the weekend, Simon Clarke (Israel-PremierTech) has been sick with Covid so their chances are down. Geraint Thomas has been ill of late too and he normally doesn’t sandbag so he’s probably on team duties. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain) is a crafty rider but form after time in the damp Basque Country is unknown. Soudal-Quickstep have some solid riders but who stands out? EF Education have Alberto Bettiol and new signing Mikkel Honoré but by now we’re trying to imagine scenarios where some riders whose form we don’t know might sneak away for a win…

Ethan Hayter, Michael Matthews
Simon Yates, Luke Plapp
Sheffield, Vine, O’Connor, Impey, Bennett, Hindley, Schachmann, Strong

TV: the local broadcaster is Channel 7 and its bogan offshoot 7 Two, with over four hours of coverage a day, including pre and post race chat… and a lot of ads. Sure bills have to be paid but outside Australia it’s on Eurosport/GCN in many countries with fewer ads, plus it’s on NBC Peacock in the US.

Note the finish times for each stage, they’re estimates as long as the wind isn’t blowing it’s been easy to tune for the final minutes of each day and catch most of the action.

43 thoughts on “Tour Down Under Preview”

  1. Thanks for the preview!
    Israel PT the only Pro team here – get a head start for those UCI points! Ineos & Jayco to fight it out for the GC is my guess.

  2. Great preview and really looking forward to the TDU after its COVID enforced break. Jay Vine’s amazing career trajectory to continue with a GC win is my prediction.

  3. Groome at the race. Even if expectations are low i will be interested to see how he goes. I don’t expect him to compete on uphill sprint finishes (even at his peak he was no good at these small climb finishes) and its the wrong part of the year for froome to be in top race form but if he gets dropped on the climb circuits it will be a bad sign.
    Nick Schulz seems to have signed to Isreal following the debacle of the folding team which is a good pick up for Isreal by another spot gone for Cav.

    • The first word is meant to be Froome. I will blame my eyesight.

      On a better note other than the first day at 38C the rest of the week had maximums of between 23 and 30C which is pretty lucky for Adelaide which can be much hotter at this time of the year and should not affect the race much.

      • And I can report from this evening that the only taste of real heat the men got on Prologue day would have been if they went out early in the day to clock up some base miles.

        The cool change came in well before the recon/warmup session opened.

  4. I am not normally into picking winners but I would be inclined to reverse the names that you have at three and two chainrings. No particular reason for preferring Plapp to Hayter but I definitely think Yates is a better bet over 5 days than Matthews.

  5. Not sure where you get the idea that Adelaide lacks hairpins, there’s heaps of climb in the hills that have them. The Corkscrew is more notable because there’s 4 corners very close together on the steepest part of the climb.

    • I can report on some automotive-themed news items at the race 😉

      1. Mitsubishi can proudly claim to be the official support vehicle for an Ineos Grenadier, as the team named after the dodgy Land Rover knockoff didn’t manage to source one of their own cars to use.

      2. Ag2r-Citroen are also using the standard Mitsubishi offered by the race organiser, which is a major blunder for one of only two teams with a car manufacturer among their naming rights sponsors.

      3. Jayco-AlUla did manage to get hold of a Citroen C5 X for use as a team support car, and a very sleek looking machine it is indeed. As with their previous use of Renault cars, the connection is probably linked to the supply of drivetrains for Jayco camper vans.

      4. Stuart O’Grady is a noted motoring enthusiast, and accordingly the race director’s car is a proper hot hatch from the Hyundai N range.

      • Was meant to be a new comment, not a reply!

        I believe that Corkscrew Road is unique in the Adelaide Hills for having four consecutive hairpin bends where no other surfaced road has any more than two in a row.

  6. Great review, was going to say typo in Stage 3 for Nest of nerves, thinking it should be Test of nerves but then I got wondering if there is a better description, for 100+plus brains in back pocket pro cyclists hammering down a twisty descent with scant regard for safety, than Nest. Sounds perfect to me!

    • With you on ‘nest of nerves’.
      Nest of vipers mashed with test of nerve. -perfect to describe a sinuous descent with a battle for position into the climb.
      Also think Jay Vine will be right at home and well motivated.

      There’s a famous youth stage race in Assen which has a ‘road bike TT’ where you see some fantastical definitions of what constitutes a road bike and road race helmet

    • I can see a justification for this in non-world tour races, since it levels the playing field for smaller teams that don’t have the budget to invest in extensive wind tunnel testing etc. For world tour races, though, I would disagree. Many of the top teams sign certain riders precisely because they are time trial specialists and can win TTs in big races. There’s a lot of investment in bikes, technology and coaching, not to mention the training hours put in by the riders. I don’t think throwing out all of that work makes much sense.

      • So much for the argument in favour of ITTs and them being ‘the race of truth’, if it’s actually all down to the bike being such an aero specialist bit of kit.
        No, I’d make more provision for ITTs on proper road bikes with homologated RR equipment AND I’d give commissaires a protractor to straighten up those levers so they are in line with the drops and not twisted in at crazy angles ( only half joking here, since brake/hoods like that can’t be ergonomic..)

        But hurrah for the UCI forcing team cars to keep back a minimum 25m. It was getting a bit ridiculous

      • And the time trial specialists will _still_ win the TTs, whether on TT bikes or road bikes.

        Really, what does it bring to the sport to force all the teams to spend twice on bikes? Nothing.

        It only benefits the bike manufacturers.

      • …an this hired TT riders can’t win on a real road bike? Beside the effects of saving costs for that investment in bikes, why not, or are you a bike industry pr guy?

    • The second that is the difference between the time bonuses for intermediate sprints, presumably?
      Did Hayter choose not to sprint or did he purposefully slow down or what?

      (Not everyone has watched the stage, you know, at least not yet. But possibly that is why you didn’t tell us more?)

      • He saw he was beaten on the left and sat up without looking to the right giving Matthews the opportunity to pass him on the line. Second intermediate sprint from memory which Corbin won.

    • After the time he shipped in stage 2 following a collision with Sheffield and being unable to get his chain back on, Matthews winning by 1 second will require taking back 2:06

  7. Do Caleb Ewan’s points count for lotto. If he was riding in a national team for the world champs or oceania champs i guess they would. But this is not a championship race and it’s not really a national team.

    • The Inner Ring was quicker to reply, but I might add that it was commented before the race that Lotto – Dstny had found a clever way to earn UCI points with no or very small expenses for the team.

      • It’s clever but at 60 points for a stage win, not too transformational or crafty for the team. I think the best thing for the team is that they have Ewan back to winning ways and racing in an event that suits him, it should give him confidence for the months to come and with this they’ll get a lot more points.

        • With 40 points yesterday for second, a possible chance for more points at Victor Harbor today and a proper sprint stage at Willunga (Town, not Hill) on Saturday, Caleb could be taking well over 100 points with him from this week.

          If Lotto had picked up an extra 100+ points here and there over the last three years they would have avoided relegation.

    • Very impressive ride from him, and a just reward for the effort that UAE put into driving the front half of the split peloton in the middle part of the stage.

      The red number for most competitive will be worn by Manuele Boaro tomorrow, but it should really be a red number on the back of the UAE team car.

  8. Race is sort of set up for a final stage shootout unless someone gets away.
    Bilbao or Yates need to win the final stage and get a time gap of 6 seconds. Hard but not impossible if they are good enough.
    The circuit has proven a success. Yes its early season and not the priority of the all the greatest cyclists on the planet but the circuit has produced small time gaps in the prologue and 2 late stage breakaway groups for the lead. Can’t hope for much more.
    Of course the telecast i am seeing on offical youtube channels which i presume is the same as everywhere else is a little lacking. Australian television stations actually have a long history of great coverage of sports and are on the forefront of technology and invitation. But cycling is a less than a minor sport that does not get coverage on commercial TV. Every year one of the stations thinks the 2 pro races in Jan is high profile enough they better get it but without the background they just don’t know how to do it properly. Strange camera choices, no time gaps etc. Its really hard to follow the action and the end of the race.

    • +1 for O’Grady getting the formula right. Also agree on the coverage but the single worst thing for me is the definition (or rather lack of it). It feels as though it is bad for my eyes watching it.

      • I agree about the work of O’Grady (and the Associate Race Directors – Annette Edmonson and Carlee Taylor) who has been building up to this for a while now. He used the two years of domestic racing to trial a number of things in readiness for when the UCI would put the TDU back on the international calendar, such as starting a men’s NRS stage at Mt Lofty last year to test the logistics plan for what would become tomorrow’s stage finish.

        The coverage issue is a challenging one.

        After Ten had the coverage in the first couple of years, SBS then took over but wasted the opportunity by only showing the final stage live with other stages reduced to a short highlights package. They always did a good job of showing the final stage, but one stage isn’t enough.

        SBS were called on by the state government to lift their game and the response was pathetic – they increased their live offering to a grand total of *TWO* stages.

        The state government (race owner) then put the TV rights out to tender with the tender specifying that all stages must be covered live. That leads to where we are now having had a number of multi-year deals, won the first time by Nine (SBS didn’t even put in a bid) and twice by Seven (unknown if SBS bidder for it either time).

        To get this right I think the “host broadcaster” should be an external contractor, with the primary “station” being the internet rather than a legacy TV network. If a TV network does want it, they would just get to simulcast the digital HD stream and put their own ads on top rather than taking the lead on organising the whole coverage.

  9. Your assessment of Channel 7 is very fitting, to the point it’s almost unwatchable. Thanks for the preview Mr. Rng, it’s great to have the Australian racing back on!

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