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Tour Done Under 15 Minutes

The Tour Down Under was enjoyable but it was over in a flash. I enjoy it, it’s literally the only race I’ll get out of bed to watch. But it’s also the same race where I know I can be back in bed in 15 minutes, post-race interviews and on-screen top-10 results included. This year was no exception. Can we have some more please?

You can’t pick the winner confidently but you can write the day’s script. A move goes clear, a rider from the Australian team will try to take the mountains points before it’s back together, the stage ends in a sprint, be it a bunch sprint or an uphill one. Variation? Well the Corkscrew Road climb has been exciting as it’s seen moves go and try to stay away; but coming with 6km to go it’s still all about the finale; ditto Fox Creek Road this year which was exciting but again with the action saved for the final ten minutes. Sprint finishes are fine, Bora-hansgrohe’s lead out train was impressive. It was a thrill to see Isaac Del Toro take a win; but once in a while it’d be exciting if an earlier move looked like it might stick, that moments of suspense lasted longer.

It’s very rare for a long range breakaway to make it, think Will Clarke’s 140km move in 2012; more recently Jay Vine did split things up in 2023 with a move with 22km on the stage to Victor Harbor. Seeing a stage win unfold with more than ten minutes to go is rare, even having a move caught after a nail-biting chase is rare

For those proud Australians taking this as criticism of the race, it is of sorts. But this is because I’d like to see more, it’s like a diner complaining about a restaurant by saying the food is good but the portions are tiny. Give me a feast, compel me to set my alarm much earlier, to watch more of the Tour Down Under, to enviously spend hours admiring the South Australian countryside. At least for one stage in the week.

So, what about Milan-Sanremo or all those other races?
Whatabouttery doesn’t make the Tour Down Under any better. But of course there are other predictable races. To pre-empty comments, yes Australians could set alarm clocks for the Poggio and catch plenty yet surely there wouldn’t be the same infusion of adrenaline. Sure there can be days grand tours which are very predictable but the point is there are other days with end to end action too. And the Flèche Wallonne is once a year.

The TDU was once a glorified training camp when riders would spin in the sun during the day and then sip or even sluice Shiraz in the evenings, but those days are gone as the regular road rash from riders fighting for position shows. The sport has changed too, everyone starts their season ready to race and bag precious UCI points. Long-range moves happen in the early season too, take Neilson Powless’s win in the GP La Marseillaise last January, going in the breakaway with an hour to go and spending the final 10 minutes dangling solo.

Easier said than done
So what to do? The peloton can’t contrive to put on a longer show and create suspense. But the course can help. A mountain mid-stage could blow the race to pieces but the last time I checked there aren’t any. More climbing has been tried but laps of Willunga or Lofty haven’t split the race up, it’s just made the final sprint finish more selective and that’s fine as it means the eventual overall winner satisfies us as the best rider. But it’s still action for the last six minutes. A longer stage could be tested, the increased distance of say, 180km one day. might play on the mind and legs alike and break the psychological pattern, the established script but it’s not certain.

In the other direction the prologue was an innovation last year but the race can’t have a full time trial stage because this would mean flying out two time trial bikes and various wheels, all for 20-30 minutes per rider and this logistical cost-benefit ratio usually explains why some races have road bike only TTs. Besides it’s not gripping TV as TT stages are rarely a success when it comes to ratings but at least we’d tune in earlier in order to be certain of watching the winning ride.

GRVL?
Maybe a gravel stage could spice things up and boost ratings? It’s feasible too given the Adelaide Hills abound with plenty of good gravel choices (areas with vineyards often do because they have gravelly soils and farm tracks). Indeed this year’s Tour Down Under had its own gravel ride, a test event for the future? These things have happened in other races before, the Strade Bianche tempted the Giro d’Italia into holding gravel stages; the Tour de France Femmes went to Troyes in 2022 for its gravel stage with the men’s race having gravel stage in Troyes next summer. But like a time trial stage there’s a logistics problem, it could mean bringing out more wheels and even special gravel bikes given manufacturers might insist their riders show off the appropriate model. So not easy either. But just as a prologue TT happens on road bikes only, maybe two or three gravel portions could feature. Put them at 40km from the finish and the final hour might be compelling and even if they are the gentlest sections the “anything could happen” aspect might lure more viewers.

Conclusion
I want more of the TDU not less. I’m already happy to get out of bed at four in the morning and sit in the freezing darkness to see the bright new peloton amid the verdant vineyards of the Adelaide Hills. But the problem is I can get up for the Tour Down Under and be back under the down blanket in 15 minutes and presumably viewers in Australia aren’t hooked for hours either.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Steve Monday, 22 January 2024, 7:30 pm

    I agree with our host! I love the TDU but I’d love to see more varied action. Not a big fan of ITTs in stage races but the gravel stage or stages sounds like it could be a big hit. Anyway, Oscar Onley on whom I have my eye for the future really showed his class here and the Welsh and Scottish wins were great to see in a race that until recently belonged to the Aussies almost entirely.

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 22 January 2024, 8:53 pm

      First northern hemisphere winner in a decade since T-J Slagter as it happens, because if it didn’t belong to the Aussies then Impey of South Africa got it.

  • BC Monday, 22 January 2024, 7:36 pm

    All valid points INRNG, but we fail to remember when the season started in the South of France where the races were treated primarily as training races. Now all but extinct.
    The world has become a smaller place. Australia and the far east have become centres for early season racing. Mainly because of the weather. If you look at the results in Australia, it is good to see young riders with potential making a name for themselves. BUT having said all that, I agree some more demanding stages with opportunities for early escapes would certainly help provide extra excitement and entertainment.

  • Albert Monday, 22 January 2024, 8:42 pm

    Maybe the parcourse is fine but if teams sent more of their top riders then the riders would make the race more exciting?

    • The Inner Ring Monday, 22 January 2024, 8:55 pm

      Possibly but we have races with weaker fields but still more suspense and drama. But yes, Pogačar could dynamite the race although it’s one thing to pay them to show up, another to have them in peak form as we maybe saw with Alaphilippe, he was competitive but not at his best but time will tell if he can reach this.

  • brent Monday, 22 January 2024, 9:05 pm

    Good summary. It seemed to me that the course was less selective this year then the previous few. In the first few years of the race it was simply a sprint for each stage but they learnt and progressed it. My memory might be hazy but i thought they normally have at least one stage before the weekend which gets rid of the chaff.
    Perhaps the standard and fitness of the riders was greater then normal this year and this made the course to easy. Since the stages are short they need a couple of hard 100 km stages which are hard from start to finish. The race just needs that little more to make it much better.
    The purse strings are controlled by a state gov who possibly cares little about the spectacle and has other goals.

  • D Evans Monday, 22 January 2024, 9:12 pm

    I don’t see anything wrong with road bike TTs, (indeed I would be in favour of them generally). Why can”t the TDU have a full TT stage using road bikes? It would save on the costs and logistics, and possibly open up the race.

    • Larry T Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 9:16 am

      “Why can”t the TDU have a full TT stage using road bikes?”
      I’ve been asking WTF all the stage races can’t just use road bikes for chrono? The tri-jock versions they sell to the punters are no longer the same and how many UCI-legal ones can they possibly sell? Who buys them? If/when someone gets killed on one of these silly, useless contraptions (like Kung could have) perhaps then they’ll ditch them for good?

      • Tovarishch Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 10:20 am

        Time trialling below Wold Tour level is actually quite popular. For example the German Nationals attracted about 120 entrants, the UK similar. I think you underestimate the demand for TT bikes.

        • UHJ Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 10:49 am

          Still doesn’t detract from the fact that TT-bikes is an artificially “created market” section. If they were non-existent, nobody would notice and TTs would be ridden on regular road bikes.
          TT bikes are basically not safe to ride at the velocities they attain but it is done nevertheless, just look at Kung’s accident and in his own words, he didn’t see where he was going.
          Rides these bikes as fixies on the track and keep them off the road.
          This is before discussing the economic and practical consequences for teams if they could reduce mechanics and equipment with – let’s say – 25-30 %. Or the hours spent at UCI HQ/Race Start defining the constraints and enforcing them.
          I’d say, quite a lot is in favour of getting rid of the specialised TT bike but manufacturers aren’t easily pursuaded 😉

        • Larry T Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 10:59 am

          Chrono bikes have got to be a tiny fraction of sales compared to all the other categories a maker offers unless they cater to the triathlon market and those are not UCI legal so again….why?
          Those 120 Germans would likely see the same results if every one of ’em rode a standard type road bike….just as happens in the various stage races where they are not allowed.

          • Cd Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 6:32 pm

            TT bikes barely sell. I can’t imagine the bike companies are so eager to continue the R&D expense of TT bikes just to give most of them away to pro teams, particularly now that they have diverged from Tri bikes. Even TTers don’t like them (see Kung). The sport needs to go back to road bike TT’s.

          • Paul J Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 11:33 am

            Completely agree the TT rigs need to disappear from road stage races. Just use the road bikes.

            Even in Britain – which has a fairly strong amateur TT scene – there’s been a movement to encourage more TTing on ordinary road bikes, with many TTs now having a road bike category.

          • DaveRides Friday, 26 January 2024, 10:49 am

            Mike Turtur (previously the TDU Race Director and President of the UCI Track Commission) wrote to the UCI Road Commission every year asking for UCI regulations governing Road Bike TTs to be introduced so as to allow non-European races to have TT stages without all the extra freight of TT-specific equipment, and it never happened.

            It would seem there is quite strong support for TT bikes among certain stakeholders in the sport.

            Regarding TT bikes and Tri bikes, once you get away from the handful of Olympic level competitors in each country it’s quite common for them to be riding UCI TT frames with UCI labels (potentially built up with non-UCI seat posts and handlebars) or Tri-specific frames which are essentially UCI TT frames with extra fairings added.

        • George Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 7:10 pm

          I think you’re confusing the popularity of TTs with the demand for these special bikes. There’s no reason the same time trials couldn’t be held on normal road bikes.

          • George Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 7:12 pm

            That was in reply to Tovarishch above.

          • Tovarishch Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 10:07 am

            I’d prefer to hear the opinion of those who go out every weekend in Britain to take part in 10, 20 and 50 mile TTs. Would they be happy to replace their specialist equipment with road bikes?

          • Big Rouleur Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 11:27 am

            I race TT’s but not every weekend, and am so not the most dedicated hard core TTer, but I am actually thinking of selling my TT bike and moving to race in the road bike category when I do a TT.

            Variety of reasons for looking to move to the road bike category, including the arms race in the TT category, the safety aspect (very windy where I live, so riding on the ski’s can be sketchy at times), and I can save some space by clearing out a TT bike and using my existing road bikes.

          • THT Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 3:06 pm

            I apparently can’t reply to Tovarishch’s below question, and therefore I am writing it here: As an active amateur TTer, I very much prefer doing this on my TT bike. As for the claim that it is unsafe, I am not aware of any accident in recent years in the UK that would have been prevented by the rider using a road bike. Kung’s crash is a matter of the riding position and not of the bike. Both road bikes and TT bikes require a set of rules to discourage riders from unsafe riding. For TT bikes, one example is the (poorly enforced) rule in the UK that heads-down riding leads to disqualification; for road bikes, it is the new UCI rules on the angle of the hoods.

      • NB Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 1:33 pm

        Ok Larry, Kung could have been killed, if that’s your metric for safety then road bikes should be banned already surely as how many riders have died on those compared to a time trial specific bike?

        How far down this route do you want to go, no corners, no descents no sprints, no climbs, no group riding?

        • George Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 8:36 pm

          With respect, you do seem to have missed the point somewhat.

          • NB Thursday, 25 January 2024, 2:11 pm

            How is pointing out where Larry’s assertion of, “If/when someone gets killed on one of these silly, useless contraptions (like Kung could have) perhaps then they’ll ditch them for good?”, falls on its arse missing the point?

            Playing that terribly flawed initial point through it’s next logical steps was being facetious, though it’s coloured by many more incidents like Casartelli, Kivilev, Mader, Jackobson, Evenapoel, Jalabert, Beloki.

    • Ferdi Thursday, 25 January 2024, 11:18 am

      I also second getting rid of TT-specific bikes in pro races. They only make the sport more logistically expensive, and they add nothing to the racing quality. It could be argued that they even detract.
      By the way, I have also been always a defender of cyclocomputer-free time trialling, as it really affects the nature of the exercise. To those who say it changes nothing, I’d ask why is then used at all.

  • Paul Monday, 22 January 2024, 9:53 pm

    There are 2-3 long climbs in Adelaide that can make the race much harder. There are a few problems though. Getting to climbs means going through the eastern suburbs a blocking off roads with lots of residents which SAPol and councils have been wary of. Also Mike Turtur used to always say the teams don’t want a particularly hard race and the Adelaide heat can unpredictable. Today is going to be 41 degrees so that can be dangerous for thousand of spectators. The improvements I would include are things like a third lap of Willunga, two laps of the Corkscrew, a Greenhill rd to Lofty finish and getting rid of the Barossa stages. Now that the Lofty finish has been shown to work and moving the criterium to Saturday might belie Stuey’s future intentions of a harder summit finish and an extra stage on the Monday.

  • 150 Watts Monday, 22 January 2024, 10:36 pm

    All of your observations are sound but I don’t know what they can do about it. In South Australia they are constrained by geography and, as mentioned above, possible 40 deg days. As it is they have at least improved it from just a sprinter’s/snipers race (Griepel, Gerrans).
    You have let Jayco off the hook though for killing a stage and possibly the race as a whole.
    I was looking forward to the Sun Tour to see some climbing but that seems to have died un-Heralded.

  • DJW Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 8:10 am

    It’s always enjoyable to see some new names come to the fore with several surprise faces in the GC top ten. The real surprise for me was Bart Lemmen who I had expected to find a fresh-faced youngster but see as 28 having apparently been a late starter with Volker Wessels in 1992. I’ll be curious to see how he follows it up, and also whether Williams can now find some consistency in an injury-plagued career.

    • THT Friday, 26 January 2024, 4:19 pm

      I agree, Lemmen was a big surprise to me as well. I still don’t really know his story, but it must be an unusual one. I am certainly curious to see how the rest of the season will pan out for him. (As for Volker Wessels and 1992, I suspect you meant 2022…)

  • Larry T Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 9:12 am

    “The TDU was once a glorified training camp when riders would spin in the sun during the day and then sip or even sluice Shiraz in the evenings, but those days are gone as the regular road rash from riders fighting for position shows.”
    Crashing proves what again? More important races have more crashing than lesser ones? I have no real problem with a “glorified training camp”…it’s F__KING January! When it comes to your dining analogy, more isn’t always better and IMHO TdU is OK as-is, though I will admit to paying it little attention as I know when the real racing season begins.

    • Lee Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 9:48 am

      Larry – is it tiring to get so angry about everything?

      • Larry T Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 11:03 am

        Why does questioning an opinion or asking questions = angry? Was it the “It’s F__KING January!” part that…made you…angry? 🙂

  • 150 Watts Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 10:27 am

    Crashing is not training … normally.

    • Larry T Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 1:24 pm

      Crashing is not training … normally.
      But plenty of crashes happen in training, just as in racing so using road rash as a measure of how competitive or less of a “glorified training camp” TdU is these days seems kind of silly IMHO.

  • spicelab Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 12:08 pm

    Adelaide simply lacks the parcours for a selective race.

    My idealistic fantasy is that the Tour of Bright or Tour of Tasmania can someday be elevated to World Tour status

    • brent Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 1:10 am

      You don’t really need mountains to be selective. Think flanders, roubaix or any number of hard races. Even in the area they complete this race there is lots of hills. But you need to be willing and capable of zig zagging through the country side like one of those classics in order to go from one to the next. I doubt the race has the budget or will to do this. Its not the first hill of flanders that does the damage its the 15th. But its hard and expensive to set up such a circuit and the race would get spread all over the place. Especially in Australia where every corner will need a traffic plan, police and several qualified traffic management people.
      If you had a 100 km race that zig zagged from hill to hill it could be one of the best stages of the year. 2 or 4 hills in the last 10 – 30 km won’t have the same affect.

    • Paul Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 4:13 am

      Adelaide could easily hold a race as hard as Il Lombardia and with much more variety than the Tour of Bright.

  • 150 Watts Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 12:20 pm

    It won’t happen without local support and the ace that Adelaide holds is that the locals come out and support the TDU.
    The Sun Tour has disappeared and the last time that I looked the Tour of Tasmania is only 3 days.

    • spicelab Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 1:31 am

      You are of course right but a boy can dream!

  • Cd Tuesday, 23 January 2024, 6:35 pm

    What I did love about the TDU was the immediate interviews of race winners. They had them within the minute of finishing. Otherwise the racing is pretty boring but I’ll take anything at this point in the season.

  • Nick Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 2:52 pm

    Why dsn’t GRVL hv vwls?

    • Steve Wednesday, 24 January 2024, 5:42 pm

      Gravel is too cool for vowels (apparently).

  • RQS Thursday, 25 January 2024, 2:40 pm

    Probably too late to zap, but “pre-empty”? Sounds like you want violence. I presume “pre-empt” is what you mean.

  • Kev Friday, 26 January 2024, 6:59 am

    Re TDU, perhaps an option (uci regulations, permitting) would be to open the race with a short fast prologue 4-5 km in the early evening, and then a opening fantastic road stage, with an uphill finish, that’s not just a few laps of Wilunga.
    They could even throw in a nod to past Australian stage races, by having 2 stages in one day – road stage in the morning and team time trial, in the afternoon.
    I’ve often thought the Tour de France, should have a Roubaix stage, and a team time trial, in the final week.
    It would ensure riders aren’t “thtoen away” in the mountains for GC & kept in the race for the TTT…..

    Who knows …..

    • DaveRides Friday, 26 January 2024, 10:04 am

      Nice theories, but according to the current UCI Regulations …

      1. Half-stages contested on the same day are currently prohibited for WorldTour level races.

      2. TTT is only allowed in the first third of a stage race.

      • DaveRides Friday, 26 January 2024, 10:26 am

        And as I understand it, the ‘Road Bike Prologue’ the TDU had for the first time last summer was backed only by a gentleman’s agreement and the race organisation only paying for two bikes per rider to be shipped, not by actual regulations.

        If teams had paid themselves to bring extra TT frames, or if Australian riders like Plapp or Durbridge had brought them to Adelaide after Nationals, they could have been used in last year’s TDU prologue.

        With his greater experience in the administrative side of the sport (including being President of the UCI Track Commission) the previous TDU Race Director Mike Turtur was less convinced that a gentleman’s agreement for a Road Bike TT would actually work. He wrote a letter to the UCI Road Commission every year requesting that Road Bike TT regulations be created for use at the discretion of stage race organisers, but this is still not the case.

  • Eduards Friday, 26 January 2024, 11:23 am

    Would pure gravel stage be exiting enough? I mean, like teams taking dedicated bikes and such, but would spectatator benefit from it, or would it still be road race in dust? (or mud, if unlucky) I dont mean sectors of gravel, but like 90% gravel course.

    • Ferdi Saturday, 27 January 2024, 4:14 pm

      The crucial variable is speed. The less speed, the less advantage of slipstreaming, the more chances that attacking and riding nose in the wind can be successful, and the more incentive to attacking. So, basically, anything that reduces speed (and slipstreaming advantage and group riding) contributes to an exciting show. Anything. It can be much longer distances (you just can’t do 400km at the same speed that you do 130km), lots of up and downs and bends, restricted bicycle material, and yes, dragging and unpredictable surfaces ,of course. Gravel does belong in road cycling. It always did, from the very beginning, and more and more as bikes get faster. The idea that some in the pro ranks seem to entertain, of 3 hour-exercises of collective high-speed drafting over ultra-smooth surfaces on top-notch all-carbon bicycles, resolved in an ultra-dangerous positioning + sprint, is completely crazy, utterly unappealing and impossible to admire. It is cycling at it most self-destructive, Festina-scandal level.

  • MattF Sunday, 28 January 2024, 3:49 am

    You’ve nailed it here Inrng. The TDU is incredibly formulaic and, consequently, non-selective and boring. I say that as an Adelaide resident. However, the Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu Peninsula abound with awesome gravel roads, in various stages of maintenance of course. Surely Stuart O’Grady could include some of these roads to spice things up? Ascents or flat sections are pretty benign on gravel, for example. Most road bikes have plenty of room now for 30mm tyres and that’s all you’d need. It seems that Tiffany Cromwell and Valteri Bottas might be showing him the way.