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by Matt de Neef
January 26, 2015
The Santos Tour Down Under is over for another year with Rohan Dennis (BMC) having been crowned the victor after a spirited week of riding. Here, in no particular order, are 10 things we’ll take from the race; the first WorldTour race of the 2015 season.
The TDU mightn’t have the Tour de San Luis’ long summit finishes, but it’s no less exciting
Even though the Tour Down Under is a WorldTour race, the UCI 2.1 Tour de San Luis in Argentina — held at the same time — is arguably the race of choice for the big-name stars at this time of year.
The Tour de San Luis is certainly more reminiscent of the longer stage races on the calendar, thanks to a time trial and several long mountain climbs — neither of which the Tour Down Under has. But that doesn’t mean the racing at TDU hasn’t been exciting.
The Torrens Hill Road climb on stage 3 was less than two kilometres long, but that was enough to create a thrilling finale featuring the big names of the race. Rohan Dennis’ come-from-behind attack was thrilling to watch and, ultimately, it was the move that won the race overall.
The race’s queen stage, featuring two ascents of Willunga Hill, was equally dramatic. That particularly climb might only be 3.5km from top to bottom, but few would question the excitement the race produced on Saturday. Porte’s ballsy attack was no surprise — he had to go if he wanted to win the TDU — but it was no less thrilling for the fact we knew it was coming.
Jack Bobridge is back
He’s had a couple of ordinary seasons in the WorldTour — he admits that himself — but after returning to Australia to race at the Continental level with Budget Forklifts, Jack Bobridge is back.
Ahead of his tilt at the hour record next week Bobridge was keen to be selected in the UniSA-Australia national team for the Tour Down Under, in order to get in a good final hit-out. He was selected, had a good hit-out and then some.
Bobridge didn’t just win the opening stage, after surviving in the day-long breakaway, he went on to wear the ochre leader’s jersey for two days. He also got himself into another two impressive breakaways, the last of which, a gutsy long-range tilt at the Willunga KOM on stage 5, saw him secure the KOM jersey.
Bobridge helped lead UniSA-Australia to its best showing at the Tour Down Under in years while building some great form in the process. Getting into several long breakaways was probably a perfect lead-in to the hour record attempt on Saturday. Looking further ahead, it’s hard to see Bobridge not featuring heavily at the National Road Series events he takes part in this season.
Bonus seconds continue to decide the TDU
The Tour Down Under is a race that’s normally decided by just a handful of seconds and the 2015 edition was no exception, with Rohan Dennis winning the race by just two seconds. Simon Gerrans won by one second over Cadel Evans last year and in 2012 Gerrans won on a countback after finishing on the same time as Alejandro Valverde.
The issue of bonus seconds is always a contentious one in bike racing and Richie Porte might feel like he’s fallen foul of the system this year. If there had been no time bonuses on offer, Porte would likely have won the race overall. But time bonuses were available, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The benefit of having time bonuses on offer at stage finishes and intermediate sprints is that it encourages more aggressive and therefore more exciting racing. Rather than sitting in and riding for time, GC contenders are encouraged to go for stage wins and contest the intermediate sprints. That can only be a good thing for the fans.
Cycling can be a brutal sport
If you’ve watched any amount of bike racing you’ll know that crashes are part and parcel of the sport. They’re an occupational hazard that all professionals will fall foul of at some point — a handful of times a year in all likelihood.
Even knowing that, it’s still horrible to see a pile-up occur, particularly when the riders are nudging 70km/h in a final sprint. Stage 4 of this year’s Tour Down Under saw one such crash, with spectacular results. Bikes, parts of bikes and bodies went flying all directions.
Four abandoned the race that night as a result of the crash, including Drapac’s Travis Meyer who was reportedly back in great form after a horrible crash in training late last year.
It’s a beautiful sport, but it sure can be brutal too.
Rohan Dennis is the real deal
We’ve always known that Dennis was going to be a world-class time-trialist, and his win in the Tour of Alberta a few years back showed he’s no slouch at defending a GC lead either. But last week, Dennis, riding in the shadow of his soon-to-be-retired teammate Cadel Evans, showed another string to his bow.
Dennis has never been a terrible climber but to see him outclimb Evans, Domenico Pozzovivo and everyone else in the race except Richie Porte, shows that Dennis is a more well-rounded rider than we might have given him credit for.
Sure, the climbs of the Tour Down Under might only be short, and sure, the likes of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Joaquim Rodriguez weren’t in attendance, but Dennis’ performance still shouldn’t be sneezed at. Combine Dennis’ exceptional time-trialling ability with a few more years’ spent developing his climbing and Rohan Dennis could be a real contender in the longer stage races, if not the Grand Tours.
As Richie Porte alluded to at the end of stage 5, Dennis has another quality that makes him a great future prospect: just like a certain Tour de France-winning teammate, Rohan Dennis is a fighter.
Cadel Evans will be missed, but Aussie cycling is in phenomenal hands
You only needed to be at the Australian Road Nationals or the TDU in the last two years to see just how much support Cadel Evans enjoys on home soil. For many Australians, Evans is likely the only Aussie cyclist they could name, and for fans of the sport, Evans has played a nearly unequalled role in putting Australian road cycling on the map.
There’s little doubt Cadel will be missed when he hangs up his bike after the race named in his honour next Sunday. But the news is far from bad. Thankfully there’s an incredible crop of young Australian talent rising through ranks and ensuring Australia continues to punch well above its weight on the world scene.
Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte are the obvious names that come to mind. Much too has been written about the promise of Jack Haig and Robert Power, and that’s not to take anything away from Alex Edmondson and Miles Scotson. All four rode in the UniSA-Australia team this week and will only be stronger for the experience.
Beyond the riders of this week’s TDU there’s also the likes of Caleb Ewan, about whom much has been written and prophesied in recent years. The future of Australian road cycling is more than bright.
Live on-board camera vision can’t come soon enough
In the past 12 months we’ve grown accustomed to seeing great footage from on-board cameras, albeit after the racing has finished. The footage Jeremy Roy has been posting from the Tour Down Under is a perfect case in point.
But the next step, and one that’s being worked on at the moment, is being able to use on-board cameras as part of a live broadcast. There are still some technological hurdles to overcome but it seems inevitable that we’ll get there shortly. Hell, motorsport has been doing it for years.
Being able to watch the final stages of a race from inside the race will add another dimension to the viewing experience. Bring it on.
Steele von Hoff proves he’s still WorldTour worthy
What better way to respond to being dropped by a WorldTour team than by winning a bunch of races straight away? Steele von Hoff not only won the Australian criterium title for the second year running in early January, he came out on stage 4 of the Tour Down Under last week and took a thrilling sprint victory in the UniSA-Australia colours.
Unlike last year, where von Hoff was only able to wear the green and gold bands of the national champion in a couple of crits, he’ll get plenty of opportunities in 2015. Von Hoff is riding for the Continental team NFTO which will spend much of its year racing the British criterium circuit.
If von Hoff’s early-season form is anything to go by, the former boiler-maker should have a great year. And if he does, there’s no reason he can’t make the leap back up to the WorldTour in 2016. There’s little doubt he’s got the talent to do so.
Wouter Wippert is destined for a big 2015
I wrote this list before the final stage of the Tour Down Under and it was clear by then that Wouter Wippert was on the cusp of something big. His week began with a third place in the People’s Choice Classic criterium and when he followed that up with third on stage 4, victory didn’t seem far away.
It’s been a great week for Wouter Wippert with two third-places and now a win. It’s going to be a big year for the Dutchman.
Sure enough, on the final stage of the TDU, Wippert timed his sprint perfectly and took the biggest win of his career.
Wippert had a great year in 2014, claiming eight of Drapac’s 11 UCI victories, and he’s started 2015 in menacing fashion and will likely take many more scalps as the year progresses.
UniSA outperformed almost every other team in the race
UniSA-Australia’s raison d’être at the Tour Down Under is normally to get in the breakaway each day — to be visible throughout the race — and to give younger riders on the team some experience riding at a WorldTour level. Riders on the team report being given little respect within the peloton and the WorldTour teams are less likely to let the national team riders move freely around the bunch.
But when Jack Bobridge won the opening stage, things changed. No longer was UniSA-Australia making up the numbers; it was leading the bike race.
Sure, the team’s two stage wins at the race came courtesy of proven WorldTour riders in Bobridge and Steele von Hoff. And sure, there’s an argument to suggest that the national team should be used to give emerging riders a feel for racing at the WorldTour level, rather than supporting more experienced riders whose teams aren’t in attendance.
But there’s little doubt von Hoff and Bobridge earned the spots on their team. More than that, there’s something thrilling about seeing an underdog team win a couple of stages, lead the bike race and outshine almost all of the WorldTour squads in attendance. Chapeau.