Tour Down Under GC battle looms at Paracombe: ‘One of the hardest stages the TDU has seen’

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ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – The 2017 Santos Tour Down Under gets underway on Tuesday with a sprinter-friendly stage from Unley to Lyndoch, but it’s on the following day that the race really begins.

On stage 2 the riders will cover 148.5km from Stirling to Paracombe in a race widely regarded as the tour’s queen stage. The steep 1.6km ramp to the finish in Paracombe is challenging enough, but it’s the tough kilometres that precede it that have most people talking. Former TDU winner Cameron Meyer (UniSA-Australia) described the stage as “probably one of the hardest stages that the Tour Down Under has seen”.

The stage begins with the difficult and now-familiar Stirling circuit, a 21.1km loop normally used to end TDU stages, before taking in more climbing on its way north towards Paracombe – the site of a stage finish in 2015.

“We’ve got five Stirlings, to go over the top of Mt Lofty, and also up the Gorge beforehand, so it’s a different race,” said Rohan Dennis (BMC) ahead of the 2017 TDU. “In 2015 it wasn’t that hard a course and it was a downhill run into [the final climb] so you [could] come into it a bit fresher and not be that pure climber to win.”

Dennis won on that day in 2015, bolting to victory on the final ramp to Paracombe ahead of team leader Cadel Evans. He would go on to win the tour overall.

Two years on, the Paracombe stage has had a facelift, making it considerably harder. This time around the run into the final climb is largely uphill — almost 10km of climbing before a short downhill and then the final ramp to the line.

There are two schools of thought about how the stage might play out.

“If the race is going really, really hard, it’s good for the climbers,” said Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) ahead of the TDU’s opening stage. “Not just for me but also [Sergio] Henao, Richie [Porte], or for the other climbers. But if the race is going normal, one breakaway and a little bit easy … it’s more for the sprinter guys.”

It’s no coincidence that Chaves is on the startline at this year’s Tour Down Under. While the short climbs and sprint finishes of the Tour Down Under typically suit his teammate and four-time winner Simon Gerrans, the additional climbing on stage 2 might put the race out of the Australian’s grasp in 2017. The Colombian, by contrast, is right at home on the longer climbs.

Regardless of how the stage plays out, there’s a feeling among the riders and team staff that it will go a long way to shaping the race’s general classification. And for teams with several GC options, it will be the Paracombe stage that determines who the team decides to ride for.

“Stage 2 is going to change pretty much everything,” said UniSA-Australia sports director Brad McGee. “Athletes will either be in it, or not. And I think a reassessment will come not only from UniSA on Wednesday night, but for all the teams that are here.”

Orica-Scott director sportif Matt White offered a similar analysis.

“The changes to the second stage into Paracombe make it the new queen stage and we will have a pretty good idea of how the field is going at the end of it,” he said. “The Willunga stage will still be where the Tour Down Under is won or lost, but by the time we arrive at this day the general classification situation will be a lot clearer.”

So what will the general classification look like after stage 2 of the 2017 Tour Down Under? And will the leader at that point be the winner of the race overall? We don’t have long to find out and regardless of how it turns out, there’s sure to be some thrilling bike racing ahead.

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