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There’s a beautiful unpredictability to the Tour Down Under. A certain chaos borne out of the fact it’s the first WorldTour race of the year.
Riders are trying to reacquaint themselves with the rigours of racing, new teams are trying to learn how to work together, and lead-out trains are still trying to find their groove. And then there’s the question of form: who’s got it, who hasn’t, which Europeans have adapted well to the Aussie summer, who from the Southern Hemisphere is peaking in January?
Throw in today’s tricky uphill sprint, plus a crash inside the final kilometre, and you have all the ingredients for a surprising result.
“I don’t think anyone was really picking that; I wasn’t picking that,” said stage 2 winner Paddy Bevin. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a good run at a bunch sprint.
“But for me I did a lot of work in the off-season with the time trialling, with the power, simplifying what I was doing and obviously it’s working because I was floating around that finish thinking ‘Man, I’ve got some legs here and I’m going to get a run at the line and let’s see how this uphill sprint goes.’
It went pretty well. Well enough for Paddy Bevin to take his first WorldTour victory.
That’s twice in two days the 27-year-old Kiwi has taken us by surprise. On stage 1 it was a daring breakaway to snag five bonus seconds that livened up the TDU’s GC battle. On stage 2, a powerful long-range uphill sprint that consigned Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) to the lower steps of the podium.
But really, Bevin’s sprint victory shouldn’t have come as a surprise. His ProCyclingStats profile might show a rider with his best results against the clock but make no mistake: Bevin is a true all-rounder with a dangerous finish.
Ewan certainly wasn’t surprised to see Bevin win like he did.
“I know how well he can climb and how well he can sprint as well,” Ewan said post-race. “He’s really a ‘Gerro’ type of rider.”
Ewan would know. He raced alongside Simon Gerrans in 2016 when the latter won the TDU and was in the bunch (racing for UniSA-Australia) when ‘Gerro’ won in 2014. He’s also seen Bevin’s sprinting prowess up close — the pair went 1-2 on five of the eight stages at the 2015 Tour de Korea with Ewan winning four stages and Bevin winning one.
Just ask anyone that followed Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) in 2014 and 2015 how versatile a rider Bevin is.
The Kiwi joined Search2retain in 2014 and won both the lumpy National Capital Tour and the mountainous Tour of Tasmania — the hardest race in the NRS. The following year he moved to Avanti (now BridgeLane) and won UCI 2.1-level bunch sprints (Tour de Korea) and uphill finishes (Tour de Taiwan and Herald Sun Tour). Versatile indeed.
Since joining the WorldTour in 2016, Bevin has spent the majority of his time riding in the service of others. Case in point, the Willunga Hill stage of last year’s Tour Down Under where Bevin spent hours riding the front of the bunch, controlling proceedings for BMC teammate and eventual stage winner Richie Porte.
But this year’s TDU is different. At the new CCC Team Bevin is getting a chance to ride for himself. He’s got the opportunity to show what he’s capable of and it’s clear from the past 48 hours that he’s motivated to take the opportunity with both hands.
“Last few years [as BMC] we haven’t had guys sprinting,” Bevin said. “We were third yesterday and close, and then today to win it I think sets a precedent for this team.
“I stood here yesterday after taking the Most Aggressive Rider and said we’re going to fight for everything we can get. This is a different outfit with a totally different mindset and totally different goals. We want to turn that into wins.”
CCC had gone into stage 2 with a plan to ride for Jakub Mareczko in the sprint. Bevin was left to his own devices, allowing the Kiwi to focus on his GC ambitions while also giving CCC a second option in the case of a late mishap. The plan paid off when Mareczko was caught up in the final-kilometre crash.
“Coming into that 2km to go as we kind of dragged up I got myself in a really good position and then put myself on the shoulder in the wind,” Bevin said. “Just as that crash happened I was already kind of coming around. And then as that was happening we had Astana rider [Luis Leon] Sanchez off the front and I thought I’d just go and try and pick him up and use him as a springboard.
“Straight sprinting I wasn’t going to beat those guys — I had to take it [the sprint] long and then capitalise on how hard that finish was and that was my play and it worked really well.”
With his five bonus seconds from stage 1, and a 10-second win bonus today, Bevin now leads the TDU. That’s not as exciting a prospect for the team as you might expect — his teammates will now be expected to ride the front of the bunch, to help protect the ochre jersey.
“Yeah, well that’s frustrating,” said CCC sports director Jackson Stewart. “It’s going to burn out our team a bit. We’ll see. Even tomorrow’s going to be a good sprint for Paddy or [Peter] Sagan or these guys so I think it’s just frustrating that we’ll probably have it for a little bit now.”
If Bevin was hoping to fly under the radar of his GC rivals, his exploits on stage 1 certainly haven’t done him any favours. Winning on stage 2 and moving into ochre makes him an out-and-out threat.
Bevin leads the GC by five seconds ahead of stage 1 victor Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and nine seconds ahead of Ewan. More importantly, he’s now got 15 seconds on the overall contenders including defending champion Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Wout Poels (Sky) and 2017 winner Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo).
That’s a considerable head start going in to the business end of the race. While stage 4 (Corkscrew Road) and Willunga Hill (stage 6) are the stages that will likely decide the GC, Bevin believes there’s a more immediate challenge to consider.
“Tomorrow’s tough,” he said. “This is my fourth time at Down Under — I think it’s the toughest stage I’ve ever done here. We’ve ridden the circuit and it has the potential to be very very hard so we’ll look at tomorrow and we’ll look at trying to put a plan together.
“Leading the race changes your tactics a bit. Obviously it means you absorb a bit more pressure but I feel like now we’re in a great position to box on for the next four stages.”
When it does come to Corkscrew and Willunga, Bevin can take confidence from his past performances on those climbs. He’s won on a stage featuring Corkscrew before, in the 2015 Adelaide Tour. An NRS race that might have been, but knowing he’s beaten climbers up there will only fuel his self-belief.
And he’s performed well at Willunga too, finishing 10th in 2016, just 17 seconds behind stage winner Porte.
In short, Bevin can climb. Whether he can climb well enough to win the Tour Down Under really remains to be seen.
However it turns out, today’s win was no fluke. The late crash might have improved his chances, but Bevin is far from an undeserving winner. He was in the right position on a finish that suited him and he made the most of the opportunity he was given. We really shouldn’t be surprised that a rider of his calibre was able to perform when given that opportunity.