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by Matt de Neef
January 18, 2020
The 22nd edition of the Santos Tour Down Under is about to get underway in Adelaide. Before it does, read on for a detailed guide to the course, how the race might unfold, the riders to watch, and how you can watch.
The race starts with the traditional curtain-raiser criterium on Sunday evening.
The Schwalbe Classic isn’t part of the Tour Down Under proper — it doesn’t contribute to the general classification — but it will feature every rider that’s set to line up for the stage race.
The race comprises 30 laps of a new 1.7 km circuit in the heart of Adelaide for a total of 51 km. It’s basically dead flat and will almost be decided in a bunch sprint — a great chance for the sprinters to test their legs before the TDU begins, and a nice high-intensity hit out for the whole field.
Profile of the Schwalbe Classic. Yep, flat.
Note that the Schwalbe Classic will be held just after the final stage of the Women’s Tour Down Under, which is held on the same circuit.
The TDU proper consists of six stages.
After the crit on Sunday and a ‘rest day’ on Monday, the stage race begins on Tuesday. Here’s what the riders have in store:
Stage 1 is a 150 km race around Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. It comprises five laps of a 30 km circuit, which features a short but punchy climb (max 10%) roughly halfway through the lap. Given the strength of the sprint teams here, it’s hard to imagine this finishing any way other than a bunch sprint.
The profile of stage 1.
Stage 2 covers 135.8 km from Woodside to Stirling and concludes with 3.5 laps of the now-traditional circuit around Stirling. The tough, rampy drag to the finish (roughly 8 km, mostly uphill) will be tackled four times.
If previous stages into Stirling are any indication, this uphill finish is likely to end with a reduced bunch sprint with the puncheurs coming to the fore (rather than the pure sprinters).
The profile of stage 2.
Stage 3 is 131 km long and goes from Unley to Paracombe. It’s the first of the race’s two uphill finishes and should have an impact on the GC battle. The final climb is 2.1 km long at 7.4% average and features one particularly steep ramp as the riders enter Torrens Hill Road.
The profile of stage 3.
Stage 4 spans 152.8 km from Norwood to Murray Bridge and has bunch sprint written all over it.
The profile of stage 4.
Stage 5 is 149.1 km and goes from Glenelg to Victor Harbor. There’s a 4 km climb of around 6% that peaks with 20 km to go, meaning there could be a chance for a late move here. That said, the last time the race featured this finish — in 2016 — the stage ended in a bunch sprint. That seems the most likely outcome again.
The profile of stage 5.
Stage 6 is the traditional Willunga stage, now in its second year as the race’s final stage. It starts in McLaren Vale, is raced over 151.5 km, and finishes with two laps up Old Willunga Hill (3 km at 7.5%) This stage will decide the tour.
The profile of stage 6.
Stage 3 and stage 6 will shape the general classification.
The race’s two uphill finishes — to Paracombe and Willunga — will determine who wins the 2020 men’s Tour Down Under. The pure climbers (e.g. Richie Porte) will be looking to get as much time here as possible while the all-rounders (e.g. Daryl Impey) will be hoping to minimise their losses and use other stages to get ahead.
To that end, time bonuses are likely to play a role as they often do. Each stage finish has 10, six and four bonus seconds available to the first three across the line, and each stage has intermediate sprints where three, two and one second are available. For the all-rounders, these bonus seconds will be vital in clawing back enough time to offset the climbers’ advantage on the two uphill finishes.
Porte winning at Paracombe at the 2017 Tour Down Under.
Note that the 2017 TDU gives us a sneak-peek at how the race might unfold. That edition had two uphill finishes — Paracombe and Willunga as well — and it was Richie Porte that won both stages and the overall. Esteban Chaves (another climber) was second that year, with all-rounders Jay McCarthy and Nathan Haas third and fourth.
Daryl Impey will find it tough to take a third straight win, given the course.
The Mitchelton-Scott rider has won the past two editions, but both of those races featured just one uphill finish (Willunga). The addition of a second uphill finish probably shifts the advantage away from an all-rounder like Impey to the stronger climbers on the startlist.
Mitchelton-Scott still has a great shot of winning the race.
Simon Yates is in the team this year and he’ll be among the big favourites. Vuelta a Espana winner in 2018, multiple-time stage winner in all three Grand Tours — Yates is a stellar bike racer, particularly when the road goes uphill.
It’s early in the year for a Northern Hemisphere rider to be peaking, but Yates has been here for a while and seems to be riding strongly. It would be little surprise to see him post strong results on both uphill finishes and win the race overall.
Simon Yates takes his second stage win of the 2019 Tour de France on stage 12.
Mitchelton-Scott also has Lucas Hamilton. The 23-year-old Aussie mightn’t yet be a household name but rest assured he’s an immense talent. He was flying last week at Aussie Road Nationals (where he finished second) and he’s proven in recent years at a bunch of races that he’s excellent uphill. He’s a very dangerous wildcard indeed.
It’s also worth noting the strength of the Mitchelton-Scott outfit. In addition to Impey, Yates and Hamilton, the team has newly minted Aussie champion Cam Meyer, Aussie time trial champ Luke Durbridge, Jack Bauer and Michael Hepburn. That’s an excellent line-up of in-form riders who will be desperate to ensure Australia’s biggest race is again won by Australia’s biggest team.
Richie Porte is probably the #1 favourite.
As noted, Porte (Trek-Segafredo) needs to gain time on the two uphill finishes if he’s going to win the race. He showed in 2017 that he’s absolutely capable of doing that; it might just be a question of how well Yates is going at the moment.
Porte won the Tour Down Under in 2017, the last time the race had two uphill finishes.
Note that Porte will have Kenny Elissonde in his corner this year. The Frenchman tends to race strongly in Australia and will be a great support for Porte in the hills.
As a final note on Porte, here’s his GC record since 2015: second, second, first, second, second. Another win is a real possibility.
Rohan Dennis has won on a similar course and is a fascinating prospect.
Dennis (Ineos) took out the 2015 title by winning on the uphill finish to Paracombe (on the same team as Cadel Evans no less) and finishing second behind Porte on Willunga. With the turbulence of last year seemingly behind him, Dennis will lead Ineos and should be right in the mix.
He might have put aside his Grand Tour GC ambitions, but one-week stage races are still a focus and as he showed at the Tour de Suisse last year — where only the Tour de France champion beat him — he can be very good uphill indeed.
Dennis won the Paracombe stage in 2015.
Dennis is perhaps an outside chance at overall victory, given the presence of Yates and Porte on the startlist. But don’t be surprised if he’s right up there.
Note too that Ineos has a great backup option in Pavel Sivakov. It’s probably too early in the year for him to be at his best, but the 22-year-old is a quality climber who won the Tour of the Alps, the Tour of Poland, and was ninth overall at the Giro last year. Dangerous.
Romain Bardet won’t be at his best, but he might still feature.
The Frenchman is hoping for a “calm” start to the year at his first TDU and has much bigger goals throughout the season. But he’s a quality athlete and particularly strong uphill — he won the KOM jersey at last year’s Tour de France. He’s been in Australia acclimatising since late December but even if he’s not at his best, it will be terrific to see Bardet in action, dancing up the climbs, animating the race.
Jumbo-Visma is a fascinating prospect.
Kiwi George Bennett is here for the Dutch team, so too is Aussie neo-pro Chris Harper. Neither is likely to win the race overall, but don’t be surprised to see them feature in some way.
Harper is a particularly interesting one — he’s a very talented climber and will be keen to impress in his first race with his new team. Will he be able to match it with the favourites on Paracombe and Willunga?
Harper (right) was third in the Aussie ITT title earlier this month.
This might be the year we see Richie Porte finally beaten on Willunga.
Porte has won on the past six visits to Willunga and has looked basically unbeatable every year. Last year was the closest of his wins, with Wout Poels and Impey finishing on the same time. Perhaps 2020 is the year the Tasmanian relinquishes his crown.
Who can beat him? Probably only Simon Yates and possibly Lucas Hamilton. Porte will still be the favourite, but the race would benefit from a close battle on its most iconic climb.
When Porte wins on Willunga, he doesn’t tend to have other riders in shot behind him. He did in 2019.
The sprint finishes will be hotly contested.
Of the five best sprinters in the world, three are in Adelaide for the TDU: Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis). That’s a very strong contingent and the sprint battles (of which there could be a few) are sure to be highly entertaining.
Ewan won three stages at last year’s Tour de France — the most of any rider — and has really gone up another level since joining Lotto Soudal in 2019. Interestingly, this will be his first hit-out for the year — he normally does Bay Crits and Aussie Nationals but has opted not to this year. Expect Ewan to win at least one stage.
We’ll probably see a bit of this at the 2020 TDU.
The TDU is Bennett’s first race for the year as well, and also his first race with his new team. He’ll have long-time lead-out man Shane Archbold guiding him into the sprint finishes so it won’t be an entirely new experience for the Irishman. He’ll be looking for at least one stage win as well.
Last time Viviani came to the Tour Down Under with a new team he won a stage. The same is more than possible in 2020. The Italian has some stiff competition in those listed above, but he’s no stranger to winning against quality opponents. Will the now-WorldTour Cofidis squad be able to adequately support Viviani?
Viviani winning a stage at the Tour Down Under in 2018.
It will be interesting to see whether Andre Greipel can have an impact.
The German sprinter still holds the record for the most stage wins at the Tour Down Under with 18. He’s back at the WorldTour level with Israel Start-Up Nation in 2020 and would love to bounce back after a frustrating year last year.
Can Greipel mix it up in the sprints like he used to? At 37, and with so much other talent in attendance, it seems a little unlikely. But hey, you just never know.
Greipel winning a stage at the 2013 TDU.
There’s a handful of up-and-coming sprinters that could be worth a watch as well.
Sam Welsford (UniSA-Australia) is best known for his exploits on the velodrome — he’s a world record holder and world champion in the teams pursuit — but he’s no slouch on the road either. Plus he’s in great form — he recently won a stage of the Bay Crits and the Aussie criterium title.
Whether he can mix it with the big boys of the road sprinting scene is another question, but hopefully he at least gets a chance.
Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) was the beneficiary of Caleb Ewan’s relegation on stage 5 at last year’s TDU and over the past 12 months he’s confirmed himself as a promising talent with a number of strong results. He could have an impact again.
Philipsen after winning stage 5 of last year’s TDU.
UniSA-Australia should feature heavily in the breakaways.
It’s what the national team does at Tour Down Under — get out front, race aggressively, and animate the race. Expect to see most of the team in a breakaway at some point during the tour. Of particular interest will be a trio of past and current U23 champions: Jarrad Drizners (current champion), Nick White (last year’s champion) and Sam Jenner (2017).
Thomas De Gendt will likely feature in a bunch of breakaways as well.
He’s the best breakaway artist in the world and has won stages at all three Grand Tours that way. Expect to see the Belgian riding off the front of the peloton on several occasions this week.
De Gendt winning a stage of the 2019 Tour de France solo.
There are plenty of would-be stage winners waiting in the wings.
Fast-finishing all-rounders like Nathan Haas (Cofidis) and Jay McCarthy (Bora Hansgrohe) will likely be kept off the top rungs of the GC ladder this year by the extra uphill finish, but they should still animate the race. Stage 2 into Stirling looks like a great opportunity for such riders. It’s not a flat finish that suits the pure sprinters, and it’s not an uphill finish for the climbers. It might be that those all-rounder types get their opportunity there, just like McCarthy did in 2016.
You can watch every stage live on 7Plus and on the Seven Network.
Every stage of the men’s Tour Down Under (and the Schwalbe Classic) will be live on TV via 7TWO, and live on the 7plus platform. For full broadcast details, check out the Tour Down Under website.
If you’d like to follow the race on Twitter, be sure to check out @tourdownunder and the #tourdownunder hashtag.
Who’s your pick to win the 2020 men’s Tour Down Under? And how do you think the race will unfold?