The 2017 Cycling season is under way with the year’s first World Tour event, the Santos Tour Down Under, occurring in Adelaide, Australia. The 19th edition played well into the hands of the climbers as Stage 2 was regarded as the toughest stage in the tour’s history.
First though, the peloton competed in the People’s Choice Classic where last year’s champion Caleb Ewan repeated as the victor in the criterium around Adelaide’s East End. He was contested by the World Champion Peter Sagan and his new Bora Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennet, but the Orica Scott team did a perfect leadout for the Australian Criterium Champion who is on incredible form at the moment.
As for the tour itself, Caleb Ewan won every sprint the tour had to offer. Stage 1 was a fast finish in Lyndoch ahead of Team Sky’s Danny van Poppel and Bora’s Sam Bennet, and Stages 3 in Victor Harbor, 4 in Cambelltown, and 6 in Adelaide were ahead of Peter Sagan.
The GC shook itself out on the two hill top finishes on Stages 2 and 5. The climb of the Paracombe on Stage 2 has been called the hardest of all time in the Tour Down Under. BMC’s Richie Porte followed the attack of Peter Sagan at the base of 1.6km climb and then pushed on after Sagan pulled off early. Porte slowed things down before immediately countering the select group. Only Esteban Chaves (Orica Scott) and Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar) could follow. After 10m though, Izaguirre lost the wheel and it became Porte’s race to lose. Porte’s attack came with him riding hard out of the saddle for more than a kilometer on his way to a 16 second victory over Izaguirre and Chaves, with a 19 second gap to the rest of the field of climbers.
Before the climbers contested the famous Willunga Hill on Stage 5, Movistar’s Gorka Izaguirre suffered a crash just after the 3km to go marker on Stage 3. Thanks to the UCI rules, any rider having a crash of mechanical within the final 3km of a ‘flat’ finish will receive the same time as the group they were in at the time of the incident. As the peloton was all together, Izaguirre lost no time. However, his injuries caused him to fall off the group of climbers quickly on Willunga Hill.
The climb went similarly to the finish on the Paracombe, with Richie Porte doing a one-two punch to drop all of his rivals early in the climb and soloing to his 4th consecutive win on Willunga Hill and his first overall win in the Tour Down Under after twice finishing second. The more interesting thing to watch out for on the climb was to see who would move up the third overall behind Porte and Chaves. Aussies Jay McCarthy (Bora) battled with Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) for the spot, and it seemed as if last year’s fourth place McCarthy would move onto the podium when Haas lost contact with the select group of climbers. However, Haas put in an incredible kick to the finish in second place on the stage and taking a 6 second time bonus. McCarthy finished fifth and received no bonus seconds, putting him 3 seconds behind the podium, but with a three second time bonus he took on the first intermediate sprint on Stage 6, McCarthy moved himself back to even time with Haas. In the event of a time on time, GC position is proportioned by a count back score of stage finish places. Jay McCarthy had a better score, and as such claimed the final step on the podium.
Caleb Ewan took home the points jersey and Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gent took home the King of the Mountains jersey. The Australian squad UniSA took home the best team category.
A standout performance worth noting is the newly crowned New Zealand time trial champion Jack Bauer. The former Cannondale-Drapac rider moved over to Quick-Step Floors (formerly Etixx Quick-Step) during the offseason and showed his strength as the most combative rider in this year’s tour. His solo rides late into the stages were a spectacular in and amongst themselves. He certainly will be a person to watch out for this season.
The World Tour will continue with next weekend’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Australia. The women will compete on Saturday (Friday evening in North America, 4 am Sunday CET) and the men will ride on Sunday (Saturday evening in North America, 4 am Sunday CET).