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Will Ewan make it a clean sweep of Australian stage wins in the Tour Down Under?

Photo: Sirotti




23.01.2016 @ 22:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Richie Porte proved what an excellent climber he is by dropping everyone on Willunga Hill despite claiming not to be in race condition while Simon Gerrans kept his calm and did what was needed to defend the overall lead. He now just needs to get safely through the final criterium where the sprinters will look to shine one final time before the conclusion of the opening WorldTour race.


The course

The end of the race has always been inspired by the Tour de France, with the final stage being a criterium held in downtown Adelaide. However, after several years with the same circuit, it was time for a change in 2014 when the organizers introduced a new 4.75km route. While the old course had a (very) small climb that offered the chance to hand out a few more KOM points before the end of the race, the new circuit was completely flat and was pretty technical.


The organizers again decided to reshape the final stage for last year’s race as they introduced a new 4.5km circuit and it will again be used in 2016. Unlike the 2014 course, it is pretty non-technical as the riders go down a long, straight road before they turn around and hit the area around the Adelaide Golf Club. Here they go up the very small climb of Montefiore Hill but it will do nothing to split the field even though it comes just 1.2km from the finish. On the 10th and 15th lap, however, there will be KOM points on offer. After a lap of a small circuit in the park, the riders reach the finishing straight. The riders will do 20 laps for a total distance of 90km and there will be bonus seconds on offer in the intermediate sprints at the end of the 8th and 12th laps.


Since the inclusion in the WorldTour, Francesco Chicchi, Chris Sutton and Ben Swift have all won the sprint but the dominant figure has been Andre Greipel who won the stage in 2008, 2012, 2013 and 2014. As he was absent in 2015, he failed to make it four in a row and instead Wouter Wippert claimed the biggest win of his career in a crash-marred stage.




The weather

One week ago, the riders tackled their first city criterium in Adelaide in unbearable heat but since then the weather has changed. Sunday shapes up to be a perfect day for a bike race as it will be beautiful sunshine all day with a maximum temperature of a much more pleasant 26 degrees.


It will be windier than it has been for a few days as a moderate wind will be blowing from a southerly direction. This means that the riders will have a headwind until the reach the turning point and then it will mainly be a tailwind until they reach the top of the climb. A short crosswind section leads to the final right-hand turn from where it will be a headwind.


The favourites

One year ago Rohan Dennis desperately tried to hang onto Richie Porte when the then Sky rider made his trademark move a little more than a kilometre from the top of Willunga Hill. In the end, he cracked inside the final kilometre and it was hard not to have a feeling of déjà vu when watching yesterday’s stage. In an almost identical copy of last year’s attack, Porte dropped everybody but one rider and again it was a BMC-Sky duel. This time it was Sergio Henao staying glued to his wheel and just like it happened for Dennis in 2015, the Colombian cracked in the final kilometre. And once again Porte didn’t gain enough time to take the overall lead.


We openly admit that we had underestimated Porte but it just goes a long way to show what a classy bike rider he is. There is no doubt that he was far from his best at the start of the race and he was not playing any games when he claimed not to have any GC ambitions. His poor positioning on the Stirling and Corkscrew stages clearly showed that he was mainly here to support Dennis but he surprised himself on the Corkscrew. That gave him confidence that he could make it three in a row in Willunga and that’s what he did. Unlike last year, there was even a headwind on the climb which made it much less selective than it was last year and that makes his performance even more impressive than it was in 2015.


As we claimed yesterday, Simon Gerrans would do nothing to follow the attacks of the best climbers, knowing that he just had to limit his losses to secure the overall win. He did that in perfect fashion and so goes into the final stage with a solid 9-second buffer over Porte. Bonus seconds have often been decisive in the final stage and we have had some exciting intermediate sprints in the past. This year the advantage is way too big to change the overall leadership and as Gerrans is also the fastest GC rider, it makes no sense to even try.


Further down in the GC, the time gaps are a lot smaller but the bonus seconds are unlikely to change anything. Henao is not fast enough to gain any seconds even though he is just 2 seconds behind Porte. Jay McCarthy would have had a chance but he is too far from the podium to be able to pass Henao. He just has to make sure that he doesn’t finish too far behind Woods in the sprint as those two riders are equal on time and so their positions are determined by the added total of their stage placings. The only possible change is that Patrick Bevin who is a very fast sprinter, could try to gain the extra second he needs to pass Steve Morabito and move into 9th. However, Cannondale are unlikely to do too much work for such a small change but there is no doubt that Bevin will go for the sprint if things are together for one of the sprints.


As only crashes seem to potentially change the GC - remember how a big tumble changed things in 2015 – everything will be about the stage win and so this should be a very straightforward criterium. The mountains jerseys and points jerseys are not really up for grabs either. That doesn’t mean that we won’t see any aggression at the start of the stage – after all this is the final chance for many riders to show themselves at this WorldTour race – so we should have another fast start before a break finally gets clear.


In such a short circuit race, the gap never gets very big so it will probably be kept around a minute. If the gaps had been close, Orica-GreenEDGE might have sacrificed the stage win for the GC but now they don’t really risk anything by bringing the break back. Hence, we can expect the Australian team to bear the majority of the responsibility. Caleb Ewan is the big favourite so Michael Hepburn should again spend a lot of time on the front.


Trek have had a very bad race until now as Julian Arredondo was taken out of GC contention by two crashes so they should lend a hand to the chase. The same goes for Cannondale as Wouter Wippert won this stage last year and he has done nothing to hide that he is targeting a repeat. The circuit is not technical or hilly and doesn’t really lend itself to a breakaway so it should all come down to the expected bunch sprint.


The finale is not very technical and the finishing straight is relatively long. However, it is important to notice that there will be a rather strong headwind which makes timing and aerodynamics extremely important.


It is hard to look beyond Caleb Ewan as the overwhelming favourite for this stage. The Australian has been in a class of his own in every sprint he has contested and no one seems to be able to match his speed. He has had a few days out of the spotlight but has always had his eyes on this stage. Of course there is a chance that he is fatigued after five days of racing but he has not really been involved in the teamwork. Furthermore, this is a short, fast criterium which is not too taxing.


Importantly, Ewan has a very good lead-out. Orica-GreenEDGE don’t have a big train in this race and they have been unable to dominate the finales like Sky and IAM have done. However, Daryl Impey has proved why he has long been regarded as one of the best lead-out men in the business and he will be ready to put Ewan into a good position. In the previous sprints, Impey has managed to place his protected sprinter just behind the dominant train and he seems to be able to ride in the wind for ages. That kind of support is crucial and is enough to make sure that Ewan won’t have to start his sprint from too far back.


Furthermore, there will be a headwind which should favour Ewan’s very aerodynamic sprinting style. The only real risk for Ewan is to start his sprint too early. If he can get the timing right, no one has the speed to beat him and so he should make it a clean sweep of Australian stage wins in their home race.


One year ago Wouter Wippert proved that he has the speed to beat the best when he became a surprise winner of this stage. He went on to prove his speed in the Tour of California where he was close to beating Mark Cavendish several times.


In this race, he has again shown how fast he is and his finishing speed in stage 1 was really impressive. However, he paid the prize for having to start his sprint from too far back and it is evident that the Cannondale train still has some work to do before they are able to benefit from Wippert’s speed. To beat Ewan, he needs to start his sprint from a good position and this forces Cannondale to step up their game. However, if one sprinter has the speed to beat Ewan, Wippert is the man.


Giacomo Nizzolo was second one week ago and did well by taking third yesterday when he was a bit too fatigued after a hard chase in the finale. The Italian is clearly one of the three fastest riders in this field but he doesn’t have the same speed as Ewan and Wippert. Furthermore, this sprint is not really made for him as he usually needs a harder race and a more technical finish.


On the other hand, Trek have one of the best lead-outs in this race and Kiel Reijnen and Boy van Poppel should make sure that Nizzolo is well-protected. The Italian is one of the best when it comes to positioning and this makes him hugely consistent. If Ewan and Wippert make mistakes, he will be ready to capitalize.


Dimension Data have a very powerful team for this race as Nathan Haas, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, Tyler Farrar and Mark Renshaw should form a really good train. However, they have been very disorganized until now and have not really dominated the finales in the way they should be able to. Mark Renshaw still did some very good positioning to take second in the opening stage though and he is clearly in good condition. He is no pure sprinter so he needs everything to go right to take the win but if Dimension Data can up their game, he should be in the mix.


One week ago, IAM completely dominated the lead-out but Matteo Pelucchi didn’t have the legs to finish it off. The Italian is no longer in the race but IAM still have a lot of horsepower left. Leigh Howard steps into the role of lead sprinter and he is in great condition as he proved by surviving the climb yesterday. He was very encouraged by his sprint too and claimed it to be his best for a few years. With David Tanner, Aleksejs Saramotins and Roger Kluge at his side, he has a team that can dominate the lead-out like they did last Sunday. That could make the difference for Howard.


Marko Kump is making his WorldTour comeback in this race. He has been far from his usual level on the climbs but he has been sprinting extremely well, finishing in the top 5 in both sprints he has contested. He is really not a pure sprinter but he has proved to be one of the fastest in this race, coming from far behind on both occasions. Lampre-Merida don’t have the firepower to make a big train but Federico Zurlo, Luka Pibernik and Manuele Mori can all do a decent job. If they can finally get Kump into a good position, he will be among the fastest.


In the previous sprints on stages 1 and 4, Sky have completely dominated the finales and it seems that only IAM have the horsepower to match the Brits. Unfortunately, Ben Swift is not a pure sprinter and he usually doesn’t have the speed to win this kind of easy citerium sprint. On the other hand, his very good train should allow him to start his sprint from a good position and in the chaos of a bunch kick that’s a massive advantage. If his faster rivals make some kind of mistake, he will be ready to strike.


We have already pointed to Juan Jose Lobato on numerous occasions. The Spaniard is among the fastest in the bunch but he rarely manages to capitalize from his speed as he is terrible at positioning himself. Things don’t get any easier with this kind of stiff headwind which makes it difficult to make his trademark long sprint from far behind. However, if he can for once overcome his poor positioning he is one of the select few with the speed to win.


Adam Blythe has not been sprinting at the top level for several years but in this race he has had a rare chance. He has done really well despite being pretty isolated in the finales. In fact, he has always managed to get into a good position and has clearly benefited from his experience as a lead-out man. Without a big train, it will be difficult to win but he should be up there.


Finally, Steele von Hoff deserves a mention. The Australian won a stage last year but he has not had much success here. He has paid the price for a lack of a team support as he is part of an inexperienced UniSA team. That is likely to again be his undoing tomorrow but he remains one of the fastest riders in this race.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Caleb Ewan

Other winner candidates: Wouter Wippert, Giacomo Nizzolo

Outsiders: Mark Renshaw, Leigh Howard, Marko Kump, Ben Swift

Jokers: Juan Jose Lobato, Adam Blythe, Steele von Hoff


Betting tips

Leigh Howard to beat Ben Swift - 2.62 at Bet365

In the past few sprints in Australia, two trains have been dominant. IAM showed the class in the People's Choice Classic where Matteo Pelucchi didn’t have the legs to finish it off. In the first stage, it was Sky who delivered Ben Swift perfectly but the Briton lacked the speed to deliver a top result.


Tomorrow it will again be a battle between the two teams and it is difficult to say who will be the strongest. On paper, Sky have more power but IAM have more speed, and that can tip the balance in favor of the Swiss. Pelucchi is no longer in the race, and instead it is an in-form Leigh Howard who has to finish the job. He was very encouraged by his sprint in stage four where he was completely isolated after the rest of the train had been dropped on the final climb.


Swift has an excellent train, but he does not have the speed for big bunch sprints like this one. It has been quite evident in previous sprints where he has slipped backwards when the sprints have been launched. On paper, Howard is faster than Swift and also has a train that can challenge Sky. There is no reason that Swift is the huge favorite in this duel.


You can place your bet here.


Koen De Kort to beat Davide Martinelli - 2.25 at Bet365

Neither Giant-Alpecin nor Etixx-Quick Step have top sprinters here, and it offers the possibility for Koen De Kort and Davide Martinelli. The latter has won the first two battles but the Italian neo-pro is a time trial specialist and not a sprinter. Thus, he has very little experience in the fight for position, especially at this level.


De Kort is among the best lead-out men in the world, and he uses his role as a sprinter in this race to gain invaluable experience. That makes him one of the best in the fight for position and he can also rely on Bert De Backer who is playing an important role in Giant-Alpecin’s famous train. On paper, he faster than Martinelli and should be the favorite. The only problem is the fact that he crashed a few days ago, but the damage is reportedly limited.


You can place your bet here.


Adam Blythe to beat Steele Von Hoff - 1.83 at Bet365

Steele Von Hoff has not yet managed to do a real sprint in Australia as he has come up short in the fight for position. He is part of the inexperienced UniSA team and they have not been able to give him much support. As he also is not very strong in the hectic final phase himself, he has started his sprints from far back.


The situation has been different for Adam Blythe. The Tinkoff sprinter has not had much support, but he has shown an impressive ability to find the right wheel. It has yielded two top-5 results, and unlike Von Hoff the Briton seems to be in very good form. He should be the favorite in this duel.


You can place your bet here.



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