By David Hunter
Geelong – Geelong 171km
One week after the Tour Down Under, we head to Geelong for the sixth edition of this race.
Same route, one that is dominated by the climb of Challambra Crescent. The opening section of the race heads out along the coast, then the peloton head back into town for the lap circuit and they have to tackle this steep climb on four occasions.
1km at 9.8%, it’s a steep one alright. Like some of the stages in the TDU, the wind direction has a huge impact on the size of the bunch we get. Tailwind usually means a smaller group can get a good gap, headwind kills the attacks and helps the sprinters stay in contention. With 9km remaining at the top of the hill, there is time for those who have been gapped to re-join the front group, but the gap needs to be small. Last year we got our first big sprint since the race began, the year before, the front group survived by a whisker.
A huge amount of rain will fall the day before the race, and a little on Sunday morning too. This should clear by the time the men start, but the roads will still be damp, and it will almost feel cold! There will be a wind coming from the west, and I think some teams might try to split the race, but that will be hard to do.
It all depends if you have a sprinter or not. The teams who don’t want a big sprint will have the responsibility of making the lap circuit tough for the quick men. This means they cannot simply wait for the final climb before hitting the accelerator, the pace must be high earlier in the race. Once over the top of the final climb, it will be time to quickly assess what to do next. The run for home offers chances for someone to jump away and take a solo win, just like Kennaugh did back in 2016.
The sprinter teams will be hoping that only the final climb is fast. They will hope to limit the gap to around 10 seconds, before using the fast descent to put the race back together. They might even try to get riders in the front group and direct them to not work, ruining the cohesion and chances of the move.
For this race I’ve decided to get the views of Tosh Van Der Sande. The talented Belgian is a vital part of Lotto-Soudal’s team and an important lieutenant for Caleb Ewan. Not only that, Tosh is a very nice guy and #cyclinggame19 champion.
After taking three stages in the TDU, and the criterium, the team must be buzzing. Just how much confidence did you guys take from the race?
“It gives a confidence boost for the team here in Australia, but also for the whole team and it always takes a little bit of pressure off everybody.”
This is your first-time racing in Australia. How did you find the race compared to Europe?
“I expected to be cooked here, but the weather was great for racing. Doing the TDU felt the same as racing anywhere, as it’s the same riders.”
You have the new Torquay race on Thursday, meaning just two days of rest before the Cadel race. Will this have an impact on how you guys ride each race?
“I like this more! Otherwise we would do hard training, it’s also a short race so that shouldn’t make any problems and we have another chance of winning a race.”
Caleb will start the Cadel race as one of the favourites. How will the team try to ensure we get a sprint finish?
“We have Thomas De Gendt 😉 and the Willunga King, haha.”
How hard did you find the Challambra Crescent climb?
“It’s hard enough to drop in the back, but not hard enough to jump away and make it to the finish.”
From your own point of view, where you pleased with your performance in the TDU?
“Maybe it wasn’t visible, but I think I did some good domestique work. In the last two days I didn’t feel good due to lower back problems, but that’s already been solved and I’m really looking forward to the two upcoming races.”
Caleb Ewan – given his consecutive wins in Stirling, this is a race he should be winning. To do so, he really needs a few teammates surviving to the end with him, preferably his lead out men. Ewan showed in the TDU that his current form is very good, taking two sprint wins and the pre-race criterium, which will have given him a lot of confidence. After a brilliant 2019 Tour de France, he really is showing everyone that he is one of the best sprinters in the world, starting 2020 like this only backs up the claim that he is the very best. He’ll start this race as the favourite and rightly so.
Sam Bennett – the Irishman left the TDU with a stage win, but he would have hoped for one more. Given the early stage of the season, his performances were good, and his move to QuickStep is looking very promising. This is a race the boys in blue like, they won it with Viviani in 2019 and Meersman in 2015. I mentioned above that Ewan could find himself a little isolated, that won’t be the case for the Irishman. In the closing stages I expect him to still have the support of Devenyns, Cattaneo, Mørkøv and maybe Almeida. This will give him a huge advantage if everything comes back together, particularly the presence of Michael Mørkøv. The Dane is an amazing cyclist, one of the best in the world. If he delivers the perfect lead out, it will be hard for anyone to come around Bennett and deny him the win.
Giacomo Nizzolo – his win in Victor Harbor was outstanding, what a way to start the season. This is a team who needed an early win, and their Italian sprinter delivered. With confidence flowing, they will look at this race with hope and a little expectation. In Nizzolo and Gibbons they have two riders who should be challenging for the win. The Italian is the faster of the two, but who sprints depends on the race situation.
Elia Viviani – crashed hard in the Stirling stage, but should be fine for this race. He’s the defending champion, but now riding for Cofidis he’ll find it much harder to stay in the front group and sprint for the win.
Daryl Impey – didn’t win a stage in the TDU, and a poor performance on Willunga saw him slide all the way down to 6th on GC. Make no bones about it, Mitchelton-Scott would have been bitterly disappointed with the end of the race. The good news is that this race offers them an immediate chance of putting things right, surprisingly they’ve never won here. They don’t bring their TDU squad here, in comes Schultz, Smith, Bewley and Howson. This is a big change, one that took me by surprise. Yates and Impey will form a strong partnership, I see them making the selection on Challambra and taking their chances on the run for home.
Richie Porte – why not? I know what you’re saying, he can’t sprint. Porte is clearly in wonderful form and as Trek don’t have a sprinter, he will be the team leader and he’ll certainly not get dropped on the climb. If a small group stay away, Porte will have a chance of escaping off the front and taking a shock win. He nearly managed to pull this off a couple of years ago, but he was caught in the closing stages. Can he take advantage of his current form?
Team Ineos – I don’t see them riding for a sprint. They do have Chris Lawless, but he is very unlikely to win against the calibre of sprinter at this race. This opens the door for the likes of Luke Rowe, Pavel Sivakov and Dylan Van Baarle to have a go at chasing some personal glory. The team showed in the recent Tour Down Under that they were one of the strongest in the race. I expect to seem attacking and looking to disappoint the fast men.
Sorry to make things simplistic, but it’s all to do with the wind and QuickStep. The wind is coming from the west, which means it’s a headwind on Challambra Crescent. Bad news for all who want an exciting race, but this should be a rather dull day out for most and a sprint finish. As QuickStep will have numbers in the finale, expect Mørkøv to nail the lead out and Sam Bennett to take another win.
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