Tour Down Under 2018 – Overall Preview

By David Hunter

The World Tour is back! As Europeans are currently freezing in ice and snow, the pro peloton are off to sunny Australia, for the 20th edition of this race. The event has been dominated by Australians, in recent years, taking the title in six of the last seven editions. Not only that, but they have won the last twelve successive stages. Aussies rule in this race!

The Route

Stage 1

The opening stage finishes in Lyndoch, a common finish town in this race. The route can be described as grippy, as the peloton head through the Barossa Valley. We should see a big sprint.

Stage 2

The second day sees the riders head to Stirling, another popular finishing town. We only have four laps of the challenging circuit, that should please some of the sprinters in the race. This can be a very important day for the GC riders, as a podium finish will secure some vital bonus seconds.

Stage 3

Victor Harbour hosts the finish of the third stage and we should see another sprint finish. If the wind blows off the sea, we could have splits in the bunch.

Stage 4

New finish alert! The bunch climb Norton Summit, a popular climb in the area, before a short descent to the finish. Despite the climb not being too hard, 5km at 5%, this will be a selective day.

Stage 5

Willunga Hill. Can anyone beat Richie Porte? He’s won here for the last four years.

Stage 6

The race ends with a criterium around the streets of Adelaide. Only a crash can change the GC, but riders need to stay attentive until the very end.

Aussie Power

As I have already mentioned, this is a race for the locals. When the 2017 season finished, most the Aussies returned home. That gave them a long block of training, taking advantage of the Aussie summer. Compare that to the European riders, who have had to endure a cold winter. This is usually why the local riders start faster than the Europeans and it gives them a massive advantage in this race. I see no reason for this changing in 2018.

Bonus Seconds

Vital in this race. As usual, we have 10, 6 and 4 at the end of each stage, plus a couple of intermediate sprints worth 3, 2 and 1. In stage 4, the opening sprint is after just 35km of riding.

Having a fast sprint is important in this race, it helps to collect bonus seconds before the Willunga stage, which is important as the route is easier than last year. As there is no Paracombe stage, the GC battle won’t see much action until Willunga, despite the Norton Summit climb in stage 4.

Contenders

Nathan Haas – his 4th place finish in 2017 was the start of a very impressive season for the Aussie, with a career best 4th in Amstel Gold. Now riding for Katusha, he’ll be eager to impress his new bosses. His weakness used to be Willunga Hill, but he managed to conquer this demon and finish 2nd here in 2017, despite looking in trouble early on the climb. Given his sprinting speed, he is sure to collect bonus seconds and then try to ride defensively on Willunga. He starts the race as one of the big favourites.

Jay McCarthy – the Bora rider is a favourite of mine. A hugely talented cyclist, we have seen him make steady progress through the pro ranks. He was 4th here in 2016 and went one better last year. He was second in the recent Aussie road race, thanks to a fast sprint. Arriving with a strong team, he will have lots of support, especially with Pete Kennaugh to help guide him in the GC stages. A podium is the least he’ll expect.

Richie Porte – we just don’t know exactly where his form and fitness are. After his horror crash in the Tour de France, Porte only returned to action in the recent Aussie nationals. He was 3rd in the TT and 14th in the RR, but this was due to a late attack. What I noticed was his lack of punch on Mount Buninyong, something that I did expect to see. It is very difficult for any rider to immediately return to their highest level, after such a long time out. Lacking a sprint, Porte will need another huge performance on Willunga Hill. Despite what I’ve just said, it would surprise me if he won this stage for the 5th consecutive year. He is also supported with a strong squad, but I do expect to see Gerrans and Dennis in supporting roles.

Diego Ulissi – for the third consecutive year, the Italian begins his season in Australia. 11th in 2016 and 5th in 2017, this is a race that suits him well. Like some of the others, he possesses a fine sprint, particularly when the road rises. He will see the Stirling stage as a big chance to take some time on his rivals and put himself on the podium. Supported by Rui Costa, he’ll have help towards the end of all stages. I think Ulissi will be eyeing the podium.

Robert Gesink – 8th here in 2017, the Dutchman is back and looking to improve on that result. He looked in excellent form in the Tour de France, but a crash forced him to abandon on stage 9. After a long period of rest, you can bet that Gesink will be looking to start the season well. Lotto Jumbo are a very impressive team and have enjoyed a huge amount of recent success and with teammates like George Bennett, they will be looking to force their way onto the podium.

Sam Oomen – the Dutchman is a hugely talented youngster. Still just 22 years old, the future is looking very bright for Sunweb’s young talent. He arrives here hoping for his best performance in a world tour stage race, 7th in the Tour of Poland, is his current top result. With the help of Chris Hamilton, he has every chance of challenging for the top 5 on GC.

Brendan Canty – no longer named Cannondale, but I find it hard to call them EF Drapac! Anyway, Cannondale arrive with lots of Australians, they finally realise what you need to do well in this race. Canty turns 26 during the race and he’ll be hoping for a birthday present. He is a solid climber and packs an explosive punch on short hills, that makes him a danger in this race. I would expect a top 10 finish, but if he gets some luck, he could challenge the top 5.

Prediction Time

Can anyone stop the Aussies? No.

It should be another week of Porte v McCarthy v Haas. The problem for Richie is stages 2 and 4, as these are perfect for Haas and McCarthy to collect bonus seconds. It looks likely that he’ll start the Willunga stage around 15 seconds behind his two rivals. Now, as we all know, Richie is almost unstoppable on Willunga, but he isn’t at 100%. Can he still gap his nearest rivals, he’ll need to if he wants to defend his title.

I can see the others being able to limit their losses and take a huge win. Given his sprinting speed, I think I’m edging towards Nathan Haas, but this is going to be very close.

David Hunter

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