By David Hunter
Unley – Paracombe 131km
Forget Willunga, this is the big one.
The race begins with a climb up the South Eastern Freeway, this is actually one of the hardest climbs in the race, but it’s not even categorised by the organisers. 6.5km at 6.5% is not the start a lot of riders will have been keen on and we could even see big splits in the bunch, but it should all come back together as the race settles down. The rest of the stage is spent preparing for the climb of Torrens Hill Road, and it’s a little beauty!
The climb can be categorised in many ways. The toughest section is 1km at 10%, overall it’s closer to 2km at 7%, which includes a relatively flat finish, please note the last 400m is not shown on the profile. At this time of year, this is tough, especially for the Europeans. Last time we were here, Richie Porte destroyed everyone with a stunning example of climbing, can he repeat that feat?
The riders approach the final climb along Gorge Road, and the speed will be very high. The road is full of twists and turns, but that won’t stop a full gas sprint lead out to the bottom of the climb. The 5km before the climb will be hugely important, as the climb begins with a very tight corner, knocking all the speed off the bunch. If you are too far back for the turn, your day is over, that’s why everyone will be battling for control of the bunch.
Once on the climb, the hardest section comes right at the start. This is where a huge amount of damage can be done, but just because Porte rode everyone off his wheel in 2017 doesn’t mean it will happen again. Looking to stop him will be Mitchelton-Scott, and they have some climbers who’ll hope to hang on his wheel. How the Aussies approach the climb will be interesting, I don’t see them simply trying to pace Impey to the line, I think someone will need to try and cover the move of Porte, but who will that be? Simon Yates and Lucas Hamilton are the two that come to mind, only the team will know the current shape of the Brit, I think Hamilton is their safest option. The only problem could be a flying Porte, no way Hamilton can hold his wheel.
The other teams will all have to think carefully about their tactics, as most will be fearful of Porte and Mitchelton-Scott. One team that could have multiple options is Jumbo-Visma, with Harper and Bennett. If both survive the steep start to the climb, they will be able to play the old 1-2 as they head to the line, but surviving the steep section will not be easy.
Another day where the wind is quite strong, but unlikely to do any damage. The biggest issue is the headwind finish, something that could slow down a flying climber and bring the puncheurs into the equation.
Richie Porte – the big day for Richie. He’s been here before; he knows what has to be done to win the stage and grab the ochre jersey. The pressure will be on his team to deliver him to the front of the bunch for the corner that leads onto the climb, then it’s over to him. Expect to see Richie open the burners for around 45 seconds, then survey the damage. At that point the number of riders in his wheel will determine his next move. The climb is relatively short, there is no need to muck about with tactics, it’s all about legs. As the final 400m is relatively flat, he knows he must arrive solo to take the stage. Can he? Will he?
Daryl Impey – the only man who can stop him. Let’s be honest, these two arrived here at a different level compared to everyone else. Impey has spent the winter training hard in South Africa, and even included a recent spell at altitude. Mitchelton-Scott have a huge amount of confidence in him, they also know that this stage is critical as he fights to win the ochre jersey for the third time. Impey is currently nine seconds ahead of Porte, he cannot afford to lose more than five seconds to him on this stage, especially if he finishes outside the podium. The tactic should be for Meyer and Hamilton (it sounds like Yates has hurt his knee quite bad) to try and hang onto Richie and tow Impey at the same time. If he can somehow stay with Porte, he can take him in the sprint. The winner of this stage wins the ochre jersey, it’s as simple as that.
Anyone one else – the likes of Bardet, Bennett, Sánchez, Dennis, Ulissi and Haas are all quality riders, but they don’t arrive with the same condition as Porte and Impey, so I can’t see them winning.
It’s got to be Richie Porte.
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