8 things we learnt after the Tour Down Under

1. Dutch Cycling may have another star on its hands

Tom Slagter won the Ochre Jersey, surprised many, and catapulted himself into cycling’s big league. After finishing the Willunga Stage a close second to Simon Gerrans, the Dutchman declared that the parcours of the whole race “was made for me. It’s perfect.” Slagter now joins teammates Bauke Mollema, Robert Gesink, Steven Kruiswijk and Wlico Keldermann as standard bearers for a newer,cleaner era of Dutch Cycling. Likened by some to Joaquin Rodriguez, the diminutive Slagter has the kind of explosive climb that will bring him much one day success.

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2. Blanco hit the ground running

Results in Adelaide have given Blanco more points in one week than they ammassed in 5 months as Rabobank in 2012. The entire team were superb, with aggressive, positive racing, strong results and a good team spirit. The Aussies on board, led by a rejuvenated Graeme Brown, did their bit too. David Tanner led out Slagter in Stirling, Mark Renshaw almost snatched victory from Andre Greipel on the final stage, and Jack Bobridge was active in the KOM competition. A great start for a team with money in the bank, for now, but no name on the shirtfront.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Greenedge are more comfortable in their own skin

Pressure? What pressure? The Orica-GreenEDGE team arrived with fanfare, and public expectation, but left with a stage win, some promising signs and a sense of calm amongst the team. Simon Gerrans delivered on Willunga but it wasnt a tour solely about results as it was 12 months ago. This year was about building. Building Matt Wilson as a DS. Building the Mouris/Impey/Goss train. Building Luke Durbridge into a real threat in week stage races. And I think they’ll be pretty pleased with the outcome. The confidence gained from Gerro’s win eased the angst felt after Stage 2 where Simon Clarke admitted that the team had “screwed up”, and now with a good start both here and in San Luis the team

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will head toward the European season in high spirits.

 

 

 

 

4. Lotto’s sprint may be unbeatable

The way Lotto handle the sprints is a thing of beauty. The power. The precision. The trust. The intelligence. They are making the High Road train look shabby. If Lotto deliver Greipel as they plan at 200m he is unbeatable. Andre is in the prime of his career and is blessed with a group of teammates with believe in him totally. And vice versa. Greg Henderson is in “world’s best lead out territory” and the battles throughout 2013 between Greipel and Cavendish will be epic.

5. Adam Hansen is Australia’s most underrated rider

Maybe not in the cycling fraternity, but in the wider sporting world. 3 Grand Tours completed in 2012. Pivotal member of the aforementioned Sprint Train, decent climber, hard man, good bloke, leader not a follower. Hansen is a class act.

6. Andy Schleck has a lot of work to do

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Pre-race Andy said that it was about just being on the bike and racing again. He also admitted that he was nervous. 7 days later, he’d lost 16 minutes on the Stirling stage, got dropped in the first 500m of Willunga’s first circuit, and abandoned the street circuit at halfway, before riding home and not making the teams presentation. Not the greatest return for the

2010 Tour champ. Jens Voigt said that “Andy needed a kick up the arse midway through the week, and after today (Sunday) he needs another one. Schleck is targetting being at full tilt in April for the Ardennes. On this showing that is highly unlikely. All’s not lost for Radioshack though. Their old guard may be failing, but in Hermans, Bennett and Machado, they have a talented group.

 

7. The Tour Down Under should stay in Adelaide

There have been more noises of the race going elsewhere but let’s be honest. Could it work elsewhere? The riders love it. Great weather, same hotel, short transfer, good racing. The race works in South Australia. Why change? That’s not to say we can’t have another UCI race around this time, and the great challenge is for the organisers to work with the new UCI Oceania President Tracey Gaudrey, and the men behind the Sun Tour in Victoria, to allow that race to complement the TDU.

8. We place way too much importance on the Tour Down Under

And I’ve done it myself! But it is the first race of the year. Every rider’s modus operandi is different. Every rider’s condition is different. We read so much into a performance or a result, but in the context of a 10 month season, what happens in Lobethal in January is forgotten by the time we get to Lyon in July. Let’s enjoy the Tour Down Under for what it is.

Gerrans Willunga Win a Classic Move

Rewind the clock twelve months.  Simon Gerrans was being cheered to the rafters as Tour Down Under Champion, just 2 weeks after taking away National glory.  GreenEDGE were under pressure to begin their debut season with a bang. With victories. With Glory. Gerro delivered.

 

He was on rare form.  The best rider in the world over the first three months of 2012.  Three months that culminated in those rarest of beasts.  An Australian on the top step at a classic.  And not just a classic. La Primervera.  Milan – SanRemo.  A Monument of the sport.

 

Gerro’s win surprised many, probably even himself.  But when the legs are that good…..

 

His target last year, as every year, was glory in the Ardennes in April.  And on the roads of France in July.  But the trouble with form is that it can be a fickle beast.  Gerrans was unable to hold it through to his pet events Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  He wasn’t bad by any means.  But he wasn’t in the mix.

 

Come July in France it was a similar tail.  Decent legs, breakaway attempts, punchy finishes, no no results.

 

The Bell Curve saw a resurgence in August in the one dayers, but overall it was strange paradox of a season.  Moments to be cherished.  Moments of regret.  

 

Now fast forward.  Willunga 2013.  The battleground that saw Valverde pip the national champ twelve months previous, was treated to another afternoon of drama.  But this time Gerrans, with no Ochre aspirations triumphed in front of an exultant home crowd.

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The pressures on the team leader this year are vastly different.  GreenEDGE had to win everything in January last year.  No excuses.  Start with a bang.  Gerro, you’re the man.  It’s a different environment this time around.  

 

The pressure is less.  Simon’s failure to conquer the Corkscrew on Stage 2, shut the door on defending the title.  But at the same time,  allowed him the freedom to do what he does best.  Assess the legs.  Assess the race.  Assess the parcours.  Assess the riders. And win the race.  He does it better than most.

 

Gerro’s form is good, perhaps not quite at last years level, but still very good, and with some careful management it can continue to grow and peak in mid-April, the roads of the Ardennes, the roads he cherishes the most.  The lessons of last year will be learnt.

 

There’s something magical about the races in the sport’s heartland.  The cobbled climbs.  The unpredictable weather.  The crowds, shouting themselves hoarse.  Their breath reeking of Leffe or Duval as the riders past by, inches away.  It’s a battleground for riders.  Riders like Gerrans.

 

The challenge ahead though, is daunting.  Philippe Gilbert has shown enough in Adelaide to suggest that his legs are good.  Cancellara and Boonan will be ready to battle.  Andy Schleck is targeting La Doyenne, with Nibali and Evans also sniffing around.  

 

Gerrans will be assisted by a team a year older and a year wiser.  Lieutenants like O’Grady, Langeveldt, Albasini and Mouris.  Strong men.  Hard men.  Men of the classics.

 

Gerrans is already assured of his place in Australian cycling history.  Wins in all three Grand Tours.  Natioanl Champipon.  Stage race winner.  Classic winner.

 

Claim victory in April, and not only will he be in the Australian Hall of Fame.  He will move into rarified air.  A two time Classics winner.  It’s what a rider of his ability deserves.

 

 

Wilunga to be the battle ground again

Before this edition of the Tour Down Under, it was predicted that Stage 2, the climb of Corkscrew Hill would split the bunch to bots and decide the selection before a final battle of the slopes of Old Wilunga.

And lo, it has come down to that, although maybe not quite in the way we expected.  The crashes that marred the descent of the Corkscrew has contributed as much to the make up of the race, with Phillippe Gilbert and Matty Lloyd, amongst many to hit the bitumen and see their GC hopes tumble down the slope with them.

We also saw some rusty legs from some of the favourites too, notably Simon Gerrans, as the challenge came earlier than normal.

So we have an eclectic mix of GC riders in the running for overall honours, led by Geraint Thomas.  The Sky strongman has trained the house down in Adelaide since Christmas, and was superb in Wednesday’s stage, taking the victory after a bold attack on the climb, a nerveless decent, and trackie’s style sprint.  Thomas is set for a big 2013 with major Classic ambitions (Flanders is his big aim), and a spot in the all conquering Team Sky TDF squad, possibly in the place of Michael Rogers, now of Saxo-Tinkoff.

While Thomas and his team are in control, there are a number of challengers milling around Thomas.  A bunch of riders that are reflecting a new generation.  Winner in Stirling, Tom Slagter of the rebranded Blanco outfit sits 5 seconds back, and his team have a double threat with the exciting Wilco Kelderman sitting in tenth spot.  They have a strong two card hand to play.  Kelderman in particular looks to have a huge future, although he did get involved in the crash that marred Stage 4.

It’s a similar story at Radioshack, emerging from their own tumultuous year.  No Bruyneel, no Frank Schleck, and in terms of GC here, no Andy Schleck.  What they do have however is three riders within touching distance.  Tiago Machado finished third last year, and is primed for a real crack on Wilunga, but the emergence of the Belgian Ben Hermans and the young Kiwi George Bennett has surprised.  

Just 20 years old, Bennett is a precocious talent.  A former mountain biker, he grabbed the silver medal at the NZ Nationals two weeks ago and played a major team role on the US races at the back end of 2012.  If they let him off the leash, Bennett could be the surprise packet.

And it’s brotherly love at Euskatel with the Izagirre boys only fifteen seconds back.  Gorka, the elder is the more widely known, but it’s Jon who is maybe the one to watch with a Giro Stage win under belt last year.

The prospects of a battle royale are good, with several teams desperate to make a mark, knowing that Greipel’s superlative form means victory on the street circuit looks a formality.  So expect Gilbert, Gerrans, De Gendt, Velits and Iglinsky to give it a red hot go on the second ascent of the famous old hill.

 

Andre a sprinting Giant

It may have been inevitable, but it was brutal and brilliant.  Andre Greipel took out Stage One of this year’s Tour Down Under in emphatic style, putting daylight between him and some of the world’s top quick men.  

Lotto were, again, superb in keeping control of the race, positioning their man and letting him do his thing.  And that thing is to crush everyone in his way.  Greg Henderson was describing the finish to his teammates post race, “He pulled out with 200 to go and just *motorbike noise*, and I thought ‘F**k me….” Quite Gregory. Quite.

The boy from Rostock, in the old East, has come a long way from his days as the number two at HTC.  He was winning races in Australia 5 years ago, but seemed destined to be the man who was good, but “wasn’t Cav”.  The move to Lotto 2 years ago changed everything.

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Now Greipel is the most feared fastman around.  His team are the number one lead out train by a distance.  It’s no coincidence.  Andre handpicked ex-HTC riders like Sieberg and Hansen to come to Lotto with him.  He believes in them.  They would crawl over broken class to deliver their man to the line.  Lotto are the very definition of the word team.  Each victory for Andre, is a victory for the guys drifting across the line in his wake.  

On the bike, a machine.  A brutal winning machine.  Greipel snapped five chains in training for the race in two days.  Off the bike, a quiet, friendly, thoroughly decent guy.  One of the most well liked in the bunch.  You won’t get a “f**k off” to any journos from Gringo.

Which brings us to Cav, and seemingly Greipel will never quite escape being bracketed with the Manx Missile.  Five years ago, it was Cav being in the team that stopped Greipel grabbing the limelight.  In Copenhagen eighteen months ago, it’s was British Gold to German Bronze.  In 2012, they traded Tour wins.  Greipel with the Lotto train.  Cav living off Sky scraps.

In 2013 it will be a battle royale.  The two fast men on rival Belgian teams.  Both littered with the remains of HTC.  Sieberg, Henderson, Hansen, Greipel.  Velits, Grabsch, Martin, Cavendish.  Greipel v Cavendish.  Same as it ever was.