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.