Porte serves early warning
It would have been easy to dismiss the Australian press and their giddy embrace of Richie Porte's win as pure hype but that would have been an injustice to all concerned.
There is something different about Porte this year, and it's not just the fact that his weight appears as low as it has ever been before. It's the steel in his demeanour and a spring in his step that suggests he knows something we don't when it comes to how the rest of his season will pan out. Yes, this is ‘just the Tour Down Under' and yes the nearest opposition was an undercooked Esteban Chaves competing on shallow climbs, but Porte and BMC still needed to deliver when called upon.
Porte's performances on the climbs should of course be taken with a pinch of salt, when looking ahead to the rest of the season but the groundwork he has laid behind the scenes with BMC is significant. Tejay van Garderen has been shunted to the Giro; riders like Fran Ventoso and Nico Roche has bolstered the domestique hub, and Porte is into his second full season with a team who strived to sign him several years ago. The pieces in Porte's Tour puzzle are coming together.
Of course this doesn't mean that Porte will win, or even podium at the Tour, and we have yet to see any of his principle rivals in action, yet this is the best Porte we've seen, and that alone is worth noting. (DB)
Will this be a common sight for Porte's rivals in 2017 (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
Haas is closing in on a major win
Nathan Haas may have missed out on the final podium by the skin of his teeth but the growing sense within the paddock is that the Australian is on the cusp of a major result. Now 27, he finally looks to be delivering on the early promise his career hinted. The phase of stagnation that surrounded him at Slipstream has been left behind.
In 2016, his first season at Dimension Data, Haas won a stage in the Tour of Burgos before taking two top-10 places at the Canadian WorldTour races and he has carried on where he left off this January. In seven days of racing he has finished no lower than 9th and his impressively mature ride on Willunga Hill - although eclipsed by Porte - was the latest standout performance in this slow burning tale.
Haas will never be as fast as a Michael Matthews, as cunning as a Greg Van Avermaet or as complete as a Peter Sagan, and while the fourth overall at TDU will hurt him for the manner in which it slipped through his fingers, it feels as though a major result in just around the corner. A free role at the Giro, and a chance to shine in the Ardennes should be on the cards. (DB)
Nathan Haas never stopped smiling all week but that didn't mean he wasn't taking the race seriously as his results proved (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
During an episode of the Cyclingnews podcast the team debated whether the thousands of Australian fans who lined the road wanted to see an Australian winner or the best possible race? The obvious answer would dovetail both scenarios but in the end, they, and the rest of us had to settle for national success over an enthralling spectacle.
There are many factors at play as to why this race panned out as it did. Few northern hemisphere riders are at their best; home-grown talent peaks for January; the WorldTour structure passively encourages a safety first approach to tactics, two riders were simply unbeatable, and if the route has two similar hilltop finishes the strongest rider will naturally dominate.
Click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel.
Looking back, Porte effectively won the race with one acceleration on stage 2 and Ewan's assault in the sprints were unmatchable. One should appreciate a win for a win, regardless of nationality, so the fact that a non-Australian hasn't won stage here since 2015 is somewhat inconsequential but in order to change the dynamic of the race next year the organisers may look at the parcours as well as their invite list.
The race lacked a stage that truly suited a break, which meant that teams competing without a sprinter or a pure climber were left to automatically race for points rather than prizes. Ewan, despite Bora's best efforts, lacked competition, and while Orica will lose little sleep over this, the organisation may wish to attract a deeper pocket of sprinters for next year. That's not to say the race isn't the perfect season opener. The weather, the organisation, and the adoring fans make this one of the biggest races in the world. Porte may come back in 2018 and be just as impressive, but for the 20th anniversary to do the race justice, a few tweaks could be made. (DB)
Crowd's were slightly down in 2017 compared to 2016 but the South Australian scenery was beautiful as always (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
New approach, new success for UniSA-Australia
The sole wild card team for the 19th edition of the race, UniSA-Australia fielded a seven-man squad that contained five of the six youngest riders in the race. Four of those riders were also making their WorldTour debuts but under the new guidance of director sportif, Brad McGee the team forwent its previous tactics of 'attack, attack, attack' to concentrate on the general classification, and if that goal was on track, the team classification.
19-year-old Michael Storer’s 15th place on GC and Nathan Earle’s 11th place help to secure the team classification ahead of the 18 WorldTour teams with Movistar over one minute in arrears. While it was the third team classification by UniSA at the race, following success in 2004, 2006 and 2007, it is the first time the composite squad has achieved the feat when they race has been held at WorldTour level.
The majority of the U23 riders on the team will again pull on the national jersey at this weekend’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race Road, and next week’s Herald Sun Tour with the peloton a little more aware of their capabilities and refusal to be intimated by seasoned WorldTour professionals. Cam Meyer’s presence in the stage 4 breakaway seemed like a throwback considering the 2017 tactics of UniSA-Australia, as he was rewarded with the combativity prize. Having won stages and wore jerseys in previous years, this year’s Tour Down Under may just usher in a new standard of approach for UniSA-Australia who could call upon the likes of Sam Jenner, Storer, Callum Scotson, Jai Hindley and Lucas Hamilton for a few more years before the step up into the pro ranks. (ZW)
Cam Meyer joins Jack Bauer on the podium on stage 4 after a day in the break (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
In 2010, Peter Sagan was an anonymous neo-pro making his debut in the WorldTour with Liquigas. In 2017, he was the star attraction at the race and became the first rider to be honoured at the annual ‘legends dinner’ while partaking in the event. There was no stage win or visits to the podium but Sagan showed several talents that aren’t necessarily on show at the Classics or Tour de France all while pleasing the fans and doing the rainbow jersey proud.
Australian Jay McCarthy repeatedly spoke of Sagan’s capabilities as a road captain across the week and how the Slovakian was keeping him cool and focused in his bid for the podium. Needing three bonus seconds on the final stage to bump Nathan Haas from the podium, Sagan lead out McCarthy for the bonuses then swept up second place, playing the domestique role to perfection. It was an act that McCarthy is unlikely to forget any time soon, and he will repay the favour to Sagan back in Europe.
The Australian fans would have preferred to have seen a Sagan victory rather than the world champion on domestique duty but judging by the number of selfies and fancy dress outfits, he has nevertheless made a mark Down Under, inspiring a new generation to get on the bike. (ZW)
Peter Sagan rides in the Bora-Hansgrohe train during the Tour Down Under (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)