10 conclusions from the 2014 Santos Tour Down Under

Gerrans on song, Evans and Porte on track for Giro

The Santos Tour Down Under (TDU) was a nail-biting affair that brought the fans out in their thousands. Now the race has been run and won and the dust has settled, Cyclingnews looks back at the top ten talking points from the race.

Gerrans lived up to the hype
Simon Gerrans (Orica GreenEdge) came into the TDU as the overwhelming favourite, and he delivered. “This race is going to be won or lost by seconds,” Gerrans stated in a forthright fashion, and how right he was. Gerrans later said that his competitors were in disbelief when he went full-gas after a one second time bonus during the opening stage. But that one second proved crucial.

Matt White said that this is the best Simon Gerrans he has seen and this bodes well for Orica GreenEdge’s attempt at winning a second Milan San Remo. The addition of the Pompeiana climb for San Remo suits Gerrans but it also suits Peter Sagan. Will we see a rematch of the third stage of last year’s Tour de France where Gerrans bested Sagan in a photo finish?

Next on the menu for Gerrans is the Jayco Herald Sun Tour starting February 5th. Gerrans has won the Sun Tour twice before, and his aims for this year’s edition? "We’ll be there, we'll be trying to win it."

Porte and Evans set for Giro showdown, but what about Quintana?

The stage wins by Cadel Evans (BMC) and Porte (Team Sky) were utterly perfect. A script writer could not have done a better job. Evans slowly ground his way up the corkscrew; head kinked and elbows bent, grunting away in his trademark agonising fashion, and he put on a thrilling descending clinic down the other side.

Porte, on the other hand, was the best up Willunga Hill and as he said of Movistar's Alejandro Valverde in last year’s Tour de France: "He attacked so early and it takes a fair set of swingers to do that." This time the compliments belong to Porte.

For Australian fans, the showdown between Evans and Porte at the Giro is looking good with both riders on form and full of confidence. Both riders started their pre-season in December which means top form is yet to come.

But the hype around the Aussie duo is tempered by the recent success of Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Quintana just sealed victory in Tour de San Luis and stated that the Giro is his main target for the season. That means one thing for Porte and Evans; game on.

Ulissi: Bettini in the making?
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) won the junior road world championships in 2006. The following year he fronted up to the Internazionale Bresciana, a 2.1 junior tour in Italy, and despite being a marked man he ran rings around his competitors. Ulissi claimed three stages and the overall and later that year he took the junior world title again. From then on those that had seen him race knew that one day he would set the WorldTour alight.

A stage win and a third overall at the TDU proves his Giro stage win from three years ago was no fluke. Now Gerrans and Sagan will be taking the threat of this 24-year-old very seriously when La Primavera rolls around. With his superb climbing and stinging acceleration, is Ulissi the next Paolo Bettini?

Hansen: not just a domestique?
Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) has been billed as the next Jens Voigt; he is the domestique de luxe who delivers the sprint train at just the right time, or, the strongman in the breakaway riding the legs off his companions. Hansen believes that his recovery between stages leaves him suited to the Grand Tours but his performances at TDU show that his diesel engine has more top-end than he gives himself credit for.

His attack over Menglers Hill to take the first King of the Mountains [KOM] jersey came when riders were fresh, and he rode away from a raging peloton. Yes there was shadow boxing between main contenders, but when Hansen punched, many failed to follow.

A ninth overall and a KOM jersey highlight the all-round capabilities that should serve Hansen well as he chases another stage win at this year’s Giro.

Lotto chalk one up on Kittel, ready for Cavendish
Lotto Belisol scored first blood at the TDU with Greipel taking home two stages. Although Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the TDU prelude –the People's Choice Classic- it was Lotto who delivered when WordTour points were on the line. Even more impressive was the fact that Lotto got the job done whilst Greg Henderson was still recovering from an impromptu knee operation.

Lotto versus Giant-Shimano versus a Renshaw and Cavendish reunited Omega Pharma Quick-Step is the bill for the rest of the year, and as a result the sprints at this year's Tour will be faster than ever before.

Lotto has the early runs on the board and as Greipel said: “Chapeau to my team,” now it’s on the others to respond.

Haas is back
Haas burst onto the Australian scene in 2011 and did what no man, or woman, had done before; he leapfrogged straight to the WorldTour from the Australian National Road Series. He signed with Garmin but has since spent two years in the wilderness.

His absence from the headlines, however, is not unexpected and is typical of a rider learning the ropes and doing his domestique duties. At the TDU this year Haas climbed to a second place after the Corkscrew in stage three and even tagged onto the back of Evans on the grind up to the finish on Willunga Hill in stage five.

No one expects to see Haas continue climbing with Evans and Porte when he lines up at the Giro, but Haas told Cyclingnews he wants to perform well at the Ardennes classics and this looks very achievable. But what’s the secret to his new found form?

The answer is a new coach, Adrie van Dieman who also coaches a number of Haas’ Garmin cohort, and subsequent hours in the gym. “He’s just keeping me focussed,” Haas explained to Cyclingnews. "He actually does a lot of strength coaching so I’m spending more time in the gym than on the bike. A lot of people laughed at me when they found out how few hours I was doing on the bike each week." Well, who’s laughing now?

Drapac have more to prove
Drapac did two things at TDU; they didn’t quite live up to the hopes of local fans, and, they illustrated how big the gap is between Pro-Conti and WorldTour. To be fair, when the world’s best cyclists are winning each stage, and they were, there is little Drapac could have done other than attack and hope for the best. That is what they did and accordingly Will Clarke was most aggressive on three stages. No one can accuse the team of not rolling the dice.

"I think we've made a statement.” Drapac Directeur Henk Vogels told Cycling Central. "We weren't just spectators, we got in amongst it and had a crack,” Vogels said for future TDU's the team wants a stage win and a GC rider but admitted that "right now we don't have a million dollar bike rider in our team," but most importantly that "the class difference between us and the pro tour teams is our budget." When pressed if team owner Michael Drapac would loosen the purse strings to bring in more expensive riders Vogels was adamant, "That will happen, 100 per cent."

Position is everything
On the fast run into Corkscrew Rd in stage three, Cadel Evans was positioned perfectly by his team. They swung left onto the climb and after Morabito and Bookwalter had given all they had Evans rode away. Gerrans was fifteen to twenty riders behind Evans and he simply never made that gap up. For the riders even further down the field, they had no hope.

UniSA riders Mark O’Brien and Jack Haig both told Cyclingnews that they had the legs, but not the position: "I thought I was close to the front, but then when we turned left to go up the corkscrew it all strung out," said Haig.

Every directeur screams into their radio ‘Get to the front!’ But as Haig conceded, without a strong team to deliver you, it's just not that simple.

Respect in the bunch is earned, Haig passed the test
Another aspect of getting to the front is earning respect. In the unspoken hierarchy of the peloton the race leader sits atop, and naturally the unknown riders on the wildcard teams sit at the bottom. As Haig pointed out, however, wearing the white jersey helped increased his profile.

"A few people came up to me and knew who I was and said hello; Simon Clarke, Jack Bobridge and others," he explained. "Just all the guys seemed to want to help me out a little bit."

But the kindness of others never translates into a free ride, and as Haig explained, getting to the front in a WorldTour peloton is no easy feat.

"Everyone's so good at making their way through the peloton that the only way to move up was if someone else opened a small gap, and people just weren't opening small gaps," he said. "So if you tried to go down the outside of the peloton someone would just close the door on you."

Be it through confidence gained as the tour progressed, or having the white jersey on his shoulders, Haig found the gaps would eventually open.

Less is more when it comes to stage design
We see it all too often in Grand Tours; the epic 200 plus kilometre stage with five thousand metres of climbing is billed for greatness, but in effect it simply neutralises the peloton. The TDU on the other hand, was brought alive with short climbs and mere 150 kilometre stages. Riders are forced to attack and excitement ensues.

The pressure-cooker effect of a fresh peloton fighting for the front before a race-changing obstacle such as the corkscrew provides entertainment on par with a Hors category mountain. Of course Grand Tours are supposed to be the biggest, the highest and the longest, but that doesn't mean they will be the most interesting.

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