The White stuff
Throughout the Australian summer, Mitchelton-Scott's modus operandi has been to heap pressure upon BMC Racing. It worked at nationals, and the same treatment was applied here at the Tour Down Under. It seems that having a hashtag of 'dontcrackunderpressure' means very little in the real world.
This brings us neatly onto Matt White. In 2011, after guiding a young Cameron Meyer to victory in Adelaide, White returned to the race hotel only to be unceremoniously fired by Slipstream Sports for his part in sending a rider to Luis Garcia del Moral's lab for a VO2 test. Whether the dismissal was the right decision is as debatable now as it was then, but suffice to say, White has flourished at Mitchelton Scott. This is now his fifth win as a sports director at the race – a tally no other team boss can match. Pound-for-pound there are few better directors in the bunch, with White combining a trait for signing talent – Chaves, the Yates brothers, Ewan and Matthews – but also getting the best out of riders either deemed over the hill or surplus to requirements – Gerrans, Tuft, Albasini, Clarke and now Daryl Impey. There are of course exceptions to that rule, not everything works out, but White has not only built an all-firing team of talent, he got the best out of so many of his riders too. (DB)
Porte should skip the 2019 edition
There were probably five factors on the road that lead to Richie Porte missing out on the overall win and the defence of his title – a red-hot Daryl Impey; the stiff headwind on Willunga; not sprinting to the line on Willunga; wasting energy on the race towards Willunga when EF split the field, and on stage 4 when a slight moment of hesitation meant that his move with George Bennett was brought back. Second overall, and a fifth straight win on Willunga are nothing to be sniffed at, and the BMC leader can take positives from this year's display - not least the fact that he has recovered from his serious crash at the Tour de France in 2017. However, the 2018 edition should mark Porte's final appearance at the Tour Down Under until his Tour targeting days are over.
Coming back, winning again in 2019, this will do little to improve his already impressive palmares, and winning the Tour de France should be his sole focus. Interestingly, during this year's race, one of his former sports directors remarked that he couldn't believe Porte was so lean and ready to race this early in the season, and there is some merit to that argument. No recent Tour Down Under participant has gone on to win the Tour de France in the same year, and while Porte may like coming to Adelaide, and may like winning on home roads, and getting a much-needed confidence boost, there is a question over whether it's the right programme. Word has it, that if Porte hadn't crashed out of the Tour in 2017, he wouldn't have been in Adelaide this time around.
The counter-argument to all of this is that Porte knows his body better than anyone else, he alone knows what his true capabilities are, and if his team were reluctant for him to target Australia's premier race then he simply wouldn't be here. Add to that that he won the Tour Down Under in 2017 and was almost unbeatable until his crash at the Tour six months later. So, for now, the jury is out, but it will be interesting to see if Porte returns in twelve months time. (DB)
Andre Greipel is among the firm favourites at the Tour Down Under, and that's not because he's won a record 18 stages – although that helps - it's because of the manner of his victories and the way in which he gracefully deals with victory as well as he does defeat.
The veteran sprinter came into this year's race with mounting pressure, having had a poor season by his standards in 2017 and with his contract up for renewal at the end of the current campaign. Any questions, however, about the German's form and age were immediately dispatched on stage 1, with teammate Adam Hansen admitting that the German had saved Lotto on numerous occasions. On the final stage in the centre of Adelaide Greipel was at it once more, again beating a world-class field with one of his best sprints in recent years. Of course, the last twelve months have been difficult for Greipel – both on and off the bike – but the way in which he has conducted himself has never been in question. At the end of stage 6, a female member of the support crew here at the race told CN that she wanted Greipel to win and that her first TDU coincided with the sprinters first victory in the 2000s. That sort of affectionate nostalgia is sometimes overshadowed these days by clickbait headlines, relentless social media and the sheer non-stop noise that comes with professional sport. However, pause for a moment and you realise just what makes racing special – it's the fans, it's the riders and it's everything a bike race makes you feel. As for Greipel, yes he is approaching the latter years of his career, but after seeing the adoration and respect for him at the TDU there's at least one fan who would like to see him carry on for a little while longer. (DB)
A spread of winners
In 2017, Caleb Ewan and Richie Porte were the sole stage winners at the Tour Down Under. The 19th edition of the race was also the second in succession in which non-Australian's failed to claim a win.
Fast-forward to the present, and five of the seven race days, including the People's Choice Classic, went to European riders. Ewan and Porte still took their wins but pleasingly for race director Mike Turtur, Andre Greipel made a winning return Down Under. Peter Sagan became the first world champion to win a stage of the race in the rainbow bands and Elia Viviani opened his QuickStep-Floors account in style.
In the battle for the overall, Daryl Impey's win for Mitchelton-Scott was the first for a non-Australian since 2013 and first for a South African. Perhaps the Australian fans were backing in Richie Porte for the overall but then surely they, like the BMC rider, would trade in an ochre jersey in January, for a yellow jersey in July. Impey though is a committed teammate and his chances are few are far between. His win was one for the underdogs. A sporting narrative a favourite of the Australian fans.
Add into the mix a KOM win for Nicholas Dlamini and best young rider classification for Egan Bernal, and the spread of winners was broader and richer than previous years. An important fact when addressing the strength of the race and its ability to attract the big names of the race. Even in the second hottest race on record when it all looked better suited to the Australians, Europeans, South Africans and Colombians came Down Under and take home the majority of the prize money. (ZW)
Attendance and coverage
As Mike Tutur pointed out on several occasions pre-race and then during the six stages, a 20th anniversary is an occasion to celebrate.
However, the 20th birthday was perhaps an entree for its 21st. Back-to-back days of plus 40-degree days a major reason in the reduction of crowd numbers. As Turtur explained the day after the race, he wouldn't go to a bike race in 40-degree heat if it wasn't part of his job.
Across the week, the Saturday night Legends Dinner which featured all but one of the previous winners was a nod to the history of the Tour Down Under but overall it appeared theme of the birthday celebration was 'low-key'. A new logo on the classification jerseys made mention of the 20th birthday as did advertising for the race but arguably more was made the anniversary in the lead up then during the race itself.
While the fans did come out again, many choosing to ride to stage starts and finishes, the heat ensured a larger number stayed home to watch the race. Channel Nine has now held the broadcasting rights for several years have put together a television package that aims to appeal to both the casual and full-time cycling fan. The choice of shots during Willunga Hill though was confusing for all and left the audience unsure of the result. Once Porte raised his arms in victory, the camera panned back to show Impey round the corner. Rather than see the all-important sprint to the line, the action cut back to Peter Sagan taking it easy up the climb then shoot back to the second group crossing the line. Hopefully for 2019, viewers can enjoy the queen stage of the race with seamless television production. (ZW)
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