Stage 2 of the Tour Down Under may have had some general classification hopefuls on the hunt for bonus seconds, but the battle for the overall will truly kick into action on Thursday, with the Corkscrew climb positioned just shy of the finish on stage 3.
The double ascent of Willunga Hill on the penultimate stage will settle the general classification but the steeper gradients of Corkscrew, 2.5 kilometres long at an average nine per cent, will be just as important in the battle for overall honours. Whoever's going to emerge victorious will need to descend just as well as he can climb, with the ascent preceded by a speedy trip down Gorge Road and followed by a 5.7-kilometre drop to the finish line in Campbelltown.
Team Sky have posted a video on Twitter in which Geraint Thomas, who won the Corkscrew stage two years ago, describes the climb, from the fast and furious approach to the lower slopes and the steep hairpin bends, and finally the run-in to the line.
"There's a big race down to the bottom. That descent, there's a few real fast corners and a few little rises but it's 70-80km/h down there and it's like a full-on bunch sprint. It's tough and it's pretty sketchy," Thomas said.
"Once you turn left onto Corkscrew it drags for two or three minutes - you're climbing but just getting into it. Then it really ramps up and the steepest part has to be around 15 per cent. It's steep, then you have that bit with a few hairpins, then it flattens out towards the top.
"The run-in, there was a crash a couple of years ago, but if you compare it to something like [Milan-]San Remo it's nothing like the Poggio, there's maybe like two corners at the start of the descent, which are, I wouldn't say dangerous, but just a bit more technical."
In his stage preview for Cyclingnews, Orica-GreenEdge directeur sportif Matt White was keen to emphasise the difficulty of the climb and its importance in the fight for overall honours.
"The pure climbers are whom you'll see on the Corkscrew as it's hard enough and long enough that it does break up considerably," he said. "No teams have the chance to get organised as it's 10 minutes between top of the Corkscrew and the finish, the race is blown to pieces on the climb, and finding your teammates and getting a chase organised is very, very difficult."
Four riders who could make an impact
Sergio Henao (Team Sky)
Team Sky have come to the Tour Down Under with two cards to play for the overall, and while Sergio Henao and Geraint Thomas would ideally come over the top of Corkscrew together, it is the Colombian who has the greater potential to strike clear on the shaper gradients of the climb.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing)
BMC are another team with two leaders, and it will be interesting how they approach things on the Corkscrew. Rohan Dennis will believe he can hang in there, but Richie Porte has the greater explosivity and may well want to make use of it to make a statement of intent in his first outing with BMC.
Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling)
By all accounts, Matt White received a message from his Orica-GreenEdge rider Esteban Chaves warning him about the outstanding form of Chaves' fellow Colombian Jarlinson Pantano. The 27-year-old was ninth overall at last year's race and, now in his second year at WorldTour level, will be expecting to improve on that and won't pass up the opportunity to stretch his climbing legs.
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida)
Diego Ulissi is an attacking rider with a fast finish who can also cope ably with the harder climbs. He sits second on GC after picking up bonus seconds for his second place on stage 2 and is a major contender for the overall.
Cyclingnews will have full live coverage of the stage, kicking off at 10am (Adelaide time) with an exclusive Q&A with Matt White.
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