The Tour Down Under is over with Richie Porte winning the overall and Caleb Ewan winning the final stage, but what can we learn about the season ahead from the opening WorldTour race.
Caleb Ewan is the real deal
However his complete domination of the Tour Down Under sprint stages was seriously impressive, showing consistency that he has not displayed in his career up to now.
Yes the field was missing big names such as Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and André Greipel, but Ewan still had to overcome a serious challenge from Peter Sagan to win stage six, and was able to deliver stage wins both when given a perfect lead-out by his Orica-Scott team-mates and when having to fight for wheels in the final 500m.
The next step is for Ewan to deliver consistent results in Europe as well as Australia. He hasn’t been able to do that in the past, but that could well change with greater experience and confidence.
Richie Porte is on for a big year
We’re not going to predict that Richie Porte can challenge Chris Froome at the Tour de France on the basis that he can beat Esteban Chaves by 48 seconds in January, but it’s hard to ignore the dominance of his victory.
That’s the biggest winning margin at the Tour Down Under in 17 years, with Porte head and shoulders above the opposition in the hills in the same way that Ewan was in the sprints.
Porte was always the favourite coming into the race, but the ease with which he was able to ride away from the likes of Henao and Chaves surely giving him confidence for the season ahead.
Danny van Poppel has to start producing for Sky
Team Sky travelled to the Tour Down Under hoping to deliver Sergio Henao to overall victory, but after the Colombian suffered a poorly timed puncture on stage two, it was up to Danny van Poppel to salvage Sky’s race.
On paper, the Dutchman’s four top-four finishes don’t look too bad, but they don’t show the superb positions that he was dropped off in by his lead-out train.
It was the same scenario on stages three and four: hard work by the team with Luke Rowe putting van Poppel in the perfect position to take the win. However, on stage three he hesitated, allowing Ewan to come over the top, and on stage four he simply didn’t have the legs.
Van Poppel said on Friday that there were still opportunities for sprinters at Sky despite the team’s GC focus, but if he can’t deliver in situations like these, then he may find those opportunities harder to come by.
The Tour Down Under needs a shake up
If you’re an Australian cycling fan, then we’re sure the Tour Down Under is a great race. After all, Australians have won every stage for the last two editions, and have also dominated the overall since Tom-Jelte Slagter won in 2013.
But for the rest of us, it can get a little tedious, with not even the addition of Peter Sagan to the start list able to prevent Caleb Ewan’s sprint domination.
Part of the solution could be to throw in a time trial. Not a long one that would completely decide the GC – just something that would mean that the race isn’t completely decided on the same one or two uphill finishes that are there year-after-year.
And if the race organisers don’t want to get rid of a sprint stage, then how about a split stage? A 10km time trial on the criterium circuit used for the final stage, followed by the criterium itself in the afternoon.
What’s the worse that could happen?
Lotto-Soudal deserve to be the fans’ favourite
If you just watched the last minute of each stage, then you might not even realise that Lotto-Soudal were riding at the Tour Down Under.
But for those who tuned in to watch the race live, they were always off the front trying to make the race exciting (usually in combination with Jack Bauer, who won the most combative rider prize on three stages).
It was the usual subjects who were normally off the front, with Adam Hansen and Thomas De Gendt frequently on the attack.
This wasn’t rewarded with a stage win, but at least De Gendt won the mountains classification thanks to typically aggressive riding on the final two stages.