What we took from the opening WorldTour race of the season
Daryl Impey has found his niche
Throughout his career, Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) has been a talented jack of all trades, but a master of none.
A fast finisher who isn’t quite quick enough to be a bunch sprinter, and a solid climber who does nevertheless get dropped on ascents of a certain difficulty, the South African has enjoyed a career of successes – most notably his couple of days in yellow at the 2013 Tour de France – without ever identifying a specific discipline or race to specialise in.
In the Tour Down Under, however, he seems to have found a race perfectly suited to his particular attributes. By being hilly enough to eliminate the purer sprinters, stages three and four enabled him to pick up bonus seconds (and a stage win) in the sprints, while the decisive climb of Willunga Hill on the final day of racing is just about short enough for him to be competitive on – he finished third, with the same time as GC threats Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Wout Poels (Sky).
As a result, Impey becomes the first ever rider to win two successive editions of Australia’s leading stage race, and, if the route continues to stick to the current format, will be the man to beat again in 2020.
Winning on Willunga Hill is not key to winning the overall
It might be the race’s signature climb, and only proper hilltop finish, but Willunga Hill actually tends to play less of a role in determining the overall winner of the Tour Down Under than you might imagine.
Richie Porte rightfully received plenty of praise for winning atop the climb for a remarkable sixth successive edition, but in that time it should be noted that the Australian has only won the overall on one occasion.
Instead, the key to winning the Tour Down Under appears to lie in the accumulation of bonus points, coupled with a defensive ride on Willunga Hill – as Impey demonstrated again this year.
Porte might again have been the best climber on the race, but Willunga Hill – and the Corkscrew Climb he attacked on during stage four – aren’t difficult enough for him to compensate for the inability to sprint for essential bonus seconds.
Patrick Bevin can flourish in a leadership role
Following the decisions of riders like Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis to sign for different squads, the fortunes of the CCC Team will be significantly dependent on less starry names inherited from BMC.
One such rider is Patrick Bevin, and, on the basis of his performance in Australian, the Kiwi could be one of the team’s most important riders during their first year at WorldTour-level.
Bevin inherited the overall lead after winning an uphill sprint on stage two, and defended it with an impressive assurance, preserving his position in light of attacks on Corkscrew climb, and going toe-to-toe with Impey in the sprints.
He was ultimately unfortunate not to hold onto the lead, as injuries sustained in a crash on the penultimate stage proved too deliberating for him to keep up with the pace during the Willunga Hill finale. But on this showing, he might be a good shout for leadership roles in stages races later in the season.
Fine margins in the sprints
Rather than a straightforward contest of speed, sprinting technique played a significant role in the bunch sprints at the Tour Down Under.
Elia Viviani’s (Deceuninck-Quick Step) was breathtakingly good on stage one, when the Italian skilfully, and bravely, squeezed through the narrowest of gaps between Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) and the barrier before storming to victory.
By contrast, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) was overzealous in his sprint on stage five, appearing to headbutt Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) in the run-in, an offence for which the commissaires stripped him of the stage win in favour of the 20-year old Belgian.
Home riders untouchable the Women’s Tour Down Under
As usual, there was much to cheer for Aussie fans at the Women’s Tour Down Under.
After a surprise opening sprint victory for teenager Letizia Paternoster (Trek-Segafredo), the home nation enjoyed hat-trick of stage victories, with Amanda Spratt’s triumph on stage two’s key GC showdown followed by an uphill sprint win for Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott) and regular sprint for Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini).
On top of that, Australian riders occupied all three of the spots on the podium for the first time since the 2013 edition, with Spratt winning comfortably ahead of Lucy Kennedy and Rachel Neylan.
Aussie riders obviously benefit from targeting this race while other, non-local riders ease their way more gradually into the season, but nothing should be taken away from Spratt. She obliterated the field on stage two to win the overall for the third year running, this time by the comfortable margin of 49 seconds, and looks set to build upon what was the best season of her career last year.