A new beginning for Richie Porte
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As ever, local star Richie Porte will enter the Tour Down Under as one of the major favourites for overall victory – only this time, he’ll be riding for Trek-Segafredo, having transferred over from BMC in the off-season.
During his three years at BMC, Porte enjoyed an excellent record at the Tour Down Under, twice finishing second and claiming overall victory in 2017, while also claiming the queen stage on each edition.
Now riding for a new team, Porte will be desperate to break out of the vicious cycle he found himself in at BMC of showing promise early in the season only to flop at his major goal, the Tour de France. A second career overall victory at the Tour Down Under would be a very encouraging way to start.
For many – especially those who may have helped themselves to one or two too many mince pies over the festive period – January might seem like too early in the year to return to competitive racing, but this year’s Tour Down Under has nonetheless managed to attract three of the world’s best sprinters.
2018’s leading sprinter Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) returns to the race where he opened his account last year, and will be eager to carry through his form from last year into 2019.
He’ll face serious competition, however, most notably in the form of Caleb Ewan. The Australian tends to bring his A-game to his home stage race, having accumulated seven victories over the past three editions, and will be hoping to make an immediate impression riding for his new team, Lotto-Soudal.
Then there’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who begins his season at the Tour Down Under for the third successive season, and will inevitably be the centre of attention.
They’re all likely to duke it out in bunch sprints on stages one and two, as well as the People’s Choice Classic held two days prior to the race’s start, and possibly on hillier stages three and five.
Mitchelton-Scott attempts to defend title
An unusual statistical quirk of recent Tours Down Under is that Mitchelton-Scott have been victorious in the overall classification in four of the past seven editions without ever winning twice in a row. If that pattern continues they’ll miss out on the title this year, but the team are hopeful that defending champion Daryl Impey can break the trend.
The South African will have a strong team to support him, including recently crowned Australian time trial champion Luke Durbridge, and the veteran former Paris-Roubaix winner Matt Hayman, for whom this will be a last race before retiring.
But he’ll also face stiff competition from others hoping to claim the overall honours. The rider Durbridge defeated into second at the nationals, Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida), stands out as a potential candidate, especially now he won’t have to compete with former team-mate Richie Porte for the status as team leader.
Others worth keeping an eye on include Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac), former podium finishers Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Diego Ulissi (UAE Emirates), and Kiwi George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma). Team Sky’s best hopes appear to lie with Wout Poels.
A Rejigged route
The route of the Tour Down Under doesn’t change much year on year, but there is one significant alteration to the 2019 edition: the Willunga Hill climb will again provide the finish for the race’s queen stage, only this time that will be the final rather than penultimate stage of the race.
The usual final sprinters’ stage in Adelaide has been scrapped, meaning whoever emerges from the Willunga Hill stage will be crowned overall winner.
That climb is therefore likely to be as important as ever in determining the ranking of the GC, with an average gradient of seven per cent and overall length of 3km enough to encourage attacks and forge gaps between the overall contenders, on top of the bonus seconds available on the line (10 seconds for first, six for second and four for third).
But the significance of earlier climbs in the race should not be overlooked – specifically, the Corkscrew road climb in the finale of stage four, a difficult effort with a maximum gradient of 15 per cent that has in the past prompted attacks from the likes of Richie Porte and Cadel Evans.
Women’s Tour Down Under
Prior to the men’s race, the women’s Tour Down Under will take place between January 10 – 13.
Unlike the men’s race, it has never been a part of the WorldTour, and consequently hasn’t managed to build the same level of prestige. But one look at the start list confirms that this year’s edition is likely to be a competitive race.
2017 and 2018 champion and local star Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) lines up to defend her title, and will face some serious competition against the likes of Ashleigh Moolman (CCC-Liv) and Elisa Longo Borghini, the latter of whom will be keen to make a great start for the peloton’s exciting new team, Trek-Segafredo.
They will likely contest for the GC honours on stage two’s finish atop Mengler Hill, while sprinters like Aussie Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) and Lotta Lepisto (another of Trek-Segafredo’s big names) will have chances for success in the other stages.