Richie Porte has still got it
In a reverse of the familiar pattern that had been established at the Tour Down Under over the past few years, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) failed to extend his run of victories atop Willunga Hill to seven, but did instead manage to win the overall classification for just the second time in his career.
Despite having taken control of the race as early as stage three, which he won with a powerful late attack, Porte later lost the overall lead to Daryl Impey after the Mitchelton-Scott rider picked up a series of bonus seconds at intermediate sprints, leaving Porte needing two seconds to dethrone Impey on the final Willunga Hill stage.
That Porte was able to drop Impey with such ease (he finished 26 seconds down, having been dropped earlier on the climb), and defeated all of his other GC rivals (only the British neo-pro Matt Holmes was able to better him – more on him later), suggests that there’s life left still in this old dog.
There had been mumblings regarding whether Porte – who turns 35 later this week – had passed his best, having gone over a year without a single win. But the way he stormed up the two uphill finishes in Australian last week, leaving his much younger star rivals such as Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) to dust, was a convincing rebuttal of such doubts.
Caleb Ewan stars in the sprints
With a total of two stage wins (plus a bonus victory at the Schwalbe Classic), local boy Caleb Ewan was the most successful sprinter at the Tour Down Under.
Key to the 25-year-old’s success was his versatility. While one of his wins came in a conventional sprint, on a flat run-in to the line against Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), the other was achieved through an explosive acceleration on an uphill finish, the gradients of which were too much for his purer sprinter rivals.
At the other end of the spectrum was Elia Viviani, who made a worryingly anonymous start to life at Cofidis with just one placement inside the top 20. Given the travails of his predecessor at the team, Nacer Bouhanni, Viviani will want some wins as soon as possible to dispel any comparisons that might be made between the two.
Much happier will be Giacomo Nizzolo, who claimed his first WorldTour win in over seven years following his win in stage five’s bunch sprint. That result might also prove to be a breakthrough for the newly re-branded NTT Pro Cycling team, who have brought in the controversial Bjarne Riis as general manager in the hope of getting out of the rut they’ve been stuck in the past few years.
Spratt loses out to Winder in women’s race
While Richie Porte’s six-year run of winning atop Willunga Hill came to an end in the men’s race, another lengthy unbeaten streak also reached its demise in the women’s race as Amanda Spratt lost out to Ruth Winder in the overall classification.
Spratt had made the race her own since its inception in 2016, helping team-mate Katrin Garfoot to overall victory in the inaugural edition, and winning all three of the editions since then.
After winning stage two from a three-woman breakaway, it looked as though Spratt was well on her way to sealing a fourth successive overall title. However, she was defeated the next day by her nearest challenger on the GC, Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), and the bonus seconds attained on that uphill finishing sprint was enough to catapult her into the lead – a lead she comfortably defended on the final circuit stage in Adelaide.
The victory is Winder’s first overall triumph in a WorldTour race, and her biggest since moving to Trek-Segafredo last year.
A new British talent emerges
Might we have just witnessed the birth of a new British racing star? Little was known of Matt Holmes before the Tour Down Under, who was competing as a part in the WorldTour for the first time in his career having been signed by Lotto-Soudal from Madison-Genesis.
Results like sixth overall in last year’s Tour de Yorkshire suggested he had talent, and helped convince Lotto-Soudal to sign him up, but not much was expected of him at the Tour Down Under.
So it came as a very welcome surprise to see him latch onto Richie Porte’s wheel in the race’s finale on Willunga Hill, and even more remarkable still to watch him outsprint the experienced Australian despite having spent the whole day in the breakaway.
Aged 26, Holmes isn’t exactly a spring chicken, but this stage-winning performance on the race’s most prestigious stage suggests that there is scope for him to go up another level. If, as he indicated in a post-race interview, Holmes hadn’t even considered himself a rider for uphill finishes, imagine how good he could become if he starts training specifically for races like this? We have little ideas of his limits – and neither, it seems, does he.
Mixed success for Bennett on Deceuninck-Quick-Step debut
It was a promising debut for Sam Bennett at his new team Deceuninck-Quick-Step, but with clear room for improvement.
Stage one was a trademark lead-out from the team, pulling off their usual trick of only appearing at the front at the optimal moment, 1.5km from the finish, and not relinquishing their position until final lead-out man Michael Mørkøv launched Bennett to victory.
But the subsequent sprints did not go quite as smoothly. On stage two the Irishman simply did not have the legs to compete on an uphill finish unsuited to his attributes but the following two defeats can be put down to mistakes – starting his sprint too early on stage four, and being caught the wrong side of a small split on stage five.
Still, to come out of a WorldTour race featuring such a high calibre of sprinters with one stage win, plus a second and third place finish, and to be mildly disappointed with that return, is a sign of just how highly regarded Bennett now is.