We assess the performance of seven leading riders during the Tour Down Under, the opening race of the 2017 WorldTour season
Richie Porte 10/10
In past editions of the race, Porte has missed out on the top spot through losing time early in the race, but on this occasion built a substantial lead as early as stage two’s hilltop finish at Paracombe. That meant that, for once, he entered the Willunga Hill stage defending a lead rather than playing catch up, and crossed the line not just as winner of the stage (for the fourth year in a row), but as the virtual winner overall.
In terms of prestige, this result ranks somewhere near his WorldTour-ranked stage race overall wins at Paris-Nice in 2013 and 2015 and the Volta a Catalunya in 2015; in terms of the manner of victory, Porte has rarely, if ever, looked so untouchable.
Caleb Ewan 10/10
The very quickest sprinters in the world may have been absent, but to so comprehensively dominate a field that included Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida), Sky’s Danny van Poppel and no less than World Champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), deserves considerable praise.
He even put in a shift for the team’s GC bid, burying himself on one of the key climbs during stage two, sacrificing his leader’s jersey in the process.
We saw last year glimpses of how quick the young Australian is, but to win with such regularity in the chaotic environment of a bunch sprint – especially without the full support of his team, who were also aiming for the GC – suggests he’s also developing the kind of consistency the truly great sprinters are capable of.
Esteban Chaves 7/10
On paper, Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) looked like the only rider capable of matching Porte on the climbs, but proved, just like the rest of the opposition, incapable of matching the Australian’s accelerations.
Nevertheless, the Colombian was still the best of the rest, being present in the first chasing group on both GC stages to seal second overall.
His performance may have lacked the kind of eye-catching attacks we’ve grown used to seeing him pull-off, but still made a good account for himself in what was a rare chance to compete in the presence of the Aussie fans he has so impressively represented riding for Orica-Scott.
Peter Sagan 6/10
Sporting a well-groomed beard and new shades, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) looked every bit the cycling celebrity he has become.
But in many ways his ride was reminiscent of his frustrating winless streak a few years ago, with him having to settle for second place behind Ewan not once, not twice, but on three occasions.
In the World Champion’s defence, though, even on top form he’d struggle to get the better of a pure sprinter like Ewan on finishes like these. He’d have liked a stage win, but will settle for what was a smooth transition to the new season.
Geraint Thomas 5/10
Geraint Thomas’s role in this race was to support Sky team-mate Sergio Henao, and he did a fine job as the last rider to help pace him when the Colombian punctured on stage two, and again as part of the Sky train that took control ahead of the Willunga Hill summit on stage five.
With his major objective of riding for GC at the Giro still several months away, his ride will be considered a satisfactory start to the season.
Ben Swift 4/10
On good form, Ben Swift (UAE Abu Dhabi) is quicker than most of the other sprinters participating, so looked capable of a stage win.
However, the Yorkshireman – riding for the first time for his new UAE Abu Dhabi team – never quite got going, only managing to feature in one of the race’s bunch sprints (on stage four, where he finished fourth).
His first major goal of the season, Milan-San Remo, is only a couple of months away, so he’ll be slightly disappointed at having not hit the ground running.
Sergio Henao 4/10
Elected as team leader by Team Sky, this was a rare chance for Sergio Henao to ride for himself as a GC contender in a WorldTour-level race.
There were high hopes, especially remembering his third overall in this race last season, but any hope of challenging for the top spot were severely damaged when the Colombian suffered the misfortune of an ill-timed double puncture just as the racing on stage was hotting up.
He did manage to fight his way back to the main chase group some 19 seconds adrift of Porte, but, three days later on the key finish at Willunga Hill, was unable to capatalise on the work done on the run-in by his teammates, and ultimately missed out on the top ten overall.