Jay Vine is more than a stage hunter and no Willunga works: Five things we learned from the Tour Down Under

The WorldTours are back, and some riders and teams hit the ground running, while others were absent

Tour Down Under
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The men's Tour Down Under concluded on Sunday with Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) hanging onto his overall lead to claim the first WorldTour stage race of the year, narrowly ahead of Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla).

A few days earlier, the Women's WorldTour had kicked off with another Australian taking their first general classification victory, on home soil, with Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) beating a refreshed Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) to the win.

Both races had exciting conclusions, and have set up the season well, as it moves to Europe via the Middle East. Next stop, the UAE in a few weeks time. Here are five things we learned from the racing in the Antipodes.

Jay Vine is the real deal and UAE have a leadership problem on their hands

Tour Down Under

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After winning his first two stages of the Vuelta a España last year, big things were expected of Jay Vine. The Australian, who owed his place as a professional thanks to the 2020 Zwift Academy, impressed on the climbs of Spain last year, as twice in three days he powered off the front to take his first pro victories.

His talent earned him a big move to UAE Team Emirates from Alpecin-Deceuninck, which led some to fear he'd be lost in the big talent pile at the Tadej Pogačar-led team. However, at the first opportunity he was given, the 27-year-old won overall at the Tour Down Under, his first ever stage race win.

It shows that UAE were right to sign the promising climber, but the concern will be that this will prove a rare opportunity for Vine to lead the team. With Pogačar there, along with João Almeida, Adam Yates, Marc Soler, Juan Ayuso and Brandon McNulty, it will be interesting to see how the team dynamic shapes up. There are riders in there, like Yates, who excel at week-long stage races, and others, like Almeida and Ayuso who are thought of as Grand Tour challengers.

It will be a tricky balancing act for the UAE management to satisfy all the egos and expectations, but if Vine keeps winning, the team will have no choice but to keep picking him, and allowing him free reign or a leadership role.

Bryan Coquard wins first WorldTour race while Caleb Ewan misses out

Tour Down Under

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Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), 11 years a professional cyclist, perennial Tour de France stage maybe man, and French sprint hope, won his first WorldTour race ever in Australia. On a ramp finish that was practically designed for the likes of Michael Matthews, the 30-year-old triumphed, batting away a challenge from Albert Bettiol.

For a man who has won 48 races before the TDU, it is remarkable that he had never won at the highest level, but now here he is, winning against some of the best. It seems fanciful to suggest that he will keep winning when he competes against a full complement of sprinters - Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal Quick-Step) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) were all absent - but this could be the filip that the Frenchman needed.

Meanwhile, Caleb Ewan, racing for the UniSA-Australia squad, without his usual Lotto-Dstny teammates, failed to capitalise on opportunities, his second place on stage one being the closest he got. 

The Australian could have done with an early-season confidence boost, but will likely head back to Europe still in search of that first win.

No Willunga Hill? No problem

Tour Down Under

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The first Tour Down Under without the newly-retired Richie Porte, the first Tour Down Under in years without Willunga Hill, and a different race was created.

The race was the first one organised by Stuart O'Grady, who was supposed to start in 2021, but the Covid pandemic put those plans on hold. The Australian wanted to shake things up a bit at the WorldTour opener, and did so with a dynamic course.

Mount Lofty was in instead of Willunga, and gave some of the punchier riders in the peloton the perfect canvas to work their magic on, including Jay Vine and Simon Yates. 

It proved that tradition can be changed, and a more exciting race can be created if norms are shifted slightly.

Women's Tour Down Under suffers from absence of WWT stars

Tour Down Under

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What do SD-Worx, Jumbo-Visma, DSM, Canyon-SRAM, Fenix-Deceuninck, Uno-X, Movistar and UAE Team ADQ all have in common? 

They are all Women's WorldTour teams who skipped the WorldTour opener in Australia last week, weakening the spectacle as a result, and meaning the 'real' start of the season probably won't happen until the end of February, when the Classics begin.

That's eight of the 15 WWT teams who didn't fly to Australia, more than half, which meant while riders like Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) and Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) did their best to liven the race, it was a bad impression of the top of women's racing.

It's understandable that so many did not head out there, considering the smaller budgets of some of the women's squads, plus logistical nightmares and smaller squads, but it does leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. The Women's WorldTour was partly designed to give the top women's races meaning, so when so many top teams and athletes are absent, it feels devalued a bit.

Either the UCI should force or pay for teams to attend these races, or the schedule needs to be tinkered with, really.

Grace Brown and Amanda Spratt show the value in leaving Aussie bubble

Tour Down Under

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Despite the lack of some of the biggest names, Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown battled it out to take the title at the Tour Down Under, proving it really mattered to the Aussie pair.

The pair are just five years apart, but are at opposite ends of their careers, with Brown only a pro since 2019, while Spratt has been around for over a decade, and has seen the sport grow from an amateur level to the professionalised entity we see today.

Both also started out at the Aussie team which is now Jayco AlUla on its various guises, Spratt when it was Orica-AIS, Brown when the squad was Mitchelton-Scott, but both have now flown the coop.

Brown has been at FDJ for a season now, and has proved that she can thrive away from the Aussie bubble, performing across 2022, notably at the Women's Tour and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Meanwhile, Spratt has left the Jayco squad for Trek-Segafredo after being with the former for 11 years, and it will be fascinating to see how she helps Trek, and whether she is given GC opportunities, or used as an invaluable road captain.

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