Finally the World Tour kicks off from Down Under in 2023. The race has lost two things. First of all, Richie Porte is no longer here to win on Willunga Hill. Secondly, there is no Willunga Hill this year. They have added a prologue which will be raced on normal road bikes and not TT bikes. This will change the dynamic and we will not have the classic GC-bonus-seconds-hunter vs Richie Porte.
A circuit that looks more difficult on the profile below than it is. This should end up in a bunch sprint.
The first proper climbing effort of the season. Nettle Hill is no easy task but it ends 21.5 km from the line. Still, it is 1.8km at 9.2%. The roads are narrow, meaning the sprinters could move up before the climb, blocking and slowly drifting back at the start. On the other hand, if a team wants to drop the pure sprinters, who will take bonus seconds that are very important, the last 900m at 11.3% are hard enough for a split to happen. Then they can play cat and mouse to the line. Certainly, some GC riders/teams would love to fight for the bonus seconds without the likes of Groves.
The Corkscrew Road is back again. Firstly, I’m keen to know how the first climb will go. 9.8 km at 4.1% is not that difficult on paper, but we could see the pure sprinters being under pressure. Nonetheless, it is not their day anyway! The GC will control the stage. In 2019, a group of four had a gap over the top of Corkscrew – G. Bennett, Porte, Woods and Poels but they were caught. Cadel Evans once escaped solo on the downhill. It can end in all kinds of scenarios. The GC riders without a sprint will make sure we see a selection on the climb.
A finish in Willunga but not the usual one. An uphill sprint, but it is easier than it looks. The last 900m are merely 3.5% – I expect fast GC riders and sprinters will be in the mix.
The finale stage. I really like the look of this stage. It is short and consists of 3000 climbing meters. It is up and down all day but the main problem is they put the hardest climb at the start. Mount Lofty is very irregular with short descents and plateaus and therefore 11 km at 3% is not very frightening. In theory, it could be a day where teams with multiple options play their cards but I think the most likely scenario is we see a reduced bunch sprint.
The decisive stages and the keypoints.
To sum it up, we have a prologue, stage 3 and stage 5 as the most important stages for the GC. There are some other factors that normally determines the winner in Australia.
- Bonus seconds:
Impey got 18 bonus seconds in 2018 and in 2019. These were Willunga-editions with and in-form Porte. I do not think we will see very big time differences on Corkscrew. That means having a good sprint is essential! However, we have a fair bit of pure sprinters here. The main problem for the GC riders will be try and get bonus seconds on stage 1 and stage 4 – the stages that look to be a bunch sprint.
Now, that is something we need more off! Especially the short ones. I remember two from last year with similar lenght. In Tour de la Provence (7.1 km), we had Ganna smashing everyone winning with 12 seconds to E. Hayter. The more similar is in Tour de Romandie (5.1 km – equal length), there was 10 seconds between the winner and 3rd place. This is equal to winning a sprint stage more or less. You can’t win here, if you do not have a good, short time trial. Mind you, they are using road bikes! Perhaps this will change a whole lot, meaning powerhouses have a far better chance.
- Corkscrew – what happened last time:
Four riders got over the top: G. Bennett, Porte, Woods and Poels. They had a gap but they were pulled back. It is hard enough for climbers to distance the sprinter/TT guy if they can not climb. The biggest problem is having the climbers cooperate to the line, as the sprinter/TT guy usually are better descenders – plus – the bonus seconds are at play, not just a stage win!
- Stage 5 – short and more than 3000 climbing meters in January.
That is a lot of climbing but I am uncertain if it is difficult enough to drop the fast men. Nonetheless, if a team decides to rip it to pieces early on – the stage could be the most important.
- If you want to win Down Under, you must have a good prologue. Secondly, and perhaps as equal important, you must be able to scrap bonus seconds. Having a good sprint is key. Thirdly, I think we will see a few being above the rest on Corkscrew. It is difficult to say who but I think Vine, Hindley and O’Connor alt want to put on a show at home turf. The question is if they can drop Matthews and Ethan Hayter.
Summer in Australia and racing in South Australia near Adelaide. It will be hot and the race is not well known for echelons. Most of the riders will be used to the heat from the training camps in Southern Europe, but degrees around 30 could still come as a surprise for many Europeans. Plus, it looks like the wind will be blowing which could mean echelons.
*It is extremely difficult to determine how much the removal off the TT-bike will mean. Therefore, I will assume riders are more or less the same level as usual in the prologue.
INEOS – they have the strongest team and three solid candidates. Let’s talk about Ethan Hayter. He ticks all the boxes and he will be one of the best in the prologue. He can sprint – not fast enough for the bunch sprint stages – but the GC stages. The main question is, will they have Sheffield and Plapp working for him in a strict system? I am also confident in saying, I doubt he can follow the best over the top of Corkscrew. I think Plapp can – leaving them with two solid options.
Michael Matthews – at home turf. Jayco-AlUla bring a very strong squad with Simon Yates, Lucas Hamilton and Chris Harper to work for Matthews. I assume they will be one of the teams looking to exploit Nettle Hill on stage 2 in order to gain bonus seconds. Matthews is exceptionel in prologues, I imagine he will be one of the best. He has also become used to the heat from training at home. He is one of the big favorites as he has the whole package.
Mauro Schmid – had a very good season in 2022 and I think he will keep improving in 2023. He has a lot of the same attributes as Matthews, he is just a “budget-version” of him. I think he will do well in this terrain but it is almost impossible to guess how big of a target this is for him and the team.
Alberto Bettiol – he kicked the season off last year riding mighty fast. Since his win at Flanders, he has changed as a rider. He has become a very good puncheur and he still has a good sprint. I think he will do well in the prologue too. EF are bringing a good team and I hope we see him and Honoré being on the front foot of the race.
Rohan Dennis – it is often hit or miss with Dennis, but the reasoning is this. On his good days, he will win the prologue. On his best days, he is one of the best climbers on the start list. On his very best days, he is a fantastic puncheur. There is a saying in Danish, that describes him quite well: “Der er langt mellem snapsene” – it is not very often he brings his absolute A-game anymore.
Jay Vine – new national champion against the clock. Needless to say, he is one of the best puncheurs here and he will attack at the bottom of Corkscrew Road. I think Willunga Hill would have been more his cup of tea. The team has Hirschi and Covi too – but I think Vine will do best of the three against the clock. I think he will finish somewhere in the top-10.
Bevin – he is in the same category as Dennis. He can easily fight for the overall GC or he could finish dead last – but he can also win a reduced bunch sprint.
Maximilian Schachmann – Normally he starts the season well, but injuries and illness played a big part in his 2022 season – a season he should wish to forget. He is good against the clock, on paper he is one of the best puncheurs participating and he can sprint well too. I hope he gets back to his very best this year.
Who will win?
I think it is a close race between Plapp and Matthews. Jayco-AlUla could not shot him down at the Nationals, but they will have more help in Santos Tour Down Under. I will tip my hat to Matthews, simply because I think he will do a better or equal TT and he is more likely to get bonus seconds. I have a feeling INEOS will solely ride for Hayter – which will bite them in the ass on Corkscrew Road.
A win for Michael Matthews.