The long break is now behind us. I’m eager to be back about the men’s World Tour, and as usual, the first race of the season is Santos Tour Down Under.
Menglers Hill will feature in this edition too. We saw the climb, though from a different side, in 2023 on stage 1. The run-in from the climb to the finish is the same. Here, Phil Bauhaus took a stage win.
A tough start – we will see if any teams are willing to make it a tough day for the sprinters early on. If not, it will be the last ascend of Fox Creek Climb. With the top just 8.5 km from the line, most of it downhill, we could see an elite group going clear.
Outcome: GC day.
The organizers do love a tough start. Things will settle down, and the sprinters will have 110 km to organize a potential chase. The women’s edition had an identical finish in Campelltown (stage 1), which saw Ally Wollaston take the stage win.
A relatively easy day with Gemmell Hill providing a KOM sprint. The easiest day here with a late corner in the finale.
Willunga Hill. Twice. The first time to thin out the group, the second time to determine the GC.
Outcome: GC day.
A tough day this is. Mount Lofty does not look difficult on paper but everyone is done for the last time up. We had it as the final stage in 2023, seeing Vine and Yates cross the line together. A sprinter or two may be able to hold on and hope the GC riders simply look at each other.
Outcome: GC day.
Good cycling weather but it will be wise to look at the wind. Some days we have close to 30 km/h (or 8 m/s). For now, it looks like a fierce headwind up Willunga Hill but that wasn’t a problem for Sarah Gigante.
We have three days for the sprinters, so the focus should be on stage 2, 5 and 6. Willunga Hill requires you are a climber, and the same argument goes for stage 6 which is harder than it looks. Stage 2 requires a good punch to get over Fox Creek. In conclusion, a climber preferably with a fast finish looks to be the best type.
Simon Yates – he is usually in good shape this early on and he can carry that form throughout the season. I think he looked superb last season and he will be one of the contenders for the Maglia Rosa in May. It is his third time here, 7th in 2020 and 2nd in 2023. We saw last year he can cope with stage 6 and despite his poor 10th on Willunga Hill in 2020, I think he will perform better this time around. He is the man to beat.
Luke Plapp – he has excellent support – or as a second option – in Luke Plapp. We will see how they play their cards – I can easily see Plapp being an option for a late attack on stage 2 or setting the fierce pace needed on Willunga Hill.
Jack Haig – he is one of the climbers here who can cope well with hills too. He is often quite good early on in the season too. I don’t expect too much from him but a top-10 should be something he can do.
Alaphilippe – Loulou. It just hasn’t been his past two years. Crashes played a big part in 2022 and he seemed to be back prior to the Tour de France 2023 – he just didn’t or couldn’t do anything. Just a few years ago, he was the best puncheur in the world. I hope to see him turning it around despite him aging. If he is in form, he should challenge for the podium.
Corbin Strong – he is the sprinter-climber I’m thinking of. This is another season where I think we will see him improving more. If things are going his way, he could have a few bonus seconds in the bank before Willunga Hill – where it currently looks like a fierce headwind. He is not a bad climber but it will require a bit of luck for him to finish higher than around top-10.
Ganna – he is not doing Euro Tracks, instead he is here Down Under. How does this race suit him? He has the sprint, a few bonus seconds may be going his way (the most likely scenario is helping Viviani on the flatter days). He can climb fairly well too and he will hope his engine can stay warm up Willunga Hill. I would just find it too surprising to see him taking the win, but Rohan Dennis has shown that time trialists can excel here.
Onley – I expect him to fight for a top-10. He has a good punch to him but I’m uncertain in which shape he arrives.
Guerreiro – he started his 2023 season in good form, therefore I’m thinking he will start this season well too. I don’t think he will be good enough to fight for the win, yet he will likely be very consistent in his performance and placings, giving him a good chance for a good result.
Archie Ryan – first pro season. Odd that JV didn’t keep such a talent. This man beat the mythical Mexican Isaac del Toro in Tour de l’Avenir. Later that season, he finished 6th on the tough stage in Skoda Luxembourg Tour. I think the Irishman is the real deal.
Finn Fisher-Black – helped Vine win last year. He is quite inconsistent, and I’m not even sure UAE rides for him as I suppose they are still employing anarchy-tactics without Pogacar. The thing is, he can cope with the climbs and on his day climb very well.
Who will win?
I will take a win for Simon Yates. I think he will smoke the competition on Willunga Hill.