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Overreacting to the Tour Down Under

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In which we take every result at face value, and assume the first world tour race of the year must be the most valuable for predicting the rest.

2017 Tour Down Under Photo by Morne de Klerk/Getty Images

Most of you will have seen that I’ve posted two longish columns that attempt to put a buy, sell or hold rating on the sprinters and cobbled classics riders. Similar pieces on GC riders and hilly classics riders are almost completed and will be posted in the next couple of weeks. They’ve been informative to write, and I hope to read. They’ve also been a bit of a slog. I’ve had to assess team strength and transfer data, plough through two to five years of history for each of the riders, and read a lot of mindless speculation in search of the rare piece of actual information about race programmes.

This piece is different. In this piece, there is only one race to examine – the Tour Down Under. Really, I don’t know why I’ve bothered looking any further. A quick look at the history books tells you that form from the first race carries through the season, and that riders not making the flight to Adelaide might as well give up on the forthcoming season. On that basis, what do we know will happen in 2017?

(Oh, and boring Andrew might reappear periodically to throw cold water on all of this science.)

Richie Porte, Grand Tour winner

Overreaction Alert! Let’s start with the most obvious finding from the GC. There were two mountaintop finishes in this race. After both the fearsome alpine stages, Orica’s supposed star in waiting was unceremoniously thrown to the verge as the Tasmanian charged to victory. He danced away in Paracombe and he powered away on Wilunga Hill. After a year in which bad luck was the only thing that stopped him winning the Tour, he demonstrated that he’s already a better climber than he was last year. We know the lad can time trial – this year, he puts it all together and we see Froome dethroned by his former lieutenant.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 4 out of 5 buckets. I mean, sure, he looked good. Have we actually learned anything, though? Is this more of an insight than we got in last year’s Tour? There might be some slight improvement since last year but I don’t think we know. He beat an undercooked Chaves and not many other riders of note, on some small hills. Most of what we’ve heard has been truly idiotic commentary about “swagger” and “confidence” and other such journalistic hokum. Also, am I really the only one who finds the trend towards speculation about riders’ weight just a little bit… icky?

Caleb Ewan, best sprinter in the world

Overreaction Alert! You only had to watch him weaving along when his train was in trouble, following it serenely when it worked, and getting great power from a very aero position, to see how good he was. Something of the young Cavendish in his sprinting style, and this is going to be the year that the prodigious talent leads to multiple wins in all the big races. Step aside Mark Renshaw, Roger Kluge is the lead-out man of choice now.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 2 out of 5 buckets. I admit, I was surprised by his performance. Not by the fact that he won a bunch of races against an undercooked group of Euro-sprinters headed by Bennett, Bonifazio, Kump, and Sagan (more on whom is to come) but by the ease with which he did it, the power and speed he generated, and the surprising quality of his train. He’s still not proved he’s a star yet, but he’s put me on notice that he might.

Michael Storer is coming

Overreaction Alert! 15th in the world’s best tour is impressive for anyone, but at 19, it is extraordinary. Came 8th on the fearsome slopes of Paracombe and hung with the bigs in Wilunga to pick up a first top 20. So much more to come.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 1 out of 5 buckets. Yup, this kid can ride. We knew that coming in (he’s had a hugely impressive junior career and is going the same way as an under-23 rider, on both his road bike and his time trial bike) but just competing in this company, relative levels of form aside, is impressive.

Canondale-Drapac haven’t got a plan

Overreaction Alert! It was the same old story from the Vaughters team – they threw lots of darts but didn’t have a clear pecking order or established tactics. If they can’t get it together when the stakes are highest, what chance do they have in the lesser races in Europe? Woods was supposed to be the man but couldn’t get it done, and Slagter ended up the highest placed of all of them, and didn’t manage the top 10. Not impressive, and they brought some good guys along.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 3 out of 5 buckets. I mean, you see what you look for sometimes, and that has long been the assessment of Canondale. They’ve kept their powder dry with the biggest names (Talansky, Uran, Formolo, Vanmarcke, etc) not making the trip. Still, it would have been encouraging to see something out of one of these lads. Canty’s injury didn’t help.

Peter Sagan is going to disgrace the rainbow jersey

Overreaction Alert! Only two months until Flanders and Roubaix, and much less until Milan-San Remo, and he was badly off the pace, not even daring to run his own sprint in the crit but setting up Bennett. Something must be badly wrong and I’m not sure he’s got time to fix it.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 5 out of 5 buckets. Come on, now. You had to like what you saw from the Fastvakian, right?

Simon Gerrans, done at the highest level

Overreaction Alert! Here are Gerrans’ results in the Tour Down Under GC since 2012. 1st, 24th, 1st, no race, 1st, 40th. You don’t have to look any further to see that he’s done as a rider who can compete for these races, but if you wanted to look elsewhere… he will be 37 before the Giro begins this year, his win in last year’s Tour Down Under was his first win since he did the Canadian double in 2014, and he hasn’t finished in the top 30 of a monument since he won Liege in 2014. Stick a fork in him, he’s done.

Boring Andrew’s cold water rating: 0 out of 5 buckets. You know what… I agree with my overreaction here. In fact, that might just have been the motivation for the entire post. It's been a great run, but I see this as the year of Orica moving on from the Gerrans/Albasini days to the Chaves/Yates/Yates/Ewan days. Hard to blame them, really.