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Thursday Thoughts: Overreacting to the Tour Down Under

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In which the “buckets of water” measure returns

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Those of you with long and oddly specific memories may recall that two years ago, I posted my thoughts on the Tour Down Under, through the medium of making wild predictions for 2017 based on the first WT race of the year. I then threw buckets of cold water on each idea in an attempt to get a proper sense of whether we can actually read anything into what we’ve seen so far.

So, here we go again. The 2019 race is in the books, with Daryl Impey the first man to win in consecutive years. What kind of overreaction can we generate, and just how much of an overreaction is it?

Overreaction Alert: Richie Porte, Tour de France winner!

You all saw him winning the mountain stage with ease, powering uphill like peak Mark Cavendish on the flat. He’s primed, ready, and 2019 will be his year to shine.

Boring Andrew is throwing: five buckets of cold water (out of five).

Look, Porte could win the Tour. We all know that. I wrote about it two years ago, and Conor picked him last year. He’s been superb in week-long races but is yet to put it together for a three week stretch. You might think that’s reason enough to oppose him, but it is worth remembering that we all said the same about Geraint Thomas until June of ’18.

All I’m saying today is that a sixth consecutive win on the Willunga Hill stage, whilst impressive, tells us precisely nothing that we didn’t know before he did it. Of course Porte outclassed the field. He’s better than all of them at riding a bike uphill.

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Overreaction Alert: Caleb Ewan begins another disappointing year!

Two years ago I looked at this race and saw a future dominating star. He was winning these sprints for fun. 2017 was okay for him and he got worse last year. Now he’s moved to a new team and he can’t even win in his home race. Expect a winless season.

Boring Andrew is throwing: three buckets of cold water.

This one is more interesting. Let’s start with the obvious caveat that Ewan was first over the line in stage five but had the win taken off him in the replay booth. Whatever you think of that decision (and I think it was correct, but inconsistent with previous decisions. I’d welcome a more interventionist approach from commissaires but only if it is applied fairly, which is one of the more fanciful ideas I’ve submitted to this site) he was up there and sprinting fast. He’s got decent support at Lotto and there’s no reason to think he’ll be winless. He’s got a good chance of winning the Cadel Evans This Race Has Such A Ridiculous Name That We All Agree Andrew Is Right To Hammer This Joke Into The Ground Race this week and proving the overreaction wrong in January.

On the other hand, Caleb feels to me like an inconsistent confidence-driven sprinter. From 2016 to 2018 he won seven stages and grabbed three more podiums. Even without the Adelaide circuit in 2019, you’d have expected much more than a single podium. It is way to soon to write him off. Is it too soon to worry about a Kittel-esque “underwhelming first year in new digs for a hot and cold sprinter” season? No.

Overreaction Alert: Jasper Philipsen is the new sprinting star we’re waiting for!

Admit it, you were scrambling to work out who he was after Ewan got knocked back in stage five, weren’t you? If not, you probably play Pro Cycling Manager, in which he seems to turn into a star every year. Either way, let me save you the trouble of digging through databases: yes, just one “l”. Belgian, 20, UAE. Not a total stunner based on junior season (Hagens) – 4th in Eurometropole, 1st and 2nd in Utah stages, 3rd in 3 dogs, won a Junior Giro stage, etc. Yes, he can time trial a bit and coped with the cobbles in Roubaix espoirs).

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Boring Andrew is throwing: two buckets of cold water.

All I’m saying is, hold your horses. The kid is twenty. He isn’t exactly up against a murderer’s row of sprinters here and the year is going to get much tougher. He had a bit of luck to pick up a first win. However, I definitely wouldn’t put you off him in the longer term. There’s lots to like and he looks like a very solid addition to UAE’s ranks.

Overreaction Alert: This will be the year Patrick Bevin becomes a big winner

He’s finally put all that talent together and come up with a stage win and an overall points win in a World Tour race. Couple that with his national time trial championship and the sky’s the limit!

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Boring Andrew is throwing: four buckets of cold water.

It’d be churish of me to point out that the TT Nats were for Kiwis, featured just 11 opponents and the nearest of them was Hamish “I’d rather be pulling on an oar” Bond. More relevant is to point out that TdU is traditionally a race decided by seconds, and is unusually well-suited to a rider who can climb a little, sprint a little and grab his chances, and that luck is a factor. In that respect, Bevin’s performance here mirrored his Tour of Britain run last season. It is certainly a way to get noticed but it is a long way from routinely competing in WT events. It is also only right to remember that he shipped five and a half minutes on the final stage and finished 41st on GC.

I like Bevin, always have, and I’m pleased to see him finding a niche. He’s a good team man, a decent chrono rider and an opportunist with a kick. This race shows that his ToB niche is a thing, and at 27 that’s a great development. A niche, though, is all he’s found. On this performance, he isn’t turning into a GC threat in any kind of WT race.

Sssssh:

Since you’ve read this far, and I’m lovely, here are a few other guys who have reasons to be pleased with their week in South Australia, together with their team, VDS cost and return from 2018).

  • Chris Hamilton (Sunweb, 1 for 80)
  • Dylan van Baarle (Sky, 6 for 460)
  • Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck 4 for 120)
  • Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha, from Trek, 2 for 308)
  • Lennard Hofstede (Jumbo Visma from Sunweb, 1 for 0)