The mercury reached beyond 40 degrees yesterday and forced race organisers into reducing the length of the opening stage by omitting one lap of the finishing circuit. Today’s challenge is expected bring the general classification focused riders to the fore on a course which could see contenders slip out of contention by the end of the day. The 148.5km route from Stirling to Paracombe rolls considerably throughout the day and offers an uphill finale to ensure viewers are guaranteed fireworks as the battle for the line is lit. The Tour Down Under’s use of Wilunga Hill has often been highlighted as the crunch point of each year’s edition, but last year proved that today’s finish can be more important in the overall standings than many expect. Riders will need to have gritty determination to survive the selection process, maintaining enough energy in reserve to fight their way to the top and potentially cement their grip on the leader’s jersey with a single knockout attack.
Sergio Henao performs strongly on such hilly terrain, arriving here stronger than last year and now with extra support as a result of the ill Owain Doull being replaced by the French climbing specialist Kenny Elissonde. Such a substitution should improve Henao’s chances of being positioned at the head of affairs in order to time his decisive move perfectly, ensuring maximum damage when he finally does kick for the line. The Colombian rider may well have wished for steeper gradients during the latter stages, but an average gradient of nearly 10% and ramps which pitch at twice that much still provide Henao with ideal springboards for aggressive tactics.
Richie Porte is the firm favourite for many pundits to walk away as overall champion by the end of the week, which means he needs to muster his finest form to either win Stage 2 or simply prevent losing any ground to major rivals. Porte slipped up last year when expected to win the title, losing out to Simon Gerrans by 9 seconds, making it tough to back him entirely without a certain amount of hesitation for 2017. A longer ascent would have made for a more ideal finish for Porte, but even if he does concede a handful of seconds here, Wilunga Hill is certain to draw the best from him as he pursues his fourth victory atop that climb; potentially winning the race there.
Michael Woods was another of the main protagonists during last year’s edition, the Canadian rider able to deliver a punchy attack on this type of finale which definitely has the chance of delivering stage honours to him in Paracombe. As a rider who the bigger names may expect to fade as the race progresses, Woods might be able to capitalise on the others’ eyeballing of one another to launch himself to victory.
Diego Ulissi is no stranger to outperforming his abilities on paper, often surviving some of the toughest races alongside pure climbers, before showcasing his talent for uphill sprints to great effect. If the true mountain men spend too much time watching one another, failing to up the tempo enough to dispatch Ulissi before the final ramps, nobody will be able to match him on his favoured terrain.
Esteban Chaves is a difficult prospect to gauge at the Tour Down Under, the Colombian rider is often far from his best during the early months of the season, yet coming here to ride for his Australian team surely demands a strong performance. He is undoubtedly one of the best climbers at this race when on top form and is well documented for his explosive ability to ride away from the peloton; a lapse in concentration from Porte or Henao may deliver him victory.
Other riders who may catch the eye during Stage 2 include Robert Gesink, Jarlinson Pantano, Jay McCarthy and Petr Vakoc
1st Sergio Henao 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Richie Porte