Once again at the Tour Down Under, the race’s visit to Willunga Hill is anticipated to be a decisive day upon its testing slopes which can catch many riders out at this early point of the season. Stage 5 is a total of 151.1km from its start at McLaren Vale to its finale atop Willunga Hill, an ascent which Richie Porte has made his own in recent years with victories in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The climb is clearly the biggest focus of the day’s proceedings on Stage 5, a 3km toil with average gradients of 7.5%, though it does ease nearer the summit. All eyes shall be upon Richie Porte as he looks to defend his lead on Willunga Hill, but will life be harder for him when the initiative to seize the race by the scruff of the neck is left to his rivals to take advantage of.
Richie Porte possesses imperious form in regards to Willunga Hill and enters the day as favourite for obvious reasons because of this. Previous editions have seen him forced into investing everything into this stage in order to gain time, but having already acquired the lead, it shall prove interesting to see how the BMC captain chooses to ride this race specifically. His form is evidently strong right now, while already leading the race will allow him and his teammates to simply follow the wheels in order to negate any attacks. For many on Stage 5, Richie Porte is the man to beat; a task which few look up to taking on.
Sergio Henao was unlucky to puncture in the final moments of Stage 2, but the Colombian was relatively fortunate to salvage much of the time lost with a combination of hard work and risk taking while surfing through the cars. He has focused upon performing well at this race once again, though his misfortune en route to Paracombe means we have not really seen whether the Colombian has what it takes to tackle Porte right now. He will be extremely motivated to pick up a win to make his time here worthwhile and might be able to force Porte to chase rival riders in order to set him up for a sprint finish which would see Henao the favourite to benefit from.
Esteban Chaves certainly is not in his best form right now, but that has not stopped him from already catching the eye a couple of times during Stage 2. The Orica-SCOTT captain is likely to assume similar tactics to that of fellow countryman Henao, hoping to set up a reduced sprint atop Willunga Hill which would allow Chaves to take advantage of his great turn of speed.
Michael Woods has not thrilled viewers as much as he did last year at this race and will now seek to remedy this factor with a strong performance on Stage 5. The Canadian demonstrated last year that he can ride with the best, knows how to pace himself and can definitely handle the situation if stage honours look to be decided within an elite bunch of climbers as they sprint for the line.
Diego Ulissi is never far away when a race turns its attention to uphill finales, so it is only fair to feature the popular Italian as one of the contenders for glory at the end of Stage 5. A potentially strong headwind would reduce the chances of a solo victory on Willunga Hill and thus allow a much larger group of riders to reach the summit first, where Ulissi would be the hardest man to beat if present. He has a great history of winning on days such as this and there is no reason he cannot add to this if the chance offers itself once again.
Other contenders include; Rohan Dennis, Jay McCarthy, Nathan Haas and Jesus Herrada.
1st Sergio Henao 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Richie Porte