What the Tour Down Under Tells Us About the 2020 Cycling Season

Richie Porte’s business adding an additional Santos Tour Down Under (TDU) title to his 2017 glory was swiftly taken care of; Daryl Impey’s heartbreak at being unable to defend his Ochre jersey was palpable; and Caleb Ewan’s enviable sprinting abilities were the big talking points of the opening event of the World Tour season.

As quickly as it arrived in Adelaide – with its street parties and rolling road closures – the TDU has once again departed with a flurry of activity and entertainment from the world’s best bike handlers in its wake.

Sunday’s final stage of McLaren Vale to Willunga was arguably the most exciting of the entire race – both this edition and the overall collection of stages over 22 years.

A distinct Tour de France-like feeling saturated the course not only in its terrain – a hilltop finish – but also through the manner in which the kilometres were traversed.

An early breakaway of more than 30 riders gaining a time gap of more than four minutes at its fastest presented a unique situation for the peloton and certainly one not common to the TDU in the past.

The result? One lone rider – a castaway from the breakaway –  grimacing until the final metres of the stage, taking the stage victory over reigning King of Willunga Richie Porte.

As the opening event of the World Tour season –  which will continue until September – this TDU provides a number of early indicators of how rest of the year could play out.

While some consider the “true” start to cycling season the Omloop Het Niewsblad classic race in Belgium, it officially began in South Australia.

Without further ado, these are our five key takeaways from the 2020 Santos Tour Down Under.

Perfecting Paracombe is pivotal in overall victory

Richie Porte was able to clinch the overall GC victory through his win on the climb in Paracombe.

Before the race commenced, many considered this stage to be Daryl Impey’s Ochre defence undoing and emphasised that the stage would be pivotal in crowning the 2020 winner.

By launching his attack on the climb at the right moment –  much like his well-known tactic on Willunga Hill – Porte was able to propel himself into the fight for the Ochre jersey and prime himself for victory overall on the Sunday.

This is the stage to be studied in TDU editions to come, by riders hunting to win. After all, it can easily be the undoing or breakout moment of a champion.

Caleb Ewan is primed for another strong year

With three stage victories out of six stages alongside victory in the Down Under Classic preceding the race, Ewan is coming into the season strong.

Whilst Ewan isn’t necessarily a man for the European Spring Classics – which run through March and April – he’s a man to watch in races such as the Cadel Evans Road Race and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

Come the first Grand Tour of the year – the Giro d’Italia –  Ewan will be mixing with the crème de la crème of sprinters. Yet, judging from this performance and his 2019 efforts, he’s more than ready for another big year on the bike.

Porte still strongest man in the bunch, despite Willunga loss

While the loss on Willunga Hill ended an almost seven-year winning streak on the iconic climb, Richie Porte’s ability to clinch victory once again at the 2020 TDU cements the Tasmanian athlete’s status as a true GC contender in every race he enters.

Porte has been the great Australian hope to follow in Cadel Evans’ footsteps and win the Tour de France for many years, but he’s struggled to reach the top step of the Jaune podium.

While you can’t compare the TDU with the TDF, Porte’s individual strength and tenacity are indicators of what can be possible on a course suited perfectly to a rider and with a selfless team to reinforce and support them in their pursuit of victory. It is still early in the season but Porte is showing for some sweet, sweet form.

GC podiums are still fair game in one-week stage races

Italian Diego Ulissi and Simon Geshke bookended Porte on the overall GC podium at the conclusion of the race.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Simon Yates, Robert Power and even Daryl Impey all failed to retain at least a top-three placing, leaving it to two wildcard second and third placegetters to join the Tasmanian in drenching one another in champagne.

While stage races can be a predictable scorecard and are usually sewn up with certainty by the penultimate stage, one can never be quite certain with how the race will end.

At one point on Sunday’s final stage, Joey Rosskopf was the race leader of the TDU and veteran German sprinter Andre Greipel was placing second. Never underestimate the power of a breakaway or a rider who’s been wearing his poker face for five days.

Rohan Dennis is the loosest cyclist on the block (in the most complimentary of ways)

A blindingly obvious take away from the race, Dennis’ memes, Instagram vlogs and impersonations of Tour de France winners a la Chris Froome all make for an Adelaidian athlete worthy of your support.

Yet it isn’t just Dennis’ larrikin-like ways that bestow this title upon him.

In the penultimate stage of the race – Glenelg to Victor Harbour – Dennis launched an attack that surprised and scared the peloton into paying attention to the INEOS rider.

As Dennis was the team leader of the British outfit, this was cause for alarm bells at Camp Porte and Camp Impey.

Despite Dennis being a time trial specialist, his GC ambitions and crafty ways of riding for them will be an interesting aspect of the sport to watch. Surely a Cooper’s Brewery sponsorship is in the mail for this reigning world Time Trial champion.

Image by Liam Fiddick