2015’s first WorldTour race is in the books, with Rohan Dennis emerging as the surprise winner of the Tour Down Under just ahead of a very strong Richie Porte. With plenty of great performances across the six days of racing, especially from up-and-coming talents, the TDU offered a few big takeaways to start the season.
Rising Stars Lead the Way
As mentioned in VeloHuman’s various pre-race publications, the Tour Down Under is often a coming-out-party for young and developing talents. This was especially true in 2015. Rohan Dennis was already a well-known rider in the pro peloton in 2014, but his Stage 3 victory in the 2015 TDU marked his first WorldTour win, and his overall victory made this an all-the-more impressive trip home for the 24-year-old Australian. Making Dennis’s emergence even more exciting was the generational battle within his own team: Cadel Evans entered the race as the nominal leader, but with a powerful (and quite surprising) attack in the final kilometer of Stage 3, Dennis muscled his way into the driver’s seat within the BMC ranks, and then held on to the overall lead. With a Tour of California mountain stage victory last year and now this win built on both climbing prowess and and explosive kick, Rohan Dennis has shown serious progression as a more complete rider recently.
But Dennis was not alone among the younger riders in the race: Steele Von Hoff, Juan Jose Lobato, and Wouter Wippert all beat out big names in the sprints to pick up their first WorldTour-level wins, and Jack Bobridge picked up his second (along the way to the King of the Mountains jersey to boot) by escaping those fast men in the opening stage. There were plenty of familiar faces near the head of affairs in the 2015 Tour Down Under, but the young guns showed up in force and put on the show. Niccolo Bonifazio, Ruben Fernandez, and George Bennett were other members of the up-and-coming crowd to make emphatic statements in this race, while 24-year-old Tom Dumoulin, 4th overall, continued what has been an impressive growth pattern over the past few years, climbing (and sprinting for bonus seconds) at a very high level all week. 3rd in the Worlds ITT last year, Dumoulin is clearly a lot more than just a time trial specialist, and the future is very bright for the Dutch all-rounder.
Bonus Seconds Decisive Again
For yet another year, bonus seconds decided the race, for better or worse, depending on your opinion of bonus seconds. For yet another year, the winner on Willunga Hill did not achieve enough of a gap to overcome the time bonuses picked up by a GC rival in prior stages; in fact, that makes two straight years for Richie Porte. Porte came into this race on excellent form and proved it in the final stage, but it was not enough to offset his deficit in the bonus seconds game. For having been in this exact position before, Sky’s tactics were questionable throughout the race: they did a whole lot of work on the front of the pack in the earlier stages, which only made it easier for rivals like Dennis, Evans, and Daryl Impey to get bonus seconds, and then in the queen stage at Willunga Hill, Porte waited until roughly the final kilometer to launch his devastating attack. He blew everyone off his wheel with sheer strength and won the day, but it was clear when Dennis rolled across the line nine seconds later that Porte had left it too late. Expecting to take enough seconds to close the entirety of his gap in the final kilometer of a not-all-that-steep climb proved tactically costly, and Porte paid for it; Dennis even thanked him for going so late in his post-race interview. In short, time bonuses don’t simply add an extra layer of excitement to this race; they have been critical to victory here time and time again, and Dennis showed once more in 2015 that potential race-winners would be wise to build their TDU gameplans with the battle for bonus seconds in mind.
Australians Dominate the Race
For the fourth time in five years, the Tour Down Under was won by an Australian rider. For the first time in several years, the podium was swept by Australians. Four of the six stage winners were also Australian, and a fifth rides for an Australian Pro Continental Team. On the one hand, and at first glance, perhaps the proper response is simply to be impressed at the consistent performances of home riders in this race. Plenty of international riders made the start, but Australian veterans and up-and-comers alike rode brilliantly on a variety of terrains to showcase their talents, suggesting that the state of affairs for Australian cycling looks brilliant right now, and that is without Simon Gerrans or Michael Matthews, among the biggest stars Oz has to offer, even on the startlist.
However, another conclusion to be drawn from all this Australian dominance is that it may just be time to find a way to bring the Tour Down Under a bit closer to the big races of the rest of the season. Domenico Pozzovivo was on the startlist and he rode well (finishing 6th), but if this race were just a bit closer to his main targets of 2015, one has to imagine he might have been in better form to challenge for the climber’s stage at Willunga Hill. Marcel Kittel, Giacomo Nizzolo, and Gianni Meersman were among the best-known fast men in attendance, and none of them cracked a Top 5 in a stage. And beyond these few non-Australian stars and the handful of authors active in this race, the big-name talents from the rest of the world were a bit scarce, with many top riders electing to start their seasons elsewhere. The event itself was a roller coaster ride all week long, but with a few scheduling changes, things might be made even better, with a few more global stars likely to not only make the journey, but to make it in form and ready to challenge for results.
Photo by Charles Wong.