Sunday, 22 January 2012


Down Under Classic
Putting the problems I have about the name aside, the opening Criterium was a lively 50km race (shouldn't call a race a classic...that term is earned!). Greipel and the Lotto team showed to be on form. Greipel's speed towards the finishing line was breathtaking.

Stage 1
Another Greipel's victory, this time slightly more laboured as he had to start the final sprint from 20/25 positions down, thanks to a mighty crash about 900mt from the end. But it showed that with this form, Greipel can pick and choose his moments. After the race he had a go at Petacchi (rightly so) for veering dangerously from left to right, but he should know that those are the dangers if you're trying to nip from behind as noone is hardly going to leave a wide corridor.

Stage 2
This time it was an epic victory by youngish Will Clarke. Ironically he had been let go by folding Leopard Trek team as they had too many riders after the merger with RadioShack. The Tasmanian rider for UniSA went on a break straight from the go with BMC's Swiss rider Martin Kohler, sharing the spoils with Kohler getting the sprints and Clarke the KoM points. Then Kohler rejoined the peloton as his job was done. Clarke went on to gain 11 mins on the peloton as they underestimated the Tasmanian's stubborness. He went on to win by 1 min.

Stage 3
Another sprinter's delight. This time a different.... no wait, it was Greipel again! Beating Hutarovich on the line by a whisker. Renshaw showed he has not made the mental passage to sprint leader role yet as he paced everyone then released his sprinter to go for the line... only to remember HE was the team's sprinter! Thomas De Gendt took all the available points along the way with a gutsy ride, outsprinting his breakaway companions in both intermediate sprints and KoM summit.

Stage 4
Another sprinter's delight. Greipel was nowhere to be seen as he was dropped at the only climb of the stage 23km from the finish. Other sprinters stayed with the front group and contested a challenging sprint as it was on a gentle incline. Oscar Freire used all his experience and, obviously, well timed speed acceleration to just cross the line first.

Stage 5
The Queen stage, with the double passage of the Old Willunga climb, a 3km effort at 7.6% average gradient. The second time round was for the mountain top finish. It finally felt like a proper stage, one in which the lead switched several times, with many attacks by Radioshack, UniSA, Movistar, Sky, GreenEDGE. Movistar really upped the pace in the pursuit of the riders up front and to string out the remaining peloton. Simon Gerrans kept an eye on Valverde while Michael Rogers made one of the last attacks a few hundred meters from the finish. Gerrans then tried to surprise the two and went, if a little too early. Valverde, still showing glimpses of past explosiveness, jumped on his wheel, went around the long way at the final bend, then lunged to win the stage on the line. I will never feel respect for the guy, as he's one of the many riders who have contributed to put cycling in a bad light, but had to admire the panache he showed and the determination which many younger riders couldn't match. Gerrans is the leader with the same time as second placed Valverde.

Stage 6
The final stage had the resemblance of a Champs Elisee's poor cousin as the circuit around Adelaide had long straight roads but without the glamour of the French capital. However, even if short, it proved entertaining with a few attacks and acts of heroism, like Meyer's penultimate lap's time trial style ride, reeled in only at the last minute. When the sprinters' teams got finally organised it became a classic bunch sprint, with the usual early attack by Boasson-Hagen, destroyed by Andre Greipel's super sprinting form. The German went over the line as a matter of fact, launched by a fast and well drilled train.

The overall lead of the GC goes to Simon Gerrans, who won it in 2006 for AG2R. He stayed in the bunch thus keeping his lead in check. GreenEDGE get their first World Tour overall win, even though without a win on the line but showcasing a very well organised team. Greipel pays for his no show in the hilly stages and loses the points classification to a consistent Boasson-Hagen, who's is still not on top form and with a team, Sky, who need to organise their trains better.

General Classification:
1. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE)                  20:46:12
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)                         0"
3. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan)                 8"

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (GreenEDGE)                 56
2. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol)                          50
3. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ-BigMat)                    39

King of the Mountain:
1. Rohan Dennis (UniSA)                                    29
2. Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM)                24
3. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE)                           24

Young Rider:
1. Rohan Dennis (UniSA)                           20:46:26
2. Edvald Boasson-Hagen (Sky)                            4"
3. Michael Matthews (Rabobank)                        15"

Team Classification:
1. Radioshack-Nissan                                62:19:53
2. Sky                                                            24"
3. Movistar                                                     31"

The Tour Down Under grows in status as some teams like Lotto fro instance have understood that it's a good race to target and get UCI points while other teams are more likely to target the big stage races. Michael Matthews has shown again what an exciting rider he is, same as Martin Kohler and Greipel. Now they need to keep that form up until the classics at least, which is always a problem. Some riders have shown that they will be competitive, like Boasson Hagen, Valverde, Hutarovich. Although Valverde's form is probably to do with the racing adrenaline after coming back from his ban. He would no doubt disappear now to resurface at the Ardennes classics. Radioshack, UniSA and Sky were ever present in the action and so another bunch of teams but three teams didn't really need to turn up as they were neither protagonists nor entertaining...Lampre-ISD, Liquigas-Cannondale and Euskaltel Euskadi. Their place would have been better offered to ProContinental teams who are eager to showcase their teams. Now to Qatar, where the first outing of Cavendish with Sky is almost too much to take.

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