Stage 20
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22/01 - Stage 2 - Prospect to Stirling - 150 km.

As expected, GreenEdge controlled the race on stage 1 and thanks to a perfect leadout, Simon Gerrans took both the stage win and the leader’s jersey. Gerrans entered Tour Down Under as the number one favorite and personally, I can’t see him lose this race if he avoids bad luck the rest of the week. Stage 2 ends with three of the classic laps around Stirling. The last kilometer is uphill but in the past, the strong sprinters haven’t had any problems fighting for the win.

The finish
With 7 km to go, the first of three uphill parts in the final begins. The following two kilometers have an average gradient of 4 %. After that, the road is flat for about 500 meters before it starts to kick up again with gradients of 6 %. The gradients drop towards the top but it could be enough for a strong rider to put in a late attack and get a gap on the following one-kilometer long descent. The final kilometer is uphill with an average gradient of 4 %. In the past, many have been tempted to open up the sprint early on the steepest part towards the line. Only few have succeeded. Usually the winner of this stage doesn’t hit the front until the he passes the 100 meters to go sign.

Good chance for the sprinters
Last year the riders had to overcome six of the 20 km laps around Stirling. This tired out the sprinters and opened up the door for Tom-Jelte Slagter to win the stage with only 27 riders left in the peloton. Slagter even started his sprint early with 300 meters to go. In 2012, there were only four laps on the menu and that made for 65 riders fighting for the bonus seconds. This year, the peloton only crosses the finishing line twice before the final lap. The stage profile is not exactly flat until laps begin, but we should see a lot more sprinters in the main bunch. Andre Greipel has done very well in Stirling in the past and he showed on stage 1 that he’s strong enough to make to make it over the climbs. The same goes for youngster Steele Von Hoff and Astana’s Francesco Gavazzi. Von Hoff managed to get over Menglers Hill with the peloton and he came very fast on the final meters in the sprint. I don't see why he shouldn't be able to put in another great ride in Stirling and make podium again. I pointed out Gavazzi as an outsider for stage 1 and he did everything right up until the final 500 meters when he got boxed in toward the barrier. Gavazzi lost too much ground and couldn’t do better than sixth place on the stage. The fast Italian will be eager to take revenge and the uphill finish really suits him well. However, there is one rider above everybody else when we talk about the finish in Stirling.

Bling Bling
One of the most memorable wins in Stirling in recent years is Michael Matthews’ impressive sprint victory in 2011. In his first season as a professional, Matthews distanced the rest of the peloton with a couple of meters when outsprinted Andre Greipel and Matt Goss. So far, only Peter Sagan has been able to challenge Matthews’ winning salute as he crossed the line. In 2012, Matthews once again easily won the bunch sprint in Stirling. This uphill finish obviously suits the young Australian perfectly and if GreenEdge decides to do the sprint for him, I can’t see anybody passing Matthews before the line. That is however a big if.

Too many chefs...?
Naturally, GreenEdge should be lining up Simon Gerrans for the sprint. Another handful of bonus seconds will practically give him the overall win. Gerrans finished third in Stirling in 2013 and fourth in 2011 and he's clearly strong enough to win against the sprinters. However, GreenEdge has about 3 or 4 riders with a solid chance of winning a stage like this one. Matt Goss seems to have found his sprinting legs again and he finished second in Stirling last year. Michael Matthews I just talked about and then there is Daryl Impey who made the great leadout for Gerrans on stage 1. Imagine a leadout consisting of Impey, Goss, Matthews and Gerrans. Somehow, it seems like GreenEdge can only lose this stage…

GC fight for the podium
There aren’t many of the GC riders able to challenge Simon Gerrans in the sprints right now. One of the few is Diego Ulissi. The Italian has a powerful kick and he finished off 2013 by winning three one-day races with an uphill finish. Ulissi seems to have kept the good shape and he showed on stage 1 that he’s ready to fight for the bonus seconds. Cadel Evans is usually fast in an uphill sprint as well and in 2010, he finished third in Stirling. Evans wasn’t satisfied with his own performance on stage 1 and he too will be eager to make up for it with a strong performance on stage 2. Geraint Thomas is also good on a finish like this one. He had to close a big gap after a crash took place in front of him on the final kilometers on stage 1 and he just managed to join the 11-riders front group before the line. This means Thomas now has 4 seconds on teammate Richie Porte and it will be interesting to see what Team Sky’s tactic will be in the coming days. They need to take time on Simon Gerrans and we may see them try already in Stirling.

Felline - fast and furious
Together with Francesco Gavazzi I also named Fabio Felline as one of the outsiders for stage 1. The fast Italian was Trek’s designated sprinter for the stage but unfortunately he got caught up in a crash and broke his bike just as the final climb began. Felline had no chance of getting back to the front and naturally, he wasn’t happy at all crossing the line in 98th place. Looking at the bright side, Felline already has a chance to shine on stage 2. The finish in Stirling is perfect for him. If he can avoid any more bad luck and get well positioned in the end, I won’t be surprised if he makes a great result.

Youngster Caleb Ewan didn’t manage to hang on to the peloton on Menglers Hill. The high pace was too much for the 19 years old super-talent and I’m curious to see if he can stay near front in Stirling. If so, Caleb Ewan will definitely try to repeat his brilliant performance from People’s Choice Classic. For other outsiders well-suited for a finish like this one, look to Anthony Roux, Simon Geschke, Maxime Bouet and José Joaquin Rojas.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv