23/01 - Stage 3 - Norwood to Campbelltown - 145 km.
In Stirling, Diego Ulissi showed that he indeed was one of the few riders able to challenge Simon Gerrans in a sprint. The young Italian got a jump on the leader’s jersey and is now only 7 seconds behind Gerrans in the general classification. Cadel Evans sits in fourth place 13 seconds down.
Stage 3 of Tour Down Under is most likely going to determine the overall outcome of the race. The first 135 km shouldn’t trouble the riders much but the final 10 km will be very difficult. The steep gradients on Corkscrew Road (hold the mouse over the climb on the profile to see details) will make for a huge selection in the peloton. This is where the GC contenders will have to try to take time back on Simon Gerrans.
Corkscrew Road is only 2.5 km long but has an average gradient of nearly 9 %. There are parts of over 15 % towards the top and it will be a tall order for GreenEdge to control the race here. Simon Gerrans won’t have problems staying with the other GC riders on Willunga Hill on the penultimate day of racing. Therefore, his rivals need to drop him on Corkscrew Road if they want a chance to win Tour Down Under overall.
GC contenders like Diego Ulissi, Cadel Evans, Robert Gesink, Javi Moreno, Fränk Schleck and Richie Porte are all among the best climbers in the race and they know they can’t afford to wait until Willunga Hill. If they want to beat Simon Gerrans, they need to attack hard on Corkscrew Road and work together in order to keep their gap on the descent. Last year Geraint Thomas took everybody by surprise when he soloed away on the steep part of the climb. On the descent, three other riders joined him and they just managed to keep the peloton at bay and fight for the stage win. The final 2 km are flat and straight out without any corners. In case of a headwind, it won’t be easy for a break to make it all the way. Therefore, it’s important to get as big of a gap as possible on Corkscrew Road.
Looking for allies
GreenEdge has been extremely strong so far in the race. However, it’s unlikely they will have more than a couple of riders in the main bunch over the top of the steep climb. In case Simon Gerrans can’t follow the attacks - and trust me, they will be attacks - from the strong climbers, GreenEdge will have to hope other teams are willing to take up the chase. Astana has Francesco Gavazzi in great shape right now and they may send time trial specialist Lieuwe Westra to the front in order to bring it back for a sprint. Fabio Felline is also a strong contender for the stage win and if Fränk Schleck doesn’t get away on the climb, Trek may help in the chase to set up Felline.
In my overall preview for Tour Down Under, I said I didn’t think Robert Gesink could do better than just outside of the podium overall. However, thanks to his strong performances in the last two stages and his confident comments in the press, Gesink may be the perfect rider to lit up things on Corkscrew Road. Belkin seems to have a lot of faith in their Dutch climber and if Gesink really has the legs that he seems to think he has, few will be able to follow his expected attack on the climb. Gesink was a bit disappointed after only taking 5th place in Stirling and that means he really aims high in this race.
Last chance for Team Sky
Even though we are only two stages into the race, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas are already ‘far behind’ in the general classification. Due to the bonus seconds, Simon Gerrans has a gap of 17 seconds to Thomas and 21 seconds down to Porte. Neither of the two Sky riders will be able to beat Gerrans in a sprint and this means they have to attack from afar. Geraint Thomas was outstanding on Corkscrew Road last year and it would be very interesting to see him put in an early attack. Gerrans and the other GC riders can’t let Thomas get away and that may open up the door for Richie Porte to make a counter-attack on the steep part of the climb. Nathale Earle also looks very strong right now despite his late call-up for the race. However, if Simon Gerrans is as strong as he has been the last week he will just follow the attacks without any problems and most likely win the stage. In that case, it’s safe to say the peloton is only fighting for the last two steps on the podium.
A few outsiders
I expect a fast and hard day in the saddle and thinking of the bonus seconds, the GC riders can’t afford to let a break make all the way. Naturally, GreenEdge would be happy to let a break take the seconds on the line but I doubt it will happen. A fast pace means we will see a much reduced group of riders over the top of Corkscrew Road. There won’t be many teams with more than a couple of riders left in front. Therefore, we may see a late solo attack on the descent making it all the way to the finishing line. My personal pick for such an attack is Adam Hansen. He tried to do just that over the top of Menglers Hill on stage 1 and Lotto-Belisol really seems to believe in Hansen, who is still leading the KOM competition. The Australian is only 21 seconds after Simon Gerrans in the general classification and even though the peloton can’t let him get too much of a gap, he may not be the first rider GreenEdge will start to chase down. In the final of stage 1, Adam Hansen and Andre Greipel had a minor argument. Greipel wanted Hansen to try his own luck but loyal Hansen didn’t leave the German’s side. On Corkscrew Road however, Adam Hansen won’t have to wait for anybody.
Another interesting rider for this stage is Ben Hermans. He was part of the winning front-group last year and he seems to be in great shape again this time. Of course, Cadel Evans is the leader of the BMC team but it they really should try to take advantage of having four riders in top21 right now. Also, don’t forget Ben Hermans lost his overall podium last year on the final stage due to breaks in the peloton in the final sprint. The Belgian may feel this race still owes him something. Rory Sutherland is another rider in good shape right now. The Australian from Tinkoff-Saxo tried to take the sprinters by surprise on stage 1 but couldn’t finish it off. However, Sutherland showed that his legs are great and he’s even talking about a podium place overall. Stage 3 serves as the perfect opportunity to take time on your rivals in GC and I have a feeling Rory Sutherland will give it a go in the final today.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv