Simon Gerrans won the Tour Down Under, but his victory wasn't the only standout performance of the week in Australia. Here is what else we learned
The Australians take it pretty seriously
Come on guys, give someone else a chance! Australian riders won all six stages, wore the ochre jersey every day and cleaned up all but one of the main classifications.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) took the first stage, Jay McCarthey (Tinkoff) took the second, Simon Gerrans (Orica) took two in a row, followed by Richie Porte (BMC) on stage five and Ewan wrapped it up on stage six.
Add to that the general classification and points jerseys won by Gerrans and the young rider jersey was taken home by McCarthy.
UCI president Brian Cookson bemoaned the fact that there weren’t enough marquee international riders at the Tour Down Under, and can you blame them when they can’t get a look in?
I jest, of course, the quality of the field was very strong this year, so the fact that the Australians can dominate shows the strength of cycling Down Under at the moment.
Orica-GreenEdge have riders for every occasion
Sprinters, climbers, Classics riders and stage race winners – Orica-GreenEdge have them all and seem to be able to balance multiple objectives in one race.
Ewan sprinted his way to two stages while Gerrans had his eyes firmly on the general classification and winning it, of course.
If he stays upright, Gerrans will once again be a threat in the Ardennes and for stage wins at the Tour de France, and Ewan could take the European scene by storm if he continues his fantastic start to the season.
Then there’s the Yates brothers, who are threats for the shorter stage races and hilly Classics as they develop as Grand Tour riders, and Esteban Chaves, who already has Vuelta a España top-five to his name.
They go about their work pretty quietly, but Orica-GreenEdge have assembled one hell of a squad.
Giacomo Nizzolo could be in for a good year
Trek-Segafredo‘s Giacomo Nizzolo isn’t a name that immediately comes to mind when you think of the peloton’s best sprinters, but the Italian showed Down Under just how good he can be.
Two third-place finishes and sixth on stage one doesn’t exactly smack of greatness, but one of his podium places came behind Gerrans and Ben Swift (Team Sky) on the tricky finish on stage four.
Many of the race’s other sprinters didn’t trouble themselves much on the stage, with the likes of Ewan, Adam Blythe and Mark Renshaw finishing over six minutes back.
But Nizzolo, along with Swift, made it over the hills, including the one in the last 20km, to be in with a shot of the stage win.
His points jersey win at the Giro d’Italia in 2015 is a testament to the fact that he’s a sprinter who can get himself over hills, and with that he could find himself a contender for Milan-San Remo in March.
Caleb Ewan will win a lot of races this year
Ewan won 11 races in 2015, but only two of them came in Europe, with the 21-year-old cleaning up at races in Korea, Malaysia and Australia.
Having won his first Grand Tour stage at the Vuelta, Ewan’s 2016 schedule will likely have a more European flavour to give him the chance to compete with the peloton’s best sprinters.
The Tour Down Under didn’t have many top-level fast men – Renshaw was there for Dimension Data, Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria are in San Luis, and the likes of Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel have chosen to start their seasons later.
But you can only beat what’s put in front of you and Ewan did that emphatically in South Australia. He’ll likely race the Giro d’Italia in May, where he could line up against Greipel and Kittel, and don’t be surprised to see him come out on top a few times.
Willunga Hill isn’t as decisive as people think
All the talk pre-race is that whoever won up Willunga Hill on stage five would also win the general classification. Well, we were wrong.
Richie Porte dominated the climb once again, putting 17 seconds into ochre jersey wearer Gerrans but even that wasn’t enough to take the race lead.
So, in future editions of the race we’ll have to tone down the Willunga love in favour of focusing on the other stages.