Stage 20
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22/01 - Stage 3 - Norwood to Paracombe - 143.2 km

As expected, Juanjo Lobato proved to be the strongest in the final sprint on stage 2. The GC riders all managed to avoid losing time and now it’s time for the first big fight for the overall win.

The route
Starting out in Norwood, the riders start climbing right from the beginning of the stage. The city name might say Paradise but I seriously doubt that’s the word that comes to the riders’ minds when they look back on this stage. Upon reaching Birdwood, after 35 km, the peloton starts heading south towards Mount Torrens. Soon after, they take on the first of three laps of around 25 km. There is an intermediate sprint located in Charleston on each of the three laps, offering 3-2-1 bonus seconds.

After finishing the laps, the riders head back northeast towards Cuddle Creek. With about 8 km to go, the peloton gets onto Gorge Road. It’s an undulating road, starting out slightly uphill. The road constantly twists and bends for the following 6 km, making it extremely difficult to move up in the peloton. It’s very important to be in a good position when starting on these last 8 km already. If you are too far down in the peloton, you will never be able to reach the front in time for the final struggle of the day.

The finish
With about 2 km to go, the roads starts to kick up again. 500 meters later the riders turn right onto Torrens Hill Road. This is where the fun begins. Starting out very steep, the following 1.2 km have an average gradient of nearly 10 % with numerous parts of double digits gradients. The maximum is set to a horrifying 20 %! You need to be near the very front of the peloton if you want a chance to go for the stage win today. The fight for positions will be furious among the GC contenders.

The KOM sprint comes with 400 meters to go. Here, the road evens out a bit before it kicks up again for the last few hundred meters towards the finishing line.

The favorites
Knowing that this is a very important day for the GC riders, we can expect the top favorites for the general classification to fight for the stage win today. As always, there are 10-6-4 bonus seconds to the first three riders crossing the line. If you can manage to create an additional gap to your rivals, you will be able to gain a huge advantage before the final three stages.

To me, Richie Porte is still the number one favorite for the overall win. He seems to be flying at the moment and, naturally, he’s, therefore, also the top favorite for this stage. The Tasmanian feels 'quite confident' heading into the stage and Team Sky, likewise, 'really believe Porte can win this bike race'. The way I see it, Richie Porte is the best rider uphill in Tour Down Under. He needs to capitalize on any given opportunity. He has one of the strongest teams in the race to support him with the likes of Pete Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas, who might even be a candidate for the stage and the overall win himself should something happen to Porte. Don’t forget how Thomas left everyone behind on Corkscrew Road a few years ago. A climb much similar to the final one today. I would expect Team Sky to deliver Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas among the first five riders onto Torrens Hill Road. Then, it’s up to them to do the rest.

Another rider who has done well on Corkscrew Road is Cadel Evans. Last year, he soloed away on the steep gradients to win the stage. This is Evans’ last chance of winning his home race. I’m sure he will do whatever he can to put in a similar performance today. This is the stage best suited for his characteristics and due to his fast finish, Cadel Evans has a good chance of making top3 and snatching some important bonus seconds.

In my overall preview, I picked out Domenico Pozzovivo as my joker for the general classification. So far, he hasn’t lost any time and is still very much in the mix for a good overall result. Pozzovivo thrives on steep gradients and this climb seems tailor-made for the pint-sized Italian. After his strong performance in Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year, Pozzovivo now hopes to do well in the Ardennes Classics. This climb is a good way to prove that he is up for the task. If anyone is to follow or even drop Richie Porte on Torrens Hill Road, Domenico Pozzovivo is the best probably the best candidate. However, even though he doesn’t expect the injury to cause him in problems in the race, it’s important to remember that Pozzovivo is riding with a fractured wrist after crashing in training last week.

The outsiders
Daryl Impey did everything right on stage 2. Lobato was simply faster. Impey finished second and got 6 bonus seconds, which placed him 4th in the GC before today’s stage. He now has a 5 second lead to his main rivals. The steep gradients may not be right up Impey’s alley but in this condition, he surely has a good chance of a top result. I doubt he can follow Richie Porte on the steep parts but since it evens out after the top, Impey may be able to get back and sprint for the win or bonus seconds.

The same can be said for Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman finished 4th in Stirling, just losing out on the bonus seconds. Had it not been for a little push from Gorka Izagirre, just as Dumoulin launched his sprint, it might have turned out different. Anyway, if Dumoulin wants to finish on the podium of Tour Down Under 2015, he needs to start gaining time. Being very fast on the line, Tom Dumoulin needs to minimize the gap to the top favorites on the steep gradients and then hope he can outsprint them at the end.

For other strong outsiders look to Nathan Haas, Luis León Sanchez, Michael Rogers and the Katusha-duo of Tiago Machado and Giampaolo Caruso. On paper, this should be a great climb for Caruso.

As mentioned in earlier previews, Movistar always performs well in Tour Down Under. They proved this on stage 2. Gorka Izaggire finished 3rd after teammate Juanjo Lobato while Ruben Fernandez, José Herrada and Eros Capecchi all managed to get the same time as the winner. In his current condition, Lobato may be able to pull off another great ride today. However, he’s now focusing on helping his teammates do well in the GC. Gorka Izagirre gained valuable bonus seconds by finishing third and he will now hope to maintain or improve his top5 place overall. Everybody knows that Team Sky and BMC will try to control the race today. Therefore, I think Movistar should take advantage of the situation and send either Herrada or Capecchi into a breakaway. This would force the other teams to work hard while the Movistar riders could focus only on protecting Izaggire and Fernandez for the final climb.

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

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