Stage 20
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24/01 - Stage 5 - McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill - 151.5 km

Today, we will find the winner of Tour Down Under 2015. The first 10 riders are all within 15 seconds of each other. Nothing is settled before the riders cross the finishing line on Willunga Hill.

The route
The course is an exact replica of the one the organizers have used last two years. Willunga Hill is a classic climb in Tour Down Under and the majority of the GC contenders knows what to expect. From the start in McLaren Vale, the riders take on three laps of 40 km. About 8 km of the circuit take place alongside the sea, meaning that if the wind is strong enough, we might see the peloton start to split up. There is an intermediate sprint located in Snapper Point on lap two and three, each offering 3-2-1 bonus seconds.

After overcoming the first three laps, the riders now turn their attention towards the main attraction of the day; Willunga Hill (3 km / avg. 7 %). The peloton will start on the ascent for the first time with just more than 25 km to go. From the top of Willunga Hill, it takes about 10 km before the riders start on the descent. Coming down, there are only a few kilometers of flat before it’s time to tackle the climb for the last time.

The finish
The steepest part of Willunga Hills is right at the beginning with parts of nearly 10 %. From here on, the gradients are very steady around 7 %. The wind is often a factor on this climb. A strong head wind means the riders will try to wait as long as possible before making their move. Nobody wants to risk wasting energy by getting into the wind too early. If this is the case today, it could easily be a very tactical race.

The favorites
One rider who can’t afford to wait too long before putting on the pressure is Richie Porte. Last year, he was too far behind to win the race. With nothing to lose, Porte attacked early on the climb and soloed away to win the stage. This time, however, the Tasmanian has everything to lose. He entered Tour Down Under as the number one favorite, lighter and stronger than ever. It will be a big blow for Richie Porte if he can’t drop his rivals on Willunga Hill again this year. He didn’t have the legs to do it on the steep finish in Paracombe but this climb suits him much better and he knows this. Therefore, I’m certain Team Sky will do whatever they can to make this stage as hard as possible. They need the other GC contenders starting on Willunga Hill without much left in the tank. To me, Richie Porte is still the number one favorite for both the stage win and the overall classification. Last year, Porte distanced Cadel Evans with 14 seconds on Willunga Hill (24 seconds including the time bonus). Porte assures he’s much stronger this year, meaning a similar performance isn’t unlikely.

Cadel Evans finds himself in a somehow absurd situation. The former Tour de France winner has never won Tour Down Under overall. This is Evans’ last attempt to win on home soil. On stage 3, he proved to be among the strongest riders. He sits second overall starting this stage but still, according to the BMC team there is “no definite leader”. I wonder how Cadel Evans feels about that. However, the Australian veteran isn’t completely without blame in this situation.

Had Evans made sure the front quartet didn’t hesitate in Paracombe, teammate Rohan Dennis wouldn't have been able to bridge and then attack. Maybe, Evans would have lost a few seconds, taking another turn in front, but he would never have found himself not being the sole leader of the team. Instead, Dennis is now leading the race, three seconds ahead of Cadel Evans. On paper, this gives BMC two very strong cards to play on Willunga Hill. They can cover the inevitable attacks and then let other teams close the gaps. Still, I have a hard time imagining Evans wanting to waste any energy covering attacks for Rohan Dennis, if it means he loses his last chance of winning Tour Down Under overall. The best scenario for Cadel Evans would be for Richie Porte to attack early on Willunga Hill and then try to follow the Team Sky captain. This would mean Rohan Dennis wouldn’t be able to chase in order to keep the leader’s jersey. Of course, it also means that Evans has to able to follow Richie Porte and that’s a tall order.

Once again, I have to mention Domenico Pozzovivo. The Italian climber did very well on stage 3. Had the gradients not dropped before the finishing line, Pozzovivo would have most likely caught Rohan Dennis despite already working hard in the group. Coming into the race, Pozzovivo’s plan was to stick to the favorites on stage 2 and 3 and then give it a go on Willunga Hill. So far, everything has gone according to plan. He even put in a couple of attacks in Paracombe testing his rivals. Today’s climb suits Pozzovivo much better. He’s obviously in good condition and I’m sure he will do very well on Willunga Hill. If Richie Porte is really as strong as he claims to be, it will be difficult for anybody to follow him. Then again, if anyone can do it, it’s Domenico Pozzovivo.

The outsiders
Given his impressive performance on stage 3, it may not be fair only to categorize Tom Dumoulin as an outsider. Still, compared to the riders mentioned above, Dumoulin is not a real climber. That being said, the young Dutchman is extremely strong and in great shape. The steady gradients on Willunga Hill should suit him much better than the steep parts on Torrens Hill Road. Heading into this stage, Dumoulin is third overall. He’s only 9 seconds from the leader’s jersey but also only 6 seconds in front of Richie Porte and Domenico Pozzzovivo. In my overall preview, I named Tom Domoulin as the best outsider to the overall podium. So far, he has done everything right. If he can put in another great performance today, he might just be able to make it onto the final podium.

Daryl Impey was the big winner, among the GC riders, on stage 4, snatching 9 bonus seconds. This means the South African now sits 4th overall before this stage. Last year, Impey did a lot of work for Simon Gerrans and still managed to finish 5th on Willunga Hill. If he wants to keep his spot or even move up in the GC, he has to do even better this time. Personally, I think it will be very difficult though. I don’t think Impey can follow the likes of Porte, Pozzovivo and Evans on the climb. On a good day he might be able to hang on to a top5 place overall but the way I see it, Top10 is the most likely scenario.

For other strong climbers with a chance to do well on Willunga Hill, look to Michael Rogers, Tiago Machado, Jack Haig, Nathan Haas and the Ethiopian champion Tsgabu Grmay. He’s one of the biggest African talents, a very strong climber and he has nothing to lose. Don’t be surprised to see him near the front on Willunga Hill. The same goes for the Movistar duo Gorka Izagirre and Ruben Fernandez. The latter is 9th overall, meaning he too has a chance of making the overall podium with an excellent performance. Fernandez is the future of Spanish cycling. He’s a very talented climber and with Izagirre to support him, I’m sure he will manage to hold on to his Top10 position overall. Maybe even move up a bit.

If you are looking for a super joker, look to IAM Cycling’s Jarlinson Pantano. The Colombian didn’t have the legs to follow the best riders on the steep gradients in Paracombe but he assures he’s in good shape. Willunga Hill is a much better climb for Pantano who likes steady gradients. The goal is to make top10 overall and to achieve this, Jarlinson Pantano needs to be on top of his game today. 

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

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