Jan. 26, 2015 — Another Tour Down Under has come and gone. Here are 10 things we learned from the 17th edition of Australia’s home tour.

By Daniel McMahon // Images by Yuzuru Sunada

1. Cadel Evans is going out as one of the classiest riders to ever race a bike.

The 17th Santos Tour Down Under was Evans’ last stage race as a professional cyclist. He wanted to win the race but came up short. The BMC leader finished on the podium, in third place, behind compatriots Richie Porte of Sky and winner Rohan Dennis, his young teammate. On stage 3, Dennis effectively won the race, having dropped everyone on the finishing climb of Paracombe Hill. Then, on stage 5, Dennis was the only rider to stay close to a super-strong Porte, and he retained his lead, if by just two seconds. Once Dennis took the jersey, Evans was there for him, offering encouragement and wisdom. Before the final stage, a high-speed criterium-like dash in Adelaide that saw a few crashes, Evans told Dennis to just follow him. He did exactly that, later telling Aussie TV, “I had all the faith in the world in Cadel.”

Cuddles would love to have won his final home tour, but there were two riders stronger than he was. Yet he didn’t sulk. Instead, he respected the race leader, who happened to be his teammate. Earlier in his career, Evans had something of a reputation for having a short temper, but in the past several years Evans has shown class, maturity, and sportsmanship, which have resonated with his fellow riders and his many fans around the world. The former world champion and Tour de France winner is going out on the perfect note. (Evans’ very last race as a pro will be the Great Ocean Road Race at the end of the month.)

2. Rohan Dennis has transcended to the highest level of cycling.

Winning this Tour Down Under is by far the greatest result of Dennis’ young career. Up until this victory, the 24-year-old’s major international results included a win at the Tour of Alberta, in 2013, a second place at the Tour of California, in 2014, and a gold medal in the world team time-trial championship, also in 2014, with BMC. This major WorldTour event was thought to be Richie Porte’s or Cadel Evans’ for the taking, but as those two favorites attacked each other on the first uphill finish on Paracombe, Dennis saw an opportunity when they paused and stormed into the lead. 

As hard as he tried, Porte could not shake Dennis on Willunga, at least until the very top of the climb, but it was too little too late. A strong climber and solid time trialist, Dennis looks to become BMC’s new co-leader for stage races alongside American Tejay van Garderen. With Evans making his exit from cycling in a week, Dennis is coming up at just the right time. Could he become Australia’s next great stage racer?

3. Marcel Kittel is human.

The fastest road sprinters have bad days, too, even bad weeks. Though he won the Tour Down Under opener, the People’s Choice Classic (a criterium that does not count toward the TDU), he didn’t win a stage all week. Paul Sherwen noted on Aussie TV that he’d seen Kittel in an elevator at their hotel and that he wasn’t looking all that well. Strangely, on the last day, his team waited until pretty much the last moment to bring him to the front, but Kittel ended up getting stopped by a crash anyway.

KITTEL Marcel

If you thought the big German would clean up this past week and take home at least a couple stage wins, you were not alone. (Similarly, over in Argentina, we saw Mark Cavendish having a tough week, too, with the Manxman missing out on two sprint wins. He did win the last stage, on Sunday.) At any rate, this TDU was a quiet reminder that cyclists aren’t machines, even though they’re often described that way, normally with more positive connotations. Surely the long journey to Australia was a disappointment for Kittel and his Giant-Alpecin team.

4. Richie Porte is back to his best.

Along with Evans, Porte was a favorite to win this Tour Down Under, and he came in looking lean and hungry. In the end, he had to settle for second. The Tasmanian Devil was as strong as the winner, Rohan Dennis, but it appears that he made a small tactical mistake in attacking too late up Willunga. Had he gone a few seconds sooner, he could have won the race.

Richie Porte blows up Willunga, wins stage 5 at Tour Down Under. (Photo: Yuzuru Sunada) #fuelfortheride #TDU

A photo posted by peloton magazine (@pelotonmagazine) on

But hindsight is 20-20, and Porte had to deal with both BMC leaders, Evans and Dennis, so it was tougher going tactically than it seemed. Still, Porte is looking stronger than ever, and seems to be riding with renewed focus. Let’s see how he does in the spring races when he’s not working for Chris Froome.

5. Robbie McEwen should become a regular commentator for all big races.

How refreshing was it having former pro cyclist Robbie McEwen hopping into the commentary box this week? The guy knows bike racing, and, just as important, he knows how to talk about it. His insight and analysis were informative and genuinely interesting.

McEWEN Robbie

He explained technical aspects of the daily stages and finishes, pointing out the little details that can make big differences. He knew every rider’s name right away. He’s also well spoken. Let’s hope someone gets him commentating all season long.

6. Lars Boom puts on a good show.

A rider for all seasons, Boom, in his new Astana colors, was quite active this Tour Down Under, especially on stage 5 during the ride to Willunga, when he and his Astana teammates blew up the lead group in the crosswinds. Their move was eventually caught, but to see echelons at the TDU was a cool sight. On the last stage, the huge Dutchman animated the main breakaway, which got caught only at the very end of the last lap.

Last year Boom won the cobbled stage of the Tour de France, and if he can carry his excellent early-season form into the spring, he could be a serious threat in the classics.

7. In January, expect top-notch racing.

The pro season is crazy long, stretching from mid-January well into October. This is nothing new, but every time the Tour Down Under rolls around, it reminds us how serious the racing is these days right from the get-go. Several of the world’s best riders were present for this first WorldTour event, and everyone looked lean. The stages were fast, the racing exciting, the wins hard fought. There was constant attacking — echelons even. What’s more, the bonus seconds – love them or hate them — did keep things very interesting. And the fact that there was no time trial, well, the racing was still great without one. The pro peloton is already flying, and Richmond 2015 is still eight months away.

8. Enough with the kangaroos already.

OK, kangaroos are cute and all, especially the baby ones, and they’re an important part of Australia’s image, sure, but every time the Tour Down Under rolls around we’re inundated with the same pictures of riders with kangaroos. Frankly, it’s tiring. A snap or two is fun, but when seemingly every rider from every team takes a token shot with Australia’s mascot, it feels old. Surely there are other things the race can do to celebrate Aussie culture. It needs to be more imaginative.

9. Heinrich Haussler’s back, too.

A week before the Tour Down Under, Haussler won the Australian national road race in a perfectly timed sprint against rising star Caleb Ewan. And at the TDU, Haussler looked sharp, riding at the front and contesting the finishes. He was eighth on stage 1, fourth on stage 4, and second on stage 6.

Though he didn’t win a stage, his season is off to a very strong start, which should give him some much-needed confidence. Could this be Haussler’s long-awaited comeback to the top? Let’s see what Heino can do in the early-season races and the big classics.

10. Underdogs disrupt the status quo.

Wouter Wippert. Steele Von Hoff. Juan José Lobato. Jack Bobridge. These are not names most cycling fans hear often; these guys don’t win major races. So when they took the biggest victories of their careers at the Tour Down Under last week, people sat up. With heavy hitters like Kittel, Renshaw, Meersman, and Haussler looking to pocket early-season wins, these guys messed up their plans and seized their opportunities. The result? Less-predictable outcomes and better racing. Here’s to the underdogs, jokers, and disrupters.

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