Have we just seen our overall race winner? Atop Paracombe, Anthony Tan relives what he believes will be the defining stage of this year's Santos Tour Down Under.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

"I'll think we'll have a much better indication after today. I think today's stage is the queen stage of the tour. It's a lot harder than the Willunga (Hill stage), and they'll be bigger splits today than Willunga."

So said Orica-GreenEDGE Matt White this morning in Norwood, asked if yesterday's stage to Stirling provided a clue as to who might win the 17th edition of the Tour Down Under.

"The guy who finished third yesterday (Stage 2) is a pretty handy bike rider (Gorka Izagirre Insausti of Movistar). The guy who won (Juan Jose Lobato) is not a climber - he's a sprinter.

"I think whoever wins today's stage will be very hard to beat (for the overall title). Whoever wins today's stage will not be in trouble on Willunga, that's for sure. So today's a crucial one."

As OGE have always done when there's a race that matters, they recced the decisive final kilometres a number of occasions, which they did in training last week.

Though importantly, not just the 1.2 kilometre climb of Paracombe itself - which White said resembled the Mur de Huy, the infamous ascent used each year at La Fleche Wallonne, though not quite as brutal - but from the town of Lobethal, which marked the end of three circuits before the peloton headed northwest along Cudlee Creek Road and into Gorge Road.

When the riders turned right from Gorge Road to Torrens Hill Road, 1600 metres remained of the 143.2km stage. From there, the only way was up, up, up.

I had heard the first part of Paracombe had a section topping 18 percent; I asked White if that was accurate.

"No. The bottom of the climb, I think it says an average of 9.8 percent for the whole climb. The bottom is the steepest, more than 15 percent, but it doesn't go for that long; (a) couple of hundred metres... I don't think it's 18 percent (but) it's a very hard climb.

"It'll be a huge battle to get to the corner (of Gorge and Torrens Hill Roads) - we're going down the gorge. So it'll be warp speed into that corner, and then guys will be dropping chains (switching to the small chainring); they'll be full lead-outs getting to the bottom.

"I'm pretty confident we'll have Daryl (Impey) and (Simon) Clarkey up there today."

Will OGE try and control the situation in the lead-in to Paracombe?

"We want to be the first ones coming into the corner, but there's probably about 15 other teams with the same plan. But we won't have to control (the race) today.

"We haven't got the jersey, it's not a day for a breakaway... We won't be putting anyone in the breakaway today. And Sky, they don't mind having a bit of control of the race... so we'll leave them to it."

Does the KOM, 400 metres from the line, change how the finale may unfold?

"Well, it still goes up!" he said, grinning.

"It's false flat, two to three percent all the way to the finish line. So, the KOM's irrelevant - it just keeps dragging, all the way to the finish... It's a hard one.

"I think what will happen is, the bottom's so steep, I don't think anyone will go from the bottom because it's too far. It goes up the climb and it looks like that's the top - it's about 600 metres (to go) - and I think that's where people will start to go.

"And, if you haven't got legs, you won't even be able to react, so... Richie Porte will be definitely going. It's when and how much of a gap he gets," predicted White.

"But I think Richie, Cadel (Evans), and, for me, (Tiago) Machado (of Team Katusha) - he will be good on this climb today. I'm not really too worried about others, really - they're the three big threats.

Without Simon Gerrans, who, on December 21 last year, broke his collarbone after falling off his mountain bike, OGE was forced to devise a Plan B.

Whether Impey and Clarke can meet the lofty standard set by Gerrans, a three-time winner of the event, White seemed unsure of: "Clarkey, at the national championships, proved he's going well; Daryl proved yesterday (Wednesday) that he's in good shape... and they'll both be in the mix today.

"I don't think we'll win the stage," he said, "but if we can be within 10 seconds of the leaders at the end of the day, I'll be very happy."

As things turned out, neither Impey or Clarke had the legs to stay with the likes of stage winner and new race leader Rohan Dennis, his soon-to-retired-teammate Evans, second overall at seven seconds, or Tom Dumoulin and Porte, third and fourth on GC.

Fifteen seconds separate the quartet; one is certain to be crowned champion this Sunday on Adelaide's King William Road.

It would take a monumental ride for Impey, 10th overall at 22 seconds, to make the podium, although stranger things have happened in cycling... Out of the top ten, the South African is, by some margin, the quickest of the lot, and there's plenty of bonus seconds still up for grabs.

I reckon Whitey was right about one thing, though: Thursday's stage winner will be hard, if not impossible, to beat.