• All about OGE... Well, almost. (AFP)Source: AFP
Another Australian winner, one we should be proud of and celebrate - but other than a headline-grabbing name or two from abroad, was something else missing from this year's Tour Down Under, wonders Anthony Tan?
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Cycling Central
24 Jan 2016 - 6:29 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2016 - 11:13 PM

As a tourism event, the Santos Tour Down Under received its validation yesterday on the slopes of Old Willunga Hill.

Cycling aficionados, the majority Australian and lined cheek by jowl in their thousands, seemed delighted a race of this calibre was being held in their own backyard - and why shouldn't they?

"Take out the time bonuses and guess what happens? Richie Porte would've won his first Tour Down Under."

But as a sporting contest, were you happy with what you saw?

All six stages were won by Australian riders - seven if you include the People's Choice Classic. Four of the six TDU stages were snapped up by Orica-GreenEDGE - two from Caleb Ewan and Simon Gerrans apiece - our one and only WorldTour team, whom we have much to be proud of.

The Aussie domination of the Tour Down Under - since its inception, eleven out of seventeen winners have been Australian, and since it went ProTour, six out of nine were won by Australian riders - is unsurprising.

Australian riders naturally want to do well in their home race, and while the season is long, many train to peak for the event. Second, the number of Australians has always outweighed riders from any other nation. This year, 30 out of a 141-strong peloton bore the Australian flag next to their name, Italy and the Netherlands with 16 and 11 riders, respectively, were the next best represented; the rest were in single digits.

In terms of general classification, time bonuses for intermediate sprints and stage finishes - originally designed to ensure the race would not be decided on a countback of stage placings, since before Willunga became a hilltop finish and climbs like Corkscrew Road and Paracombe were introduced, it was quite possible that half the field could end up on the same overall time - are no longer required to separate the field. Clearly, a rider as versatile as Gerrans, who won a record-setting fourth TDU crown Sunday in Adelaide, likes the idea, as does his team and fans of OGE.

Related
Gerrans wins the Santos Tour Down Under
Simon Gerrans comfortably wrapped up his fourth Santos Tour Down Under title after team-mate Caleb Ewan won the final 90km stage in Adeliade.

Take out the bonuses and guess what happens? Richie Porte would've won his first Tour Down Under, followed by Sergio Henao and Gerrans.

Does Gerrans deserve to win? Absolutely, he does - he just uses the race to his advantage. However to give the early breakaway - or any breakaway, for that matter - a fighting chance, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take out time bonuses for the intermediate sprints, and leave them in for the finish.

Speaking of escapes, spending time out front clearly does not bode well at the TDU.

According to the TDU Tour Tracker, throughout the course of this week, Astana spent 6 hours, 18 minutes and 44 seconds in breakaways while Lotto-Soudal and UniSA-Australia each clocked up over five-and-a-half hours - with little to show for their efforts, other than briefly holding onto one of the minor classifications and, of course, a whole lotta TV time.

Conversely, OGE and BMC Racing spent an entire 2 minutes and 35 seconds in breakaways - the equal least time of any of the twenty competing teams. Yet between them, they walked away with five out of six stages, first and second on GC, and the points classification to boot.

Since the event became part of the WorldTour we've seen just one race-defining escape - the fourth stage of the 2011 edition, when Cameron Meyer along with three others stole a march on the road to Strathalbyn; a move that would deny Matthew Goss victory by just two seconds.

But as Drapac sport director and former professional Tom Southam wrote in his blog on the Rapha website, "The Tour Down Under suits opportunists less and less these days. The inclusion of the race in the UCI WorldTour in 2008 meant that – aside from Cameron Meyer's brilliant overall victory in 2011 – it has been the UCI points that have done the talking when it came to deciding how the race was run, with few teams prepared to take a chance on letting a break get much traction."

He writes effusively of the 2004 edition (which I myself covered as a field reporter for Cyclingnews), where local lad Patrick Jonker of the UniSA-Australia team, riding his last race, slipped into two key escapes in as many days. Up against the multi-million dollar might of the European-based squads, he set about defending his lead over the next three days, beating compatriots Robbie McEwen (riding for Lotto–Domo) and Baden Cooke (FDJeux.com) to record his finest hour - his last hour - as a professional, "taken against the odds in a never-to-be-repeated moment of Tour Down Under history," Southam wrote.

"For me this is the greatest thing that could have happened," said Jonker.

"My aggressiveness on the second day was crucial. It was a gamble I know, but it was my last race and you lay it on the line. It was all or nothing, a blaze of glory or a blaze of disappointment."

With the way the WorldTour is, and so long as the Tour Down Under is part of it, we may never see feats like Jonker's again - which makes me look forward to next month's Jayco Herald Sun Tour, from February 3-7, where the racing tends to be a little more old-school.

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