• The Old Willunga Hill climb remains the highlight of the Santos Tour Down Under. (Getty)Source: Getty
At the Tour Down Under of 2017 there were six stages, seven if you count the People's Choice criterium before the race and there were only two winners, Caleb Ewan and Richie Porte, who was the runaway overall winner as well.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
26 Jan 2017 - 11:07 AM  UPDATED 26 Jan 2017 - 11:41 AM

Combined with the less than inspiring racing on offer for long stretches of the event, is it time to shake up the formula a bit?

First of all, don’t mistake my intention, I personally enjoyed the race as a whole and there were several great moments.

Watching Porte surge clear on the climbs is a thing of beauty, while Ewan’s four stage wins plus the criterium was a monumental achievement, especially given the difficulty of some of those sprint victories.

The organisation is the best of the WorldTour, the volume of the crowds give the race a great atmosphere and the scenery remains a stunning backdrop to the event.

What it wasn’t was a race I could say to my non-cycling friends, ‘this was an exciting race to watch, it will convert you to mystical wonders of the sport of cycling.’

Porte cruises to TDU title as Ewan wins the finale
Richie Porte confirmed his first career Santos Tour Down Under overall victory as Caleb Ewan again proved unbeatable on the final stage of the 2017 race.

So what was to blame? Uninteresting course profiles? Probably not.

Stage 2 offered a great opportunity to break up the race on the laps of Stirling, which none of the teams attempted to do. And Stage 3 was a perfect chance for the attacking types to get away over terrain which makes it tricky for the peloton to mount a chase.

Instead, we saw the usual three-man move just trundling along off the front of the peloton and only the indefatigable Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors) really tried to inject some excitement into the proceedings with a solo effort that wasn’t far off from succeeding.

Perhaps it's the riders who are the problem? As Mike Turtur, Tour Down Under race director, said after the race when questioned about the predictable racing, “The riders make the race”. 

So all the World Tour riders who show up, they’re to blame? Well, partially.

The way the early season races work, the top teams don’t really want to show up in great form, it’s too long a season and they have even bigger goals down the line.

Chief amongst them are the classics and securing a few early WorldTour points so their team cars aren’t right down the back of the convoy.

Take, for instance, a guy like Rafael Valls, who finished seventh overall for Lotto-Soudal. It's a result that they’ll be very happy with, despite the fact that he was largely anonymous throughout the race and didn’t garner any attention for the sponsors because his team is focussed on the classics.

Lotto-Soudal wouldn’t be helped overly by trying to race flat out and almost all the World Tour teams take the same approach.

Additionally, many riders simply show up in ordinary form because it’s the beginning of their season and they’re coming from European winter where it’s hardly been much fun to train.

So, riders without much form or motivation to race would be happy for a small break to go each day, reel it back and leave everything for the dash to the line in the final kilometres.

So what would shake up the formula? Perhaps the inclusion of some teams hungry for the spotlight, with the ambition of showcasing themselves and racing hard throughout. 

There are any number of ProContinental Teams (PCT) who would fit the bill, for whom the race is a rare chance to show themselves on the biggest stage with worldwide television coverage that sponsors love. 

Aqua Blue Sport, Caja Rural, UnitedHealthcare and Wanty-Groupe Gobert would be four great contenders to liven up the racing and you’d probably only need to invite two or three of them to fire up the peloton.

The goal of a PCT team is to secure invites to the biggest races possible and the Tour Down Under comes at an enticing spot during the season when races organisers like RCS (Giro d’Italia) and ASO (Tour de France) are weighing up which teams they’ll invite to their marquee events. 

An exciting performance in January when there is little other racing on could catch the eye for those bigger events who are also trying to prevent their races from becoming dull affairs.

There’s a reason that ASO almost caused a revolt within cycling last year as they tried to stop the UCI from mandating that they take the 18 WorldTour teams as automatic selections for the Tour de France. 

They’d be a lot happier with a bunch of scrappy insurgents who animate a race than a peloton of conservative WorldTour teams who have as much to lose as to gain from an aggressive approach.

It’s far from a Tour Down Under specific problem, it will be interesting to see how the WorldTour move affects the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race now that it won’t have the Australian continental teams in there trying to get as much exposure as possible.

And races like the Tour of California won’t be the showcase for US cycling that it has been in the past with its new inclusion in the WorldTour.

While it’s always great for the event to secure some more headline names, perhaps a little more attention should be paid to the undercard as well, otherwise, we may see predictable racing become the norm.