It’s like being taken out of an ice bath and put into a sauna, then having to pedal a bike as hard as you can.
January has us in the mindset of ‘out with the old and in with the new,’ and as the 2018 season trickles away out our minds and the festive fog begins to clear, it’s high time to get back to racing.
There’s a new season just about to start, and even in the sweltering 100-plus degree heat that is gracing Adelaide at the moment, there are racers readying themselves and fans at the ready to line the roads and tune into the broadcasts. The six-day Santos Tour Down Under will once again launch us in to the 2019 WorldTour. Mike Woods lets us know what it is about racing in the Southern Hemisphere that he loves so much, whilst DS Tom Southam keys us in on a few race tactics.
The riders who line up for the early season races have to sacrifice taking a longer off-season in order to prepare. For riders who don’t race in January, they will enjoy an off-season spanning from the end of October and most of November. Mike Woods’ last race day in 2018 was the Oct.15, “This is my third time of doing it [Tour Down Under] and what it means is that you have to start putting in some pretty big miles, in mid to late November,” he says.
“You look at the race schedule and you realize that you’ve only got eight weeks before you’re racing again. But last season, I ended the season feeling so fit it felt weird to stop, so I am really looking forward to starting again.
“I was really excited when I was told that I was to race it”
“I was really excited when I was told that I was to race it; my first WorldTour race with this team was Tour Down Under in 2016, and I had a great race. It was a breakthrough performance that enabled me to get a lot more respect within the peloton and within this team when I came fifth,” Woods recalls.
At this time of year, for the Northern Hemisphere riders at least, they have been training over the last three months in temperatures that are in constant freefall as winter sets in. So being plunged into Adelaide’s relentless heat is akin to being taken out of an ice bath and put into a sauna, then having to pedal a bike as hard as you can, “If I’m adapted to it then I’m fine, but if I’m not then I feel like I’m melting. I just feel like I want to rip my helmet off and take off all my clothes. You try and fight it which only makes it worse,” Woods explains.
Acclimatization is key, hence Woods and his teammates, Lachlan Morton and Dan McLay trekking over from their Girona base before the new year rolled in.
Being there early has the added bonus of refreshing the mind of some of the climbs ahead of the race, there’s one in particular that Woods has his eye on, that comes on stage four. “The Corkscrew stage is a stage that I’m really excited about. I came third in it in 2016, it wasn’t there in 2017 when I did it again, but it’s a climb that favors me. It’s steep, and when it’s steep the pace is slower and I can stand and pedal, and when I’m standing I effectively run on the bike. That’s my forte, running on the bike,” notes Woods.
As a lightweight rider, Woods then has the challenge of holding off the heavier riders chasing behind who have the advantage on the descent. Although the climbs can be a make or break for the general classification (GC), the intermediate sprints — two on every stage — play a huge part in tactics between the teams whose GC contender is a climber and the ones whose GC contender is more of a sprinter, “There are three, two and one bonus seconds on each of the intermediate sprints,” Southam explains. “And it becomes tactical around those, on stage three for example, they’ve put two intermediate sprints quite early in the stage, which is obviously an attempt to encourage a team to control it so a break doesn’t go out and soak up the intermediate sprints, so it spices things up a bit.
“This is where it becomes tactical”
“This is where it becomes tactical because some teams will be trying to stop guys getting more intermediate time bonuses by sending guys in breakaways, whilst some teams will be trying to make the sprint come together so chasing hard. It can be interesting at the start of stages around those intermediate sprints, they do play a big role in this race, maybe more than any other race that I can think of,” Southam says.
This year’s race remains faithful to its tradition and has the final stage finish atop Willunga Hill, where thousands of exuberant Aussies will hope to roar home one of their own — Richie Porte — to a sixth consecutive win on this climb.
“It’s his jam, it’s Richie-Porte certified, he’s won it every year for the last few years now,” Woods says. “It’s a climb that suits him so well, so that will be the big challenge, not just for me, but anyone going for the general classification.” Often this is the stage that determines who will take the Ochre Jersey for the general classification, so there’s no wonder it’s highly anticipated.
By the end of the week, the climbers will hope to be in a position where they haven’t lost too much time to the sprinters on the intermediate sprints and finishes. Willunga Hill is a relatively short climb, around a six-minute effort, and reclaiming seconds is always tough, “Taking three seconds in an intermediate sprint is quite difficult but it’s a lot easier than trying to take three seconds out of a committed rider on Willunga, because it’s such a fast and short climb,” Southam says.
Woods will have a strong team around him with Lachlan Morton, Mitch Docker, Tom Scully and Alberto Bettiol, who will help position and deliver him onto the key climbs. Dan McLay will be in the mix for the sprints and for neo pro, James Whelan, it will be all about soaking up the race and gaining experience.
As EF Education First Pro Cycling swaps winter for summer, the Santos Tour Down Under brings the WorldTour out of hibernation to kick off 2019.
Are you ready for it? We’ll see ya on Willunga Hill, mate.
Ziptrak Stage 1 – 132.4km
A sprint stage that starts in North Adelaide and finishes in Port Adelaide. The Subaru King of the Mountain will be on One Tree Hill road, Golden Grove – Snake Gully (Category 2), a climb with an average gradient of 9.9%. There are two intermediate sprints for this stage.
Novatech Stage 2 – 149km
This could be a stage for the breakaway, starting on The Parade, Norwood and finishing in Angaston. The Subaru King of the Mountain will be Checker Hill Road, Kersbrook (Category 2), which comes early in the stage at 22km, and has a punchy average gradient of 13.3%. Another two intermediate sprint stages are up for grabs. The route goes through the Barossa townships, well known for their world-class wineries…in case you were interested.
Subaru Stage 3 – 146.2km
This is the first testing stage for the climbers with 3,337m of elevation, that starts in Lobethal and finishes in Uraidla. The Subaru King of the Mountain will be on Fox Creek Road, Cudlee Creek (Category 2) with an average gradient of 7.81%. There will be two intermediate sprints up for grabs and they come early in the stage, fireworks to be expected.
100% Stage 4 – 129.2km
Unley hosts the start of stage 4 ahead of another challenging stage out into the Adelaide hills. Mike Woods will focus his attention on this stage primarily on the infamous Corkscrew climb. The Corkscrew (Category 1) is the Subaru King of the Mountain for the day with an average gradient of 9.0%. The stage will have a total of 2,427m of elevation with two intermediate sprints for the taking.
Southaustralia.com Stage 5 – 149.5km
Starting in Glenelg and finishing in Strathalbyn the route runs along the coastal towns of Victor Harbour, Port Elliott, Middleton and Goolwa. The Subaru King of the Mountain comes early at 44km into the stage, another two intermediate sprints are available.
Be safe be seen MAC Stage 6 – 151.5km
The final stage starts in McLaren Vale and finishes on the infamous Willunga Hill. Expect an attack from Richie Porte, he will be the man to beat, having won the last five consecutive years on this climb. This stage will likely be the decider for the Ochre Jersey of the general classification. There will be two Subaru King of the Mountain points up for the taking on this stage as the race ascends the 7.5% gradient of Willunga Hill two times. Another two intermediate sprints will close out the points jersey competition.
Our team for Santos Tour Down Under
Michael Woods (Canada)
Mitchell Docker (Australia)
Daniel McLay (Great Britain)
Lachlan Morton (Australia)
Thomas Scully (New Zealand)
James Whelan (Australia)
Alberto Bettiol (Italy)