Porte’s Invincible on Willunga Hill but Impey wins his 2nd Tour Down Under

Santos Tour Down Under - 2019 - stage 6
Richie Porte wins on Willunga Hill for the 6th time, beating Wout Poels, but Daryl Impey (3rd) has done enough to retain his overall title

There’s a Col de Porte (1326M) in the Chartreuse Mountains in France. It’s on the D512 between Grenoble and Chambery, and it’s a proper 1st Cat climb – 17km at an average 6.8%. The Tour de France first climbed its slopes in 1907, but A.S.O. have strangely avoided it since 1998.  Maybe if they don’t want it anymore they should let the State of South Australia use the title to rename Willunga Hill after Richie Porte. After his 6th win on the hill at the Tour Down Under it’s the least they could do. If he was a racehorse he would get a life-size bronze statue.

Although Porte has won 6 times on Willunga, the Tasmanian has only once netted the overall ; with most of its stages culminating in bunch finishes in the quaint Colonial towns that surround Adelaide, the TDU is not a race for the climbers – Willunga Hill is the only real obstacle to trouble most of the sprinters. But not Daryl Impey. Going into the final stage the South African held a 13s. advantage over Porte and more than a dozen other riders. Porte was always the odds-on favourite to win the stage, attacking twice to catch and pass Wout Poels and then ride into a clear lead, but it was always going to be a big ask to open up a 9s. lead in the last 600M, always assuming Impey finished out of the podium placings and time bonuses. But, paced back by his Mitchelton-Scott team, Impey closed the gap as the gradient eased in the closing metres. He not only finished on the same time as Porte, but picked up a 4s. bonus for finishing 3rd, winning overall by 13s.

Impey: A Sprinter who can Climb

Daryl Impey is the first rider to retain the Tour Down Under title in its 20 year history, and his brace of TDU wins is probably the highlight of his career. A pro since 2008, the 34 year old has also won the Tour of Turkey (2009) and the Tour of Alberta (2014), stages in the Basque Tour (2012/13), The Tour of Catalunya (2017) and the Dauphine (2018), and has been S.African time trial champion 7 times. He also became the first South African to wear the yellow jersey of the Tour de France (for 2 stages in 2013) and has always been seen to best advantage in uphill sprint finishes. He’s the sort of rider that you’d expect to do well in the northern classics but his best result in Belgium was 10th in last year’s Brabantse Pijl. Maybe he doesn’t like the cold weather.

What Next for Richie Porte?

Richie Porte summed up the TDU when he said “you’ve got to climb better than the sprinters and then sprint better than the climbers”. He was delighted with his stage win and 2nd overall in his first race in the colours of Trek-Segafredo. Porte will be 34 on 30th January and logically his best years are probably behind him. It seems hard to believe that it was back in 2010 that he won the young riders’ classification at the Giro and spent 2 days in the pink jersey; since then he has never really delivered in the Grand Tours (though his days at Sky, acting as a super domestique to Froome and Wiggins hardly helped his cause). His best placing at the Tour was 5th in 2016, his first year with BMC, but he crashed out spectacularly on a descent in 2017 and broke his collarbone in another crash last year. Porte’s forte is the early season 1 week stage races, with 2 wins in Paris-Nice and victories in the TDU, Tour de Suisse, Giro del Trentino and Tour of Romandie. Those sorts of race will probably be his targets this year; it is hard to see either him or team-mate Bauke Mollema challenging for Grand Tour success.

Mentioned in Despatches: Bevin, Sanchez and Hayman

This year’s TDU was set alight by New Zealander Patrick Bevin. He took the sprint finish into Angaston on stage 2 and held the ochre jersey until the last day, going into the final stage with a 7s. lead over Impey and winning the blue points jersey. But the results don’t tell the whole story – Bevin crashed heavily in the last 5kms of stage 5. He fought his way back to the peloton but finished with blood pouring from his elbow and clearly in pain. He started (and finished) the last stage but dropped out of contention on the first ascent of Willunga Hill. He is clearly not a snooker player (see below).

Honorable mention should also be made of Luis Leon Sanchez. who finished 4th and had been involved in the finish of nearly every stage. Sanchez won the TDU in 2005 and is only a year older than Porte, but he seems to have been around for ever – it’s probably false memory but I’m sure I can picture him riding in wool shorts and toeclips, spare tubs wrapped around his shoulders, a flat cap turned backwards and a handlebar moustache.

Mathew Hayman is even older – officially a “veteran”- and the TDU was the last chapter of a 20year career that was highlighted by his unforgettable victory in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix. Hayman spent last week in support of his Mitchelton Scott team-mate Impey, and then hung up his cycling shoes. In 20 seasons he has ridden an incredible 237,358 racing kilometres, to say nothing of the countless hours training.

Eurosport Struggling to Kick the Habit

It was good to see the TDU on Eurosport, an aperitif for the forthcoming season, even if it was only a 30mins highlights slot, which twice seemed to vanish from the schedules as we were treated to unending coverage of tennis and snooker. They are both equally infuriating for those of us wanting to watch some proper sport due to their indeterminate duration. You end up willing the player who’s a set or a frame up to win with a succession of aces or a clearance of the table, only for their opponent to fight back and take the soporific spectacle to another set or frame. It goes on for ever and it’s goodbye to stage 5 of the Tour of Slovenia!  At least tennis requires a high level of fitness – it’s hard to classify snooker as a sport. In the old days when the tournaments were sponsored by Rothmans and Embassy, and Hurricane Higgins puffed through a packet of fags per frame, it was at least true to its roots as a pub game, though if a player had a serious coughing fit when the last frame came down to the last 3 colours he was never given the same score as the winner.