It’s been a hard week to follow the start of the cycling season from the UK. Races in Australia and Argentina are not so easy to watch live; it either involves getting up at 4.30am and disturbing the rest of your non-cycling life with sleep deprivation to watch the Tour Down Under; or risking your eyesight squinting at a fuzzy web-cam whilst trying to follow fast-speaking Spanish commentary at the Tour de San Luis. But the very fact that there are these options speaks volumes about the proliferation of coverage. We’ve become so used to coverage of almost everything that this, in fact, makes for a pleasant (and nostalgic) change. Not so long ago watching short highlights programmes used to be the only option for even the biggest races and anything else would not even get that. Now live TV of entire stages of the bigger races plus legal (and illegal) streams and Youtube channels bring us even the most minor events in some form. Saturation levels are fast approaching
So it’s been refreshing this week to catch up the Tour Down Under in written and highlights form. I haven’t quite kicked the need for ‘live’ updates so have settled into a pattern of reading back my Twitter timeline after waking up to get the chronology of the race as it unfolds. By following a few teams and a few journalists you get the story of the whole race – early breaks and all – which highlight shows often skim over. Then, pre-armed with a bit of race knowledge, watching even a brief highlights package becomes more rewarding in the sense that you learn to watch the moves develop rather than witness the result and then try and work out how it came to be.
Anyway – it’s been a great week of racing in Australia. Huge crowds, five different stages winners, the Ochre leader’s jersey swapping shoulders regularly and now a gap of just one second between first and second place going into the last day tomorrow.
Aussies have been much to the fore as you would expect in their home race. Gerrans, Evans and Porte have taken the stage wins in turn through the week and it’s the Orica-Greenedge and BMC men who are split by that tiny gap at the top of the podium places. Evans seemed to be looking right back on form with a swashbuckling win on Stage 3 and looked to have done enough on Stage 5 to hold the jersey into the final day. However he faded in the critical last few metres on the second ascent of Old Willunga Hill and let Gerrans sneak in front for the decisive bonus seconds. Porte took the stage win in impressive style – and even managed to get both hands off the handlebars to celebrate: something he notably failed to manage when crossing the finish line on the Champs Elysee last July. Sprint wins for Kittel (in the pre-race crit) and Greipel have kick-started their seasons well and provided a well balanced week of racing.
Jersey Pocket favourite Adam Hansen has held the King of The Mountains jersey all week. However his lead has been also been chipped away at and he heads into the last day equal on points with Axel Domont of AG2R. Trek’s Jens Voight – racing as Number 42 to match his age – has lit up a number of breakaways and Jans Bakelants has also been at the front a number of times.
Conspiciously absent from any traceable mention have been Frank Schleck on his return to competition and the entire squads from Tinkoff Saxo, FDJ, Movistar and Belkin; all of whom have seemingly gone the whole week without raising their heads.. Early days in the season though.
Over in Argentina Movistar have been doing a rather more high profile job. Nairo Quintana has stone-facedly battled his way to the top of the GC pile after 5 stages. He did the damage on the mountain top finish of stage 4 by putting almost a minute into the second place man on the stage but then took the leader’s jersey after a relatively strong 16th in the individual time trial on stage 5. With half a minute over Philip Gaimon of Garmin and another high mountain finish to come before the final stage, it looks like the Colombian will be the first of the Grand Tour contenders to get an overall victory this season. Nibali is way down in 45th place at the moment – some 17 minutes off Quintana’s pace but is on a different season plan. Quintana has already discounted an appearance at the Tour this year and may do the Giro and Vuelta instead. GB’s youngster Adam Yates, riding for Orica-Greenedge this season, is in a creditable 13th so far in Argentina.