Contributed by David Hunter
The opening stage sees the riders travel 135km in a circuit from Nuriootpa to Angaston. The race goes straight through the beautiful Barossa wine valley.
We have 2 laps of an identical route and then the final lap goes up Mengler’s Hill.
The climb is 2.6km at 7.1% and the riders crest the summit with just 14km to go.
We also have an uphill rise to the finishing line, but it’s nothing too serious.
I would expect to see some action going up the climb and some sprinters will miss out, but not all of them. The climb was included in 2010 and Greipel survived it and took the sprint. Although it was further from the finishing line than this year.
Stage 4 in 2012 also featured the climb, where it was 23km from the finish. Greipel didn’t survive the hill and a reduced bunch sprint was won by Oscar Freire, with Ciolek 2nd and Bennati 3rd.
Freire getting the win in 2012
The tour has finished in Angaston or climbed Mengler’s Hill on a number of occasions:
2006 – Simon Gerrans won in a small break
2008 – Mark Renshaw won in a bunch sprint
2009 – Allan Davis won in a bunch sprint with Mengler’s Hill 35km from the end
2010 – Andre Greipel won in a bunch sprint, although the stage finished in Tanunda.
2011 – Matt Goss won a bunch sprint
2012 – Oscar Freire won in a small bunch sprint with Mengler’s Hill 23km from the end and Andre Greipel was dropped on the climb. The stage actually finished in Tanunda.
In 2012, it was the team of BMC that dominated the climb. They wanted to drop Greipel, to put Martin Kohler into the Ochre jersey, and they did. The pace was very high on the climb but it didn’t eliminate Freire, Ciolek, Bennati, Boasson Hagen, Matthews and Rojas.
This year, the climb is closer to the end of the stage and that changes things. Riders know that sprinters who get dropped will not be able to re-join. The first rider over the top of Mengler’s Hill will wear the KOM jersey in stage 2, so there is an extra incentive for riders to attack on the climb. The team, UniSA, always try to win a jersey and I expect their young star, Jack Haig, to try and claim this jersey. If a small group get enough of a gap at the top of the climb, it will be difficult for the peloton to bring them back.
Marcel Kittel will struggle to get over the climb and I can’t see him being involved at the end. The 14 time stage winner in the Tour Down Under, Andre Greipel, is a different kettle of fish. The Gorilla can climb and showed in the Spring Classics that he can cope with short, steep climbs. That being said he was dropped on the climb in 2012. Back in 2012 his team was decimated by injury and he didn’t have the strength in numbers to help him cope with the climb. This time round, it’s stage 1 and it should be different.
Mark Renshaw can climb well and won his first ever World Tour race here in 2008. He knows the finish well and is motivated to take a win for his new team, OPQS.
Orica GreenEDGE have many cards to play. They have Michael Matthews and Matt Goss, who are both capable of getting over the hill. Matthews was 5th here in 2012 and will be looking to do better. An in-form Goss is capable of winning, but is he in-form? If all the sprinters go out the back door, they have Impey and Gerrans for the finish. It’s an embarrassment of riches for the Australian outfit.
Young Caleb Ewan, finished a brilliant 3rd in the People’s Choice Classic. In the under 23 world championship road race, he coped well with the short, steep climbs. He should be able to stay with the peloton but can he then go fast in the sprint. This will be his first ever stage in the World Tour, so no one knows for sure…yet!
Another young star is Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe. He was an excellent 6th in the People’s Classic, but should be leading out Mark Renshaw. If the Aussie doesn’t make it, then Julian will get the nod. He climbs very well and is a fast sprinter, but is slower than Caleb Ewan. In the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir, he couldn’t get near Ewan in the sprints.
Other sprinters that can climb include: Rojas, Viviani, Von Hoff and Felline.
When I spoke to Trek Factory Racing DS, Kim Anderson, he had this to say about his sprinters,
“We have our sprinters who can maybe surprise the big names. There’s Danny Van Poppel for the flat sprints, but Fabio Felline could be very good for some stages too. There’s two stages with a hill in the end, so maybe that gives us options.”
Danny Van Poppel had this to say,
“I haven’t had a detailed look at it, but I think if Greipel can make it, I’ll be fine too. I like short, steep climbs in theory, but we’ll need to see.”
Danny Van Poppel crashed in the People’s Choice Classic, here is what his brother, Boy, had to say,
“Danny was going too fast, in an attempt to move up some places. He touched another rider and went down. Too bad, because we were both feeling really good today.”
Like all new teams, Trek Factory Racing are eager to claim their first win. I asked Kim how important it was they won early in 2014,
“It’s obviously very important: for confidence and for good spirit. This is a new team, so we would be really relaxed if we can score a win here. The riders are very motivated.”
If Danny Van Poppel doesn’t make it over the climb, then watch out for Fabio Felline. He is a quick finisher, especially when the pure sprinters aren’t there. He finished 2nd on stage 4 of the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
If all the sprinters get left behind on Mengler’s Hill then it should be a straight shoot-out between Simon Gerrans and Diego Ulissi, but this seems the least likely outcome.
Predicton time …
If Greipel makes it over the hill, he wins. If he doesn’t then it should be a day for Australia and Michael Matthews.