ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — The season’s WorldTour opener is following a familiar script with familiar faces going into Sunday’s finale.
Old Willunga Hill once again will crown the winner, and, once again, it’s Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) vs. Mitchelton-Scott sparring for the prizes.
Fireworks lit up Saturday’s sprint stage, with Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) wrestling away the leader’s jersey from Porte by two seconds. That means the Santos Tour Down Under comes down to the seven-minute effort on Willunga Hill.
“Tomorrow it’s all to play for,” Porte said. “I think if we can win the stage, we can win the race.”
Porte and Impey have battled the past few editions on the dusty ridge in the Adelaide Hills. The hump has emerged as the race-breaker and kingmaker in the race’s two-decade history.
Porte has owned the mountain, winning it a record six times in a row. Yet during that sweep, he’s only managed to stand on the top step on the winner’s podium just once.
Time bonuses have long been his nemesis, and once again they are becoming a decisive factor leading into Sunday’s showdown.
Porte appears to be in the driver’s seat even if he ceded the leader’s jersey to Impey on bonuses. Impey picked up five of six seconds in play in mid-stage sprints Saturday, but Mitchelton-Scott’s bid to snatch the stage win fizzled when sprinters chased over a late-stage climb to gobble up finish-line bonuses.
At just two seconds ahead of Porte, Impey needs to be the all but impossible, and beat the Tasmanian up Willunga. Last year, Impey started 19 seconds ahead of Porte, and countered late behind Porte’s surge to finish on the same time as Porte on the stage, just enough to snatch the overall.
This year, at only two seconds ahead of Porte, everyone admits it’s going to be more complicated to fend off Porte.
“We know we need more time tomorrow,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “We would need another eight seconds on Porte. The way he’s riding, it might not be enough for Impey.”
Since 2014, Porte has turned the Willunga Hill into his personal fiefdom, winning six times in a row following what’s a well-worn tactic. The Tasmanian typically jumps at just over one kilometer to go with such a powerful surge to put his rivals into the red.
“The key is not to follow Richie when he goes. That’s always been a death trap,” George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) told Ride Media. “Richie just blows the doors off, and then he goes again. The best thing is to follow the guys, and hope that Richie blows up, and you can make a move from the peloton.”
There could be some spoilers to upend the familiar ending. Rob Power (Sunweb) is third at nine seconds back, and Simon Geschke (CCC), who’s been going well all week, is 17 seconds adrift.
Two years ago, organizers moved Willunga into the final day of racing, and it’s only served to heighten tension in the race.
All eyes will be on two-time defending champion Impey, who knows he faces the proverbial uphill battle in more ways than one.
“I’m two seconds up, I don’t know if it’s enough but we’ve given ourselves every chance to win,” Impey said. “It’s all up to tomorrow.”
Same climb, similar plotlines — Willunga will decide it all.