Brighton > Victor Harbor 154.6km
Stage 2 and we head to Victor Harbor, a finish that’s well known to the race. Over the years the organisers have tinkered with the approach to the finish, this time they’ve decided to make it as difficult as possible by introducing the Nettle Hill climb. I don’t remember this featuring in the race before, but I could be wrong. Cresting with 21km to go, this is going to make the finale of the stage exciting to watch, but will we see another sprint?
Sunny but temperatures won’t even reach 20 degrees, the Europeans will be very happy. It’s going to be another windy day, this time we’ll see 25km/h coming from the south-east. Much of the day is spent racing into a cross/headwind and as the run for home is a block headwind, there’s every chance of another sprint.
Nettle Hill is a tough climb, make no mistake. 2km at 8.6%, but the final kilometre features lots of double-digit stuff. This will be raced hard and the bad news for the sprinters is the plateau at the top, it doesn’t go straight downhill.
Obviously, the key to the stage is the Nettle Hill climb and then what happens afterwards. When they go smashing into the climb the bunch will explode, don’t be fooled by the fact it’s only 2km in length. Some of the climbers will attack on the second half of the climb and then some will follow. The size of the front group at the crest is crucial for the rest of the stage.
The issue is the block headwind for the final 20km, that’s a disaster for the front group. If it’s going to succeed, it needs the big hitters from Jayco and Ineos to be there, and even then, it’s not guaranteed to go all the way. All it takes is for one or two teams to fully commit to their sprinter and drive the chase from the bunch. Let’s be honest, the front group will likely contain Matthews and Hayter, so getting everyone to work just won’t happen. Everything is pointing to the front group getting caught before the line, setting up a reduced bunch sprint with around 50 riders. Luckily, there are no certainties in the world of cycling!
The bunch take a slip road at the roundabout with 2.3km to go, basically doing a big U-turn. The next pinch point is another roundabout, this time with 1.3km to go. I would imagine only the left-hand side will be open, which means the peloton slimming down to only two riders wide, once through the roundabout the road widens again, but as it’s just outside the flamme rouge, those with a poor position can kiss goodbye to winning the stage.
The final kilometre isn’t easy, it starts with the double corner, which is always used here, this brings the bunch onto the finishing straight. At this point there’s just 600m left, and its full gas from here. There is a strong crosswind coming from the right, but the riders will be sheltered by all the fans cheering them home, and the fastest line is to hug the right-hand side barrier as the road bends a little, close to the line.
Caleb Ewan – finished like a bullet today but started his sprint from too far back. Unfortunately, he lost Drizners to a mechanical with 6km to go, so he had to surf the wheels with little help. He looked in a great position with 1km to go, but when everything bunched up, he lost crucial positions that cost him the win. Anyway, onto the next one. This is another great chance for him, especially with the headwind after the climb. I don’t think he’ll try and follow the best on the climb, I think the best strategy will be to stay in the peloton and hope to chase the move down. In the finale, he’ll again by on his own, but as the bunch is likely to be reduced it should be a little easier for him to navigate a way through.
Michael Matthews – stage 1 was excellent for him; he took 8 seconds on most of his rivals. Now he sits just 6 seconds behind Bettiol, there’s every chance Matthews takes ochre after this stage. The first bonus sprint comes after 33km, we could see Jayco try and hold the race together in the hope of Bling taking 3 seconds. The plan for this stage would always have been to hit the climb hard, the headwind will not change this, but the outcome will likely be different. An issue for the team is the injury to Chris Harper, they’re now a good climber down, which will hurt them deeper into this stage. They’ll only have Yates and Hamilton to support Matthews after the climb, that makes it very hard for them to hold off the bunch. If we do get some sort of reduced sprint, Matthews has the speed to challenge for the win, but it depends on which of the pure sprinters make the cut.
Ethan Hayter – he could do with securing more bonus seconds than Matthews, but I’m not sure he will. Ineos will ride for a reduced sprint, then it’s over to Hayter to see if he’s got the legs to finish on the podium.
Bryan Coquard – always a good option when there’s a climb near the finish. Coquard has a habit of starting the season well, he’ll be hoping to be challenging for the win. A lack of support at the end of the stage could well be his downfall.
Corbin Strong – he won one of the bonus sprints in stage 1, looking very fast in the process, but got a little lost in the bunch sprint. Strong is a very impressive cyclist, after securing some big results in 2022, he’ll be hoping for a fast start to the year. With Clarke and Impey to help, he should be starting the sprint from an excellent position.
Kaden Groves – he’ll get over the climb in the peloton, then we’ll see what happens if we get a sprint. As most of you will know, his positioning isn’t always the best.
Phil Bauhaus – took an excellent win in stage 1, it helped that Ewan started about 30m behind him! Bahrain arrive with Bilbao for the GC, he’ll need men to support him in the finale, I’m not sure how many will be left to help chase from the bunch. When the attacks fly on the climb, Bauhaus needs to stick to his own rhythm and hope the peloton have enough men to chase back on before the finish.
Luke Plapp – he’s bound to attack; I don’t think the headwind will even come into his head. Will he hold on? Unlikely.
Rohan Dennis – late attack option 1.
Ben O’Connor – late attack option 2.
Attacks on the climb and a group to get off the front, probably around 10 riders in size. The composition of this group will then determine what happens in the rest of the race, but I think the headwind means we’ll get a reduced bunch sprint.
The technical finish means that the team who control the final corners have a wonderful chance of taking the win. Looking at who’ll survive the climb, I’ll take a win for Corbin Strong as he should be the man leading out the sprint.