Norwood > Campbelltown 116.7km
The final two stages look interesting, but this is the day that will go a long way to settling the GC. We return to Corkscrew Road, a devilishly tough climb, especially at this point in the year. It’s time to see who’s got the punch required to win the ochre jersey.
A pleasant day with temperatures just edging above 20 degrees and much less wind.
We start with a climb; you don’t see that too often these days. Norton Summit isn’t to be taken lightly, it’s 10km at 4%. It will be very interesting to see who wants to attack in the opening kilometres.
Checker Hill is a cheeky wee climb, with the final 500m averaging a whooping 15%, but as it comes with 35km to go I’m not sure if it will have a huge impact on the race. I live in hope.
The Corkscrew! A climb that will strike fear into most. It starts easy but then gets harder and harder, the four consecutive hairpins are where it really starts to bite. From the top there’s just 5.8km to go, and it’s all downhill.
There are a few tricky bends at the top of the descent, but it then gets much easier. The final bend comes with just 600m to go, then it’s full gas to the line.
Well, well, well. I set this race up as a battle between Jayco and Ineos, and today’s stage has totally turned that on its head. Rohan Dennis leads Jay Vine by 3 seconds, Sheffield’s at 12, Schmid at 13 and Simon Yates is down at 21, this race is wide open. Jumbo-Visma are going to be tested in this stage, there’s two points where they need to ride smart, Norton Summit and Checker Hill.
Attacks will fly from the start, and they’ll include riders who are relatively high on GC, it’s all about putting the others under pressure. Ineos and Jayco need to respond after having a poor day, I expect them to be active in the opening kilometres to see what the other teams will do. The stage is a short one, riders can afford to take more risks compared to normal.
Once we get to Checker Hill some of the main players will come out to play, the final 500m is hard enough to get gaps. With Robert Gesink having to quit the race, Jumbo-Visma are without a proper climbing domestique, that must be a concern for the team, hopefully one or two of them can produce a huge display and support Dennis to the bottom of the Corkscrew. He’ll certainly hope so.
Once on the Corkscrew, the big boys will step forward. This is a climb for the climbers, it’s a proper test at this time of year. Last time we were here Porte, Woods, Poels and Bennett crested together before being caught on the descent, only Cadel Evans has managed to fly away solo up here. Of the boys who attacked today, it should suit Vine, Yates, and Hindley more than Dennis and Schmid, but that’s just on paper. As today showed things don’t always work out exactly to plan.
Jayco came here to win the ochre jersey, everything now sits on Yates. The problem is he’s up against at three Aussies, they’ll be ahead of him in terms of winter training, as I mentioned in my overall preview, this is a huge factor in this race. They were all closely matched today, I don’t think any of them are at the level required to go solo, we could see something very similar to today.
In previous visits we’ve seen the chasing group able to close the gap, even though there’s only 5.8km to go from the crest. For the front group to challenge for the win everyone needs to contribute, there can be no sitting on.
I think we’ll see a very fast start to the stage; it won’t settle down until after the Norton Summit. Then attacks will fly on Checker Hill, all to try and put pressure on Jumbo-Visma, before a big showdown on the Corkscrew. Will the front group hold off the chase from behind?
I’ve not even mentioned the approach to the Corkscrew, it’s the best thing about January! Strap yourself in, I’ll be watching with my hands over my eyes.
Jay Vine – he’s looking very impressive just now, and this climb should suit him well. He’s not at 100% yet, it’s far too early in the season, but his current form is good enough to win this stage. He sits just 3 seconds behind Rohan Dennis and as we still have 3 stages to go, there’s no need to do anything rash, there’s plenty of road left in the race. UAE have a strong team at this race, they could try and attack early in the stage, just like they did today. Once on the Corkscrew we’ll see if Vine has the legs to drop Dennis.
Simon Yates – was able to follow Vine today, then sat on for just about the rest of the stage. What I did find interesting was his lack of a sprint finish, it shows that despite resting up he was on his limit. Technically speaking, the Corkscrew should suit him very well, he’s excellent on double-digit gradients. As he climbs, descends, and sprints well, he’s got to start as one of the men to beat.
Jai Hindley – he’s way off in the GC due to taking no risks in the TT, which conversely puts him in a great position to take the stage. If we get a small group going to the line together, he could benefit from the others all looking at each other to see who chases. Back in 2019 he was very close to cresting with the leading 4, this is a climb that suits him well, he’s a big threat to the others.
Ben O’Connor – looked to get caught behind the Matthews incident, which was a shame as I believe he’s in good form. This is another chance for him to shine, but he needs to start the Corkscrew in a good position. He started the week looking for a stage win, this was always going to be his best shot.
Mauro Schmid – for me, he was the biggest surprise today, he must have worked hard over the winter. The Corkscrew will be a big test for him, it’s much harder than today’s climb. It would be great to see him crest at the front, especially with his fast sprint.
Pello Bilbao – okay, he wasn’t at the front today, but he cannot be written off. If we get a sprint from a group of 6 or more, I expect him to be there, and to be the fastest. Any stage that ends with a descent is a stage for Pello.
Ineos – Sheffield crashed at the end of stage 1, and it looks sore. Plapp only seems to have the legs to be in domestique mode and Hayter currently isn’t strong enough to follow the climbers, Ineos need to go back to the drawing board.
Michael Matthews – his role will be interesting in this stage. I would still give him protected status and see what happens on the climb. The team haven’t won a stage yet, having two options is better than one.
I think the group that crests Corkscrew together will fight it out for the win.
I’ll take a win for Jai Hindley.