What happens when a pre-race plan goes out of the window?
Rohan Dennis’ attack to win the third stage of the Tour Down Under offers a case in point. The Australian said he was not in a position to help team leader Cadel Evans at the approach to the final climb in Paracombe, then passed him in the dash to the summit.
Evans’ leadership of BMC Racing could scarcely have been rooted in stronger foundations: Australia’s most successful cyclist bidding farewell to the WorldTour with a final race on home soil.
Cadel Evans' claim to leadership of BMC Racing could hardly be stronger. pic: Regallo
Cycling is no place for sentiment, however, and Dennis’ victory now places a question mark over the senior rider’s leadership. BMC may wish to honour Evans’ achievements, but UCI points are now more important than ever, and the Australian will take no further part in the WorldTour beyond this race. Dennis - young, marketable, and able to score points for the remainder of the season - also has a strong case for commanding his team’s support.
The question is likely to be answered on the road. Dennis will attempt the Hour Record next month and must be approaching peak form. Evans looked in excellent shape as he launched a late surge, once assured his team-mate had won. A direct contest, should it come to it, would be close, but such a scenario would represent negligence from the team management.
BMC Racing looks to hold every ace: first and second on GC, with Dennis also at the head of the classification for king of the mountains, points, and young riders. On the other hand, the loss of neo pro Campbell Flakemore to a broken collarbone sustained on stage two, leaves them a man down. Perhaps there is something beyond optimism in Sky leader Richie Porte's assessment that the American team has not done an especially good job of controlling the race.
If there is division in the BMC ranks, then Sky will seek to exploit it, but there was little sign of disharmony in the immediate aftermath of the stage. Evans is only seven seconds behind Dennis on GC and saw off Porte comfortably.
The Tasmanian will hope his moment comes on stage five, on the slopes of Old Willunga Hill, frequently the decisive ascent of the race. The uphill finish in Paracombe might be viewed as a dress rehearsal, though every climb is different and Porte complained that its changes in gradient had not played to his strengths.
This seventeenth edition of Australia’s only WorldTour event has been unexpectedly enthralling and says much for how the character of a race might be shaped by nuances in the parcours. Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) has twice won the Tour Down Under but found nothing in the road book to entice him to the start line to attempt at third victory, and will begin his season in Mallorca instead. More recently, it has become a race for rouleurs, with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) the chief protagonists in 2012. This year, it is one for the Grand Tour climbers.
There is much racing to be done before Sunday and doubtless further twists to come. Dennis’ deviation from the script today may prove to be decisive, or remembered only as a footnote.