Tuesday Power Rankings: Milan-Sanremo, Spring Classics, Who’s Trending Up and Who’s on Blast

Milan-Sanremo is behind us as we head full-speed into the meat of the Spring Classics season. While Sanremo is traditionally a mere amuse bouche, this year’s version was an instant classic, and we still have E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the entire Ardennes triplet ahead of us. For single-day racing fans, the next few weeks are as good as it gets. Let’s run down who the winners and losers are coming out of this past week of racing.

Let’s take a look at three riders trending up coming off the first big block of serious racing.

Who’s Looking Good

Vincenzo Nibali
Bravissimo! Vincenzo Nibali, the shark of Messina, lived up to his nickname by displaying extremely aggressive racing to become the first Italian to the win Milan-Sanremo since Filippo “Pippo” Pozzato in 2006, and the first Grand Tour winner since Sean Kelly won in 1992. With this victory, the Italian goes a long ways towards cementing himself as the best all-around racer of his generation. This Milan Sanremo victory was his third Monument victory. This adds to an already impressive list of wins, which includes all three Grand Tours.

Milan Sanremo is normally billed as the “Sprinters Classic,” and is often won from a reduced bunch sprint. However, Nibali turned the race on its head by attacking the slopes of the final climb of the race, the Poggio, and beat the long odds by making the solo move stick to the line. Fabian Cancellara won La Classicissima solo in 2008, but the Swiss strongman snuck away on the final 2km run into the finish, not with a dramatic attack on the slopes of the Poggio. The attack and solo win harked back to cycling’s age of heroes, specifically Eddy Merckx’s solo win in 1971. Nibali ‘s attack with 7km to go in the race was perfectly timed, as he was able to play the remaining sprint rivals off each other, which meant any significant chase failed to materialize until it was far too late.

Nibali’s solo win in the sprinter’s classic adds much-needed excitement to the Italian Spring Classic and Italian racing in general. The finish line was awash with a palpable energy as victory-hungry Italian fans cheered as the chasing pack looked to swallow the lone Nibali. The image of the climbing specialist posting up for victory in front of the chasing groups of sprinters was powerful enough to land on the front page of La Gazzetta Dello Sport, real estate that is almost exclusively reserved for soccer news. Watching an attacking climber/non-sprinter foil the fast men will certainly inspire similar racers, and hopefully, mean more lively finales in the future.

As a bonus, the Italian wants to get a feel for the cobblestones ahead of the cobblestone-ridden Tour de France Stage 9 and is heading north for the Tour of Flanders in two weeks time. Cycling fans are in for a treat If the Italian can capture some of that magic at La Ronde.

Alejandro Valverde
If Nibali is the most versatile racer of his generation, he is merely following in the footsteps of Alejandro Valverde. The Spanish all-rounder has been around for ages, winning his first professional race all the way back in 2002. Valverde crashed out of the 2017 Tour de France with a severe kneecap fracture and many questioned if time had run out on his already long career. The answer came in his first major race of the 2018 season when he rode away from a full Team Sky train to victory on stage 2 of the Tour of Valencia. Just to make sure we knew this wasn’t a fluke, Valverde chased down Adam Yates two days later on Stage 4 to win on the brutally steep summit finish. Just to make sure we hadn’t missed the message, Valverde stormed away on the Queen stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour, winning the stage and taking the overall lead. After an impressive fourth place at the one-day Strade Bianche, he found his place in the winner’s circle once again by taking the sprint and putting himself in the driver’s seat for the overall at the Volta a Catalunya. This run of form is incredible, especially when we consider Valverde is 37 years old and coming off a potentially career-ending leg injury. One has to wonder how Nairo Quintana feels while he watches this run of victories. Movistar announced plans in December to send all three leaders, Quintana, Valverde, and Landa to the Tour de France. At the time, I assumed Valverde would be lucky to be at the start. Now I’m marking him as a favorite for every Ardenne Classic, as well as a major name to watch as he head into a Tour de France with minimal time trialing kilometers and an excess of technical challenges.

Caleb Ewan
The young Australian sprinter wasn’t mentioned among the favorites for Milan-Sanremo, but if not for the heroics of Nibali, Ewan would have walked away with the biggest victory of his career. Ewan’s burst of speed at the end of a hilly 300-kilometer race was highly impressive and showed that he a pure, flat-line sprint specialist. Ewan was on my “Trending Down” list in the January Power Rankings, but on Saturday he showed that he was added a previously unseen depth of fitness and climbing ability to his lethal sprint. Watch out for the young Australian to make some waves when he takes the start line at his first Tour de France start this July.

Now let’s take a moment who I have trending down after the first big monument of the season.

Who’s On Blast

Michal Kwiatkowski & Team Sky
Kwiatkowski was highly touted by some coming into Milan-Sanremo, and while his fitness seemed to be there, the tactics employed by the former World Champ and his team left a lot to be desired. After setting a quick tempo on the Cipressa, they moved to the back of the pack leading into the divisive climb, the Poggio, and were caught looking when Nibali made his move. What makes this an especially horrible tactic is that they lacked a sprinter that could have won from a big group at the finish. They seemed to be setting pace out of habit, and then sat on their hands when they needed to be the aggressor up the Poggio. If Kwiatkowski was going to the race, he needed to get clear with Nibali on the Poggio, not sitting back and waiting for others to pull the move back and rolling the dice in the sprint finish. The good news is that the Polish rider looks to be on good form physically and has a strong team heading into the Northern Classics.

 Greg Van Avermaet
Where is the Greg Van Avermaet we all fell in love with last spring? GVA has been MIA for the meat of the spring season outside a few impressive climbing days at Tirreno-Adriatico. There have been moments this spring where I’ve legitimately forgotten Van Avermaet exists. Becoming that anonymous that fast is an incredible feat after posting one of the most impressive run of Classics results ever in 2017. So far in 2018, he laid a goose egg at Strade Bianche and was a non-factor at Milan-Sanremo. Keep an eye on the dominant Belgian this weekend at E3 and Ghent-Wevelgem. If he is going to turn his season around, he’ll need to back some noise before we get to the big-show of Flanders and Roubaix.

Matteo Trentin
The Italian dazzled at the end of the 2017 season and was a high-profile signing by the Mitchelton-Scott team heading into 2018, but his solo flyer with 4 kilometers remaining might have cost his teammate Caleb Ewan the win. If he had displayed patience and used his energy to pull Nibali back for his fast-finishing teammate, it certainly would have given the chasing back the firepower it needed. One has to imagine choice words were exchanged between Ewan and his new teammate back in the privacy of the team bus.  

Tuesday Morning Power Rankings: Three Riders Trending Up and Down This Spring

The early season racing in Australia and the Persian Gulf is behind us which means the “real” professional cycling season is finally underway. We are less than a week away from Milan Sanremo, or “La Classicissima,” the first monument of the season, so it is time to finally take stock of where we are and who are the riders to watch for the coming weeks.

First up on the roll call are three riders whose futures are trending down as we head into one of the most critical points of the spring season.

Trending Down

Tom Dumoulin
Dumoulin may be feeling a slight hangover from his dream 2017 that saw him win the World Time Trial Championship, become the first ever Dutch winner of the Giro d’Italia and a media darling in the process. However, his 2018 hasn’t been as kind. The best way to describe his 2018 so far is that the pressure of being a newfound star appears to be getting in the head of the usually charismatic Dutchman. On top of his Abu Dhabi Tour meltdown, he recently crashed out of Tirreno-Adriatico on stage 5 and he is doubtful to appear at Saturday’s Milan Sanremo. This is certainly not the preparation he was hoping for heading into an attempt to defend his Giro d’Italia crown in May. A successful defense of the Italian Grand Tour looks like a longer and longer shot with every passing race and if the Dutchman doesn’t turn it around soon, he may be forced to write off the spring and turn his focus to the Tour in July.

Geraint Thomas
When Geraint Thomas found himself ensconced in the Maglia Azzurra during stage 5 at Tirreno-Adriatico, he must have felt like something wasn’t quite right and disaster was around the corner. Since the Welshman has abandoned his promising one-day Classics career to chase the stage racing dragon, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong (see here, here, and here). His Team Sky teammates literally had the wheels fall off at the Tirreno team time trial last year. This fiasco ended up costing him the overall win. He then went on to crash out of both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Not to be deterred, Thomas set his sights on winning the 2018 Giro d’Italia, only to have his superstar teammate Chris Froome wave him off and declare now that he had thought about it, he was going to be the leader at both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France (this means that for four straight Grand Tours no other Team Sky rider was given their own chance to win. THIS IS INSANE! Froome was  basically asking for a mutiny at that point.)

Thomas had put all of this behind him and actually out-ridden his team leader Froome at the summit finish on stage 4 to declare himself the new alpha at Sky. Unfortunately, this all came crashing down around him with one kilometer to go as his chain inexplicably slipped off his chainring and he was left yelling on the side of the road, waiting for a new bike as his rivals disappeared up the road. His Team Sky leadership was over almost as quickly as it had arrived and Thomas is now left to emotionally pick up the pieces of an almost comically cursed stage-racing career.

I don’t in any way doubt Thomas’ physical ability as a Grand Tour rider, but he is 31 years old, on the most talented stage racing team ever assembled and has never finished higher than 15th in a Grand Tour. One can’t but feel like time is running out on his ill-fated stage racing career and wonder what may have been had he had remained on promising Classics trajectory. Even if Froome’s adverse analytical finding sees him unable to race the Giro and Tour this season, the stable of talented young riders on Sky is lining up to push out Thomas. Exhibit A: Earlier this season, Thomas’ “teammate” Michal Kwiatkowski jumped up the road on the final stage Volta Algarve to take the leader’s jersey right off the Welshman’s back.

Chris Froome
The only rider having a worse week than Geraint Thomas is Chris Froome. Froome came into the season with many questioning whether he should even be lining up due to his ongoing case from his adverse analytical finding (aka he had too much of an allowed drug in his system and has to explain how so much of it got there) during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.

Putting all of that aside, right now Froome’s biggest problem is that he has stunk on the bike so far this season. He was 10th at the Ruta del Sol, a race that he had won the last time he attended in 2013, and has been consistently off the pace of the top group at Tirreno-Adriatico, a race where he previously finished 2nd overall. To add insult to injury, members of the media are questioning if his flat at the end of stage 5 was legitimate, or if he was attempting to hide how much he was struggling to stay in the group. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant, the fact that we are even asking that question about a rider who was discussed as a possible winner of the near impossible Giro/Tour double mere months ago shows how far and quickly his star has fallen.

Now let’s take a look at three riders trending up coming off the first big block of serious racing.

Trending Up

Peter Sagan
The three-time world champion missed the standard early season tune-ups, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne, where he usually announces himself and/or hones his form. However, if anyone thought that the birth of his first child and a late start to the European season would hamper his Classics campaign, they were proven wrong this week. Sagan looked strong but maybe missing the top gear at Strade Bianche last Saturday. While not at his best, he still managed to finish 8th at the absurdly hard race. And while he hasn’t won a stage at Tirreno this year, he has three 2nd place finishes, two to Marcel Kittel and one to Adam Yates. Kittell, a 190-pound monster, was created in a lab to be the fastest road cyclist in the world on a flat, straight finish, while Yates is a 125-pound climber who floats away on the steepest pitches. It is likely that these two riders have never even ridden next to each other in the group and possibly don’t even know the other exists. The fact that Sagan finished behind each on back-to-back days is a testament to his otherworldly versatility. Most importantly for Sagan, on stage 5 he showed a willingness to sit in the group and force other riders/teams to chase, even if it meant having his bluff called and the lone rider staying away. The Slovak is showing his competitors that the days of relying on him to chase back every move in the finale of the race are over. These tough lessons could pay major dividends at the upcoming Monuments, where patience is arguably more important than physical form.

If this impressive consistency still had us asking questions about his form going into Sanremo, the means in which he clawed himself back into the pack on stage 6 at Tirreno should leave no doubt. With 8km to go, Fernando Gaviria crashed directly in front of Sagan. For every other ride on the planet, this would have meant they were going down as well. However, Sagan reminded us that he isn’t every other rider. He somehow managed to hop over the fallen Colombian, stop, get a new bike from his team car, chase back on to the full-speed peloton, and still nearly beat Kittel in the sprint to the line. This highly impressive chase forced Sagan to tip his hand more than he would have liked, but it could end up being a mere teaser for a truly dominant Classics run from Sagan.

Tiesj Benoot
The young Belgian finally made good on his vast reserves of potential by winning Strade Bianche in highly impressive fashion. Benoot has been tipped so heavily as the star of the future, that it was shocking to learn his Strade victory was the first in his professional career. Certainly not a bad way to announce to arrival. However, the most impressive thing about Benoot isn’t his ability to win races, it’s his ability to compete for the win in almost every race on the calendar. In the age of specialists, it’s shocking to see a rider win a one-day classic and finish top-ten at three conservative climbing stages the following week. Benoot’s top ten finishes at the Tirreno-Adriatico summit finishes are arguably more impressive than his win at Strade. The only issue facing him at the moment is having to decide if he wants to be a stage racing specialist or a one-day Classics star. While leaving the one-days for the promise of Grand Tour success can be a gamble (see above: Geraint Thomas), Benoot’s lack of finishing punch could leave him an also-ran throughout his Classics career. He would be wise to consider taking his immense talents to the Tour de France in an attempt to become the first Belgian to win since  Lucien Van Impe in 1976. This is certainly a tall order that comes with substantial risk, but Benoot is the real deal with the talent to take on this challenge.

Michal Kwiatkowski
Kwiatkowski is one of the most underrated riders in the professional peloton. The former World Champion has an impressive palmares despite spending most of his career on crowded teams that don’t always let him race for the win. He is a rare rider that can regularly win one-day Classics (Milan-Sanremo, 2x Strade Bianche, E3 Harelbeke, Classica San Sebastian, Amstel Gold, World Road Race Championship) while climbing with the best in the high Alps of the Tour de France. He won Volta ao Algarve by taking the lead from his teammate Geraint Thomas on the final stage and wrestled team leadership away from Froome and Thomas at a stacked Tirreno-Adriatico. His usurping of teammate Geraint Thomas on the final stage of Algarve earlier this season signaled that he finally might be ready to shrug off the yoke of Team Sky domestiqueness (these crude images violate my number 1 rule: an on-form World Champion should never be relegated to set pace for teammates) and ride for himself. The looming suspension of his team leader Chris Froome has thrown the traditional rote hierarchy of Sky into disarray as the other riders sense that Froome either won’t be able to compete at the upcoming Grand Tour or won’t be on his best form due to the stress of his ongoing legal battle. This means that everyone is auditioning to be the new Alpha at every day of every race between now and the Tour. Kwiatkowski will most certainly show up ready to defend his Milan Sanremo title on Saturday. However, I wouldn’t be on him to take the victory, only because winning this race is hard, and winning it twice in a row is nearly impossible. But if he continues his impressive run of form, my money is on the young Pole to come out of the Sky scrum as their Tour de France leader. If that happens, the dynamic 2018 Tour route could play right into Kwiato’s hands and we could see the emergence of a new Grand Tour contender.

Monday Power Rankings: Riders Trending Up and Down After The Tour Down Under

The Tour Down Under wrapped up on Sunday, with journeyman South African Daryl Impey taking a surprise victory over a heavily favored Richie Porte. Highlights from the sprint-heavy race featured the return to form of Andre Greipel, a surprising in-shape Peter Sagan, a revived Elia Viviani, along with a humbled Caleb Ewan. The general classification also produced a thrilling tied-on-time victory for the darkhorse Daryl Impey, while Richie Porte showed a return to form following a recovery from his horrific crash at the 2017 Tour de France.

While people tend to far read too much into these early season friendlies, there were a few developments at the Tour Down Under that I believe merit mentioning and could prove significant later in the 2018 season.

First, riders with a sinking stock following the first World Tour race of the season.

Nathan Haas

Haas has displayed signs of overwhelming talent in past versions of the TDU, in addition to snagging a top ten at last year’s Amstel Gold and the Montreal and Quebec City UCI races in 2016. He showed up at the 2018 TDU with a new team and was talked up as a potential race winner. However, he quickly went backwards when the pace picked up. He cited the extreme heat as the reason for his struggles and was very vocal in his criticism of the race organizers to run the race in such high temperatures. If the South Australian summer he too hot for him, it could be time to move on from the race, since editions in the past few seasons has been plagued by extreme heat and global trends suggest this isn’t likely to change.

Jay McCarthy

The young Australian on Bora-Hansgrohe was expected to build off his third overall last year and was highly touted as a potential contender for the overall victory. He is now in the meat of his 20s, and such it is ripe time to start delivering results if he wishes to retain a position as a team leader. While he showed an impressive acceleration to follow Porte on the slopes of Willunga, he was quickly dispatched from the Tasmanian’s wheel, losing major time and forfeiting a shot at a podium position in the process. While the Queenslander tends to show flashes of brilliance during the early season Australian calendar, he seems to peak too early every year and has consistently failed to show up during the meat of the European season (aka The One That Matters). At 25, it is now or never for McCarthy to establish himself as race winner or resign himself to a career spent fetching bottles and ensuring that his team leaders have a slipstream to ride in.

Richie Porte

Yes, Richie Porte won atop Willunga Hill for the fifth consecutive year and showed that he has recovered from his crash and physically returned to form. He also went on to finish second overall, tied on time with Impey and losing the race on countback placings.

How could his stock go down after this performance?

The negative: He finished second overall tied on time with Impey and arguably could have won the race had he not stopped racing before crossing the finish line on stage 5. In addition, it is debatable if Porte should even be present at the early season race showcasing his Tour de France form. I personally think that Porte places far too much emphasis on showing up to the Tour Down Under in top shape. He consistently fails to display the type of explosive climbing he shows on Willunga Hill over the remainder of the season. While Porte is cutting weight and fighting the media scrum, his Tour de France competitors are enjoying a more comfortable body fat ratio and calmly banking base miles at training camps or at the notoriously relaxed Vuelta a San Juan. Porte is paid to win Grand Tours, not the Tour Down Under. He needs to prioritize his form and energy accordingly.  

There are also massive question marks surrounding the unity and cooperation of Porte’s BMC team. During the run-in to the Willunga Hill climb, EF-Drapac moved up the field in anticipation of a turn into crosswinds for the final few kilometers before the climb. While deft, this move should have been easily anticipated, especially since this was the second time the race had ridden this section of the course.

In the screenshot below, it is clear that EF-Drapac (the pink train) is moving up the field to ambush the race in the upcoming crosswinds.

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Once the race makes the turn, the EF riders jack up the pace, put the race in the gutter and shred the field. BMC is present at the front of the field, helping EF turn the screw.

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The only flaw in this plan is that the BMC team leader, Richie Porte, is back in the field, riding dangerously in the roadside gravel, and spending valuable energy to close gaps. Porte is the last rider pictures in the screenshot below. Notice his teammate pushing the pace in the right-hand portion of the frame. 

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Porte was only able to recover and get back on terms with help from Peter Sagan and his teammate Daniel Oss. While he got back to safety before the climb, the huge effort to close gaps when he should have been sitting in, protected by teammates, likely cost him the precious energy that he needed to eek out an extra second at the end of the stage. If BMC is serious about helping Porte take a Tour de France win, it desperately needs to work out these kinks before July.

Caleb Ewan

Ewan won 4 sprint stages at the 2017 Tour Down Under and was widely seen as ready to usurp Cavendish, Greipel, and Kittel in the bunch gallops at the grand tours. Flash forward twelve months and the Australian has been brought back to earth. While he left his home tour with a stage win, he was also bested by an aging Andre Greipel, middle-of-his-offseasn Peter Sagan, along with being beaten by a hard-charging Elia Viviani during an embarrassing moment of over-confidence.

During the run-in on stage 3, Ewan greatly underestimated the speed of the world-class sprint field by attempting to play god and gift the win to his leadout man Alex Edmondson. Ewan clearly lets off the gas assuming the gap between him and the rest of the field is too large to close.

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However, by the time he looks back to see a fast-closing Viviani, he cannot pick his pace back up and is soundly beaten to the line. In the screenshot below, Viviani (in blue) has wound up his gear and is blowing by both Edmonson and Ewan on his way to the stage win.

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A possible upside is that Ewan could be building into his 2018 form at a slower rate than in years past, which could leave him with more finishing pop for the European season. Also, a humbling week at his home tour could have been exactly what the young Australian needed to grasp some well-needed perspective and respect for the level of competition he will face when competing for stage wins at the Tour de France.

Now, the riders leaving Australia with a healthy, rising stock.

Phil Bauhaus

In addition to sharing a name with one of the best architecture movements of the 20th-century, the young German sprinter impressed with two top fives against a field of heavy hitters. His Sunweb team has an amazing track record of developing young talent, which ensures that Bauhaus could become a sprinter to watch for the upcoming seasons.

Elia Viviani

The Italian sprinter and Olympic champion appears to be a man revived following his rescue from his imprisonment at Team Sky. He struggled to get race starts at Sky, and was rarely able to score wins against the top sprinters when he got the chance in the past. After his stunning comeback win against Ewan on stage 3, he looks set for a big season as he enters his physical prime.

Peter Sagan

The three-time world champion sauntered to the start line of the TDU with a no-stress demeanor and insistence that he came in peace. After stunning the sprinters at the opening criterium and spoiling the climbers day by hanging on up the climb and easily winning the sprint from a reduced group on stage 4, it was clear that despite his zen outer demeanor, Sagan is taking 2018 very seriously. If the Slovakian can continue to build his form into the Monuments, we could finally see the dominant Spring Classics performance we’ve been waiting on for years.

Tom-Jelte Slagter

The 28-year old Dutch rider came out of nowhere to win the 2013 TDU and win two stages of Paris Nice in 2014. He then had three years on Garmin/Cannondale/EF that was marked by a lack of results and consistency. A transfer to the spunky Dimension Data has seemingly rejuniviated his career, displayed by his third place overall last week.

Nicholas Dlamini

The young neo-pro from South Africa rode out of obscurity to hold the climber’s jersey from start to finish at last week’s TDU. The Dimension Data rider wasted no time making an impact in his first UCI WorldTour level race. He is a rider that could be leaving his mark on the world’s toughest race for years to come.

Daryl Impey

The jack-of-all-trades journeyman South African scored the biggest win of his career on Sunday with his highly impressive overall Tour Down Under victory. Despite his team coming into the race claiming they had no interesting in the overall victory, Impey stayed attentive when he needed to be and picked up just enough time bonuses to surprise the favorites. The veteran rider became the first African to wear the Tour de France’s leader jersey in 2013, and continues his advancement of African cycling with his most recent victory.

Looking back through the TDU stage by stage to examine where Impey won the race, it is apparent that while he lacked a stage won, his consistency along the entire air-tight race was key. His ability to score two second-places in sprint finishes, while being able to put in the ride of his life up Willunga Hill to take an additional second place after being dropped earlier on the climb, showcases Impey’s impressive wide-range of skills. By taking a career-defining win and showing the world his immense versatility, Impey, without a doubt, leaves the TDU with the biggest winner of the week. 

Richie Porte’s Finish Line Celebration Likely Cost Him the 2018 Tour Down Under Title

Richie Porte won atop Willunga Hill yesterday to take the queen stage of the Tour Down Under for fifth consecutive year. However, the victory was bittersweet one after it was announced that he failed to take the overall race lead from Daryl Impey. If Porte would have succeeded in taking just one more second (or merely a fraction of one) out of Impey, he would have taken the leader’s jersey from the South African. Instead, the two riders are currently tied on time going into the race’s final stage. With the two riders tied, Impey and Porte’s placings on the previous stages were each added together to break the tie. Impey’s consistently better placings gave him the overall lead ahead of Porte.

Impey finishing a mere eight seconds behind a climbing specialist such as Porte was a massive surprise to viewers. Porte also seemed to completely surprised by Impey’s ability to hold on to his searing attacks on the slopes of Willunga. The Tasmanian took the time sit up and celebrate his victory before he crossed the line, which most likely cost him the precious second that he needed to take the overall race lead.

In the screenshot below, you can see Porte with his hands off the bars, celebrating his win well before he is over the finish line. Free-wheeling the final few meters as opposed to sprinting through the line, like the chasing Impey did, significantly slows dulls a riders’ momentum and contributes to an overall loss of speed.

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You can see the flashing figure of Impey sprinting down the finish straight a mere three seconds later. The coverage cuts away immediately after, but Impey’s frantic pace at this point in the race is astonishing compared to Porte’s relaxed, celebratory finish. Porte seemed to think the victory was all but sealed and acted as though he was participating in his own coronation. The reality was that he was just about to be ambushed by his nearly vanquished enemy.

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Porte’s lax pace in the final few meters is understandable considering the way he dismantled his competition on the exact same climb twelve months earlier. At the 2017 edition of the race, Porte’s trademark Willunga Accelerations™ burned off the entire field, leaving him a massive 20-second cushion at the finish line. The stiff headwind at this year’s race, along with the long recovery from the dramatic crash that took Porte out of the 2017 Tour de France, possibly blunted the power that let him asphyxiate the field in 2017.

Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Porte put celebrating a Willunga victory ahead of a general classification victory. In 2016, after dropping GC leader Rohan Dennis in the final kilometer of the stage, Porte took a hands off of his handlebars to celebrate instead of sprinting through the line. He would go on to lose overall victory to Dennis by two seconds.

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While not as egregious as his 2018 flub, this seemingly innocuous decision now looks like the reinforcement of a fatal habit. While Porte often appears to be a rider undone by bad luck, the blame for this year’s likely loss-by-tie at the Tour Down Under can be placed squarely on the Tasmanian’s own shoulders.