Oh how badly I cocked up. Very badly. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race today was really, really entertaining and some of the best cycling you will see this year, but oh man my predictions…weren’t great. I completely missed what type of finish the race would. But before I delve into the rankings for my riders (how they are ranked will be discussed below), I will give a review of the race that was the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race!
Race in Review
In the neutral zone, there was quite the tussle for position at the front, with many riders itching to get into the break. Some of the riders even decided they would prefer to be in Bieles this weekend and did some cyclocross to get to the front (hello Bert-Jan Lindeman!) No less than 0.2 seconds after the kilometer zero flag was waved, Conor Dunne of Aqua Blue Sport made a break for it out the front, and went solo for a few hundred meters before a few other riders joined him. This contingent of 4 – including veteran Angel Vicioso, youngster Alex Porter (19 years difference between him and Vicioso, fun fact) and Russian Kirill Sveshnikov – got out the front quickly and got ahead even quicker. By the time they hit Barwon Heads, the lead was pushed out to 10 minutes.
For the first sprint point, Conor Dunne launched an attack on the corner about 700m out – taking the inside line of the median strip and cutting the lane while the rest of the break were left stunned. Dunne’s attack looked almost certain to get the points, but the break sprinted and caught up, with Alex Porter sneaking ahead of Dunne with about 25m to go and stealing the points from under his nose. Vicioso took the remaining honours for those points. From there until the circuit, there wasn’t much action. There was another contest again at the KoM in Bells Beach 60km into the race, with Vicioso taking the win ahead of Dunne and Sveshnikov while Porter struggled up the climb; but that was about it. The peloton slowly whittled away the lead of the break to within mere seconds when the bunch entered the circuit and they were caught before the second ascent of Challambra – in which Dunne was able to secure his KoM jersey for the day.
Attacks by Van Poppel and Bidard were ultimately the demise of the break, even though team-mate of Dunne Calvin Watson bridged the gap. Cameron Bayly even had a stab at a break before getting absorbed back in. The break had a gap of 1 minute heading under the Finish line for the first time but that withered away almost instantly. So now the riders were all back together for the first time in the race, but that lasted two-tenths of nothing before the big teams really applied the pressure to increase their chances in the finish. BMC wanted Porte up the road without much of a challenge, so they applied heaps of pressure on the bunch, while Sky had about 17 different winning scenarios with their team and exploited all of them. Sebastian Henao got into a break with Michael Woods, Rohan Dennis and Luke Durbridge; but a crash to Henao was the last straw in that break’s back, before they were absorbed back in by a hard chasing Restrepo and others.
The last lap of the race is truly something to remember, and was all the high action and drama you could ever want. Mads Pedersen attacked in the few kilometers before Challambra, but was caught on the climb, to which Kenny Elissonde (Sky Win Scenario #15 – Elissonde attacks Challambra) attacked, but was caught just before the top. On the descent, Jan Bakelants crashed on one of the roundabouts – ruining his chances of winning in a race he was a big contender for. Chaves, Sergio Henao and Haas attacked with 10km to go to try and make a move, but was caught by the new attack of Porte, Lucas Hamilton and Rafael Valls, who were also caught with a handful of kilometers to go. This attack all but ruined Haas’s chances of winning in any scenario, and he was left to finish in the bunch. Froome then attacked, before being marked like a pop star in a crowd of teenagers.
This leaves us with the finish. The bunch was all together – and it was quite a big bunch for how the race should have ended (this is when I knew I f**ked up my preview post). With an all-but-inevitable bunch sprint on the cards, Cameron Meyer attacked with 800m to go from the middle of the pack, surprising everyone and putting the pressure on the sprinters teams. He got himself a very nice lead, and looked almost certain to win, but a gutsy effort by Simon Geschke allowed Nikias Arndt to launch on the sprint to steal the win under Meyer’s nose. Meyer was caught with less than 10 meters to go, and barely held onto a podium spot with Gerrans and Restrepo finishing right with him. Nikias Arndt came from almost no where too, while he was the best sprinter in the bunch, Meyer looked destined to win. No wonder he is switching to track. But, it was a great race, and if you can get a hold of the final 2 or so laps, you will be satisfied for the rest of the working week.
Riders in Review
So, this is where I go I have a s*** crystal ball and apologise for any who followed my RFL picks (thankfully, most people stuffed it, so I might still be able to hold top 20 and rebound). But, alas, I must rank the riders I told you all to watch on the day. How this ranking system will work will be assigning a ‘grade’ to a rider. S will be the best rank – this is when a rider has ridden the race of their life and completely blitzed everyone. The ranks then go down to A, B, C, D and finally F – which is when a rider might as well have not been there. + and – will be used as adjusters if a rider is not quite good/bad enough for a certain letter rank. So…without further ado, here are my riders in review!
The Bookies Favourite: Danny Van Poppel
So, me putting DVP on the bookies favourite was an obvious mistake in hindsight. I really underestimated the power of those final climbs and how much it would take out of the sprinters. However, even within all of this, Danny Van Poppel rode brilliantly for Team Sky throughout the whole race. He set the pace for them on the flats and protected the key riders like Froome and Henao for the finish. He put in a selfless attack to try and break up the field to benefit his team, before going back in the bunch, giving the team one last pull, before falling out the back on the second lap. He was Team Sky’s only DNF for the whole race, but he put in a great effort for helping the team in a situation that he couldn’t do much in. Sorry for the pressure, Danny.
The Hometown Hero: Jay McCarthy
Now McCarthy possibly should have been the bookies favourite. Coming off great form in the TDU with hills that would suit him, all he needed to do was hang in the bunch and he should be able to contest the sprint. Except, everything kind of fell apart for Bora. His team worked really hard for him on the circuit, but he couldn’t let down his guard down the whole time he was in the front group. The peloton split after Bakelants’ crash put him behind the rest, and by the time he hit the sprint he was forced to chase the attack rather than sprint for the win. This cocktail of bad luck only ensured him a 9th place, and if he had ridden a little smarter, he could have done so much more.
The Youngster: Taco Van Der Hoorn
Well, we really didn’t see much of Van Der Hoorn in this race. He rode for the rest of his team for most of the race but ended up almost 7 minutes behind. His luck wasn’t in today too, getting two punctures during the circuit which only put him further behind. I would have expected him or one of the Roompot riders to target the early break, but they played their cards later but without return. I feel like he could have done something to make the team more visible in the race, but he probably rode for what the DS wanted him to do and that is the best you can do sometimes.
The Unknown Entity: Scott Bowden
Scott Bowden rode quite well for the Korda Mentha Australian team. The Unknown Entity proved his worth over the climbs, sticking with the front bunch for most of the race before falling behind on the last lap, but he showed how he can deal with the best of the best in tough terrain. While others on his team rode the race like their lives depended on it, Bowden still put in the yards to ensure he got a good finish and to improve his attractiveness for the future if he ever gets a WT contract. It would have been nice to see him in the final bunch for the race, but he was only 2 minutes behind at the end.
The Previous Winner: Leigh Howard
Yes, Leigh Howard didn’t win last year, but he was the highest placed from last year racing this year. And, to be fair with him, I was underwhelmed with his performance compared to those around him. While he finished in the same group as Scott Bowden 2 minutes back, I was expecting him to stay in the front group over the climbs and be able to contest the sprint. It’s all relative to what expectations you put on a rider, but I thought Howard could have done more considering how well the rest of his team rode the race and how aggressive they were. He would have been a major hope for the team going into this race, but it wasn’t to be.
Best Riders of the Race
…but wait, there is more! In this section, I will be ranking the best 5 riders of the race in my opinion and what they did that made them exemplary from the rest of the pack. There might be some overlap with my own predicted riders, so hang tight!
5. Danny Van Poppel
And there is some overlap! There were some great efforts from great riders in the pack. Froome, Porte, Haas, Valls, Devenyns, Chaves, Henao, Woods, Elissonde, Durbridge. A few of them could have even taken this position. But I think that Danny Van Poppel deserves a mention in the best 5 riders in the race for his selfless effort for Team Sky and trying to get them the best position possible. Selfless attacks, huge pulls for the bigger riders and sacrificing his outside chances to benefit the other 7 on his team. I felt like he rode this race amazingly for his team, and deserves a few mentions for it even though he didn’t end up finishing.
4. Nikias Arndt
Now you might be wondering, how does the rider who won the race only become the 4th best rider on the race?! Well, it’s because his win came from a majority team effort, and a bit of luck, but that shouldn’t discount what a gutsy race Arndt rode. He was dropped on the first lap of the circuit, only to come back after a great pull from team-mate Wilco Kelderman, and then was supported by Simon Geschke for the rest of the circuit, who propelled him into the sprint. Arguably the only pure sprinter left in the bunch, his efforts to stay up the front shouldn’t be left un-noticed, and the way he exploded everyone in the sprint and steal it from the nose of Meyer was astounding. He and his team rode the race to a T, and they deserve the win no matter which rider got it.
3. Alexander Porter
One of the break companions for today, Porter deserves getting a mention for being the first to bridge to Dunne’s break and attempting to stay on the whole time. Almost being dropped on the Bells Beach climb, he fought back and stayed with Dunne all the way to the end and still fought on at the end. He challenged the sprint and chased down a rampant Dunne there without assistance (which led him to take the sprint jersey) and even tried to challenge the final KoM points. Although he finished 5 and a half minutes behind the winners, his efforts in the break shall not go un-noticed, and is only promise for the big future the 20 year old has in front of him.
2. Simon Geschke
The true person to thank for Arndt’s win deserves to get a great placing. Geschke protected Arndt for the whole circuit once he rejoined, assisting pulling the bunch up the climbs and chased down attacks that threatened Arndt’s chances of winning. In the last 800m, he allowed Arndt to get within striking distance on Meyer and if he was one second too late, Arndt would be going home without a win. Kelderman also deserves an honourable mention for saving Arndt after he was dropped, and without both of these riders who knows who could have won.
1. Conor Dunne
Wow, what a race by Dunne. He did everything in his powers to put Aqua Blue’s name in the spotlight and he rode aggressively from kilometer zero. He made the break, made sure it got the lead it had by taking a lot of the rotation (along with Vicioso) and kept attacking from there. His attack at the first sprint point would have been amazing if it was successful, but it was great even without it being successful – it was tactical genius. He challenged the bunch on the KoMs, and even when it looked like all hope was lost, he still rode his heart out to stay out the front. Even after he was caught, he tried to still contest, but eventually fell out the back and finished 7 minutes behind. However, without Dunne, the race wouldn’t have been what it was, he provided a lot of excitement and rode really well to get himself the KoM jersey at the end of the day. He was in a class of his own today, and even though the only thing the commentators knew about him today was he is 203cm tall and has the twitter handle of @conordunnealot, the things they know about him after today are plentiful.
That is a wrap for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in 2017. The Womens race was equally as exciting as the Mens as well, with Annemiek Van Vleuten fighting back from being dropped from the front to win in a sprint from a break of 5. This is a race you can’t forget for next year on the calendar, because if the past couple of editions are anything to go by, CEGORR is a unpredictable and thrilling race that will have you on the edge of your seat for more than 4 hours. For now, I’m out.
~ The Cycling Raven