And so they’re off! Once again Andre Greipel has won a stage at the TDU, once again there is a bit of controversy about sprinters not holding their line, and once again the accused sprinter has taken the classic “What! Me?” stance. The season is underway.

Yesterday’s stage was typically nervous for a season opener, and was made difficult by the fact that it was such a hot day on the road. This race and Qatar are the only opportunities that teams have to practise any thermoregulation theories on their riders prior to the Grand Tours in May and July, and I would be interested to know who is doing what and how they’re doing it this year!

An interesting observation from yesterday’s stage was that GreenEDGE were essentially left to control the race prior to the other sprint teams contributing to bringing the break back in.

Similar to Rabobank at the Eneco Tour, the stakes are that much higher for the home nation’s team to perform that they are obliged to do more work than would be normal on more neutral ground. Whitey of course played things well, ensuring that his boys didn’t do too much work, and that the other sprint teams put their share of effort in to drag things back together when the time came to set up the stage.

It was also hilarious to see commentators noting that an Australian team were chasing an Australian rider (not from their team) when GreenEDGE were involved in chasing Rohan Dennis in the final kilometres of the stage. Errmmm… this is professional cycling… you may have heard of it before… the teams try and win races for themselves… strange concept, I know!

Andre Greipel
Rohan Dennis.

I can’t imagine a scenario where Garmin wouldn’t ride if they thought they were a chance of winning a stage if an American from another team was up the road. Ludicrous!

Sadly for GreenEDGE though, all but Simon Gerrans appeared to be caught behind a late crash, meaning their GC policy is Gerro or bust. Not at all a bad option! They will still shoot for stage wins as they’re able, but will now concentrate on getting Gerro in the correct position on the two key days.

Today’s stage is an interesting one. The Stirling finish circuit is a mainstay of the TDU, and it is a long uphill drag to the line which has seen opportunists leap from the front of the bunch to take honours, as well as strong man sprints over the past couple of years.

It was my first racing stage where I saw firsthand how tough pro cyclists can be: Cam Meyer as a skinny little neopro dislocated his shoulder in a crash over a waterbottle that another rider had dropped going through the feed zone and rather than laying on the ground whimpering like most of us would, Cam stood up, relocated his shoulder himself, got back on the bike and started chasing back on. Hard man.

What with this year including a hilltop finish at Willunga later in the race, there is no way that an out and out sprinter can win the overall title this year, and this may take some of the motivation for the quick fellas to still be in the mix for today’s finale as well.

My belief is that there will be a strong man breaking off the front of a small peloton in the final two or three km who will hold on to win. Let’s wait and see.