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7th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under - 2.HC
Australia, January 18-23, 2005
News for January 25, 2005
Post race wrap up: Harder than ever
By Jeff Jones
Although not the fastest on record, the consensus among the riders was that the seventh edition of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under has been the hardest yet, with one of the world's top teams, Liberty Seguros, dominating the race from day three onwards with a vice-like grip. And the actions of 21 year-old second year pro Luis Sanchez in taking out the overall classification indicate that he could be the first European winner of this race who will go on to bigger things, unlike 2000 winner Gilles Maignan or 2003 winner Mikel Astarloza.
Of course, that same argument can't be applied to the Australian winners Stuart O'Grady and Michael Rogers (Pat Jonker, who won last year, retired immediately afterwards): both have shown their class many times at the Tour, World Championships and Olympics, and winning this race certainly hasn't done them any harm. Coming off an incredible 2004, O'Grady was certainly motivated to win the JCTDU in front of his home crowd, but things didn't quite pan out the way he wanted and he had to settle for third place behind Liberty's Luis Sanchez and Allan Davis.
That in itself says a lot about the improvement in the tour's quality, when a current Olympic champion and multiple stage winner and yellow jersey wearer in the Tour de France does his utmost to win, and finishes third. O'Grady did admit in his newspaper column that he was only "80 percent fit", but that same argument could be applied to a lot of the internationally based riders, including the riders who beat him. Liberty Seguros came here with a plan in mind and executed it perfectly.
"We go to every race trying to dominate and get the best result," second overall Allan Davis explained to Cyclingnews before the final stage. "More often that not it doesn't work out, but this week's worked out how we always wanted it to."
Davis conceded that this has been the toughest edition of the race yet, evidenced by Saturday's extremely aggressive and fast fifth stage that had the yellow jersey wearer putting himself in every threatening break before delivering the coup de grace on the final climb. "Overall, yeah, it has been definitely the hardest," said Davis. "It's the third year I've done it. I was talking to a couple of guys and [they agree] it's never been ridden so hard.
"It's getting more competitive every year because it means a lot more at the start of the UCI season; it's a pretty big event."
Like McEwen, Davis won't be earning any UCI points for his results here, as he rides for a ProTour team. Despite this, it was clear that he and his relatively young Liberty Seguros team were hungry for victories. After all, visible results generally mean more to sponsors and fans than a points tally. Indeed, some teams like Cofidis have been criticised in the past for basing rider contracts around UCI points, and its riders often concentrated more on winning points for themselves rather than racing for the rest of the team and putting others in a winning position. It was therefore refreshing to see professional, aggressive racing throughout the JCTDU.
Graeme Brown (Panaria), who won the final stage in Adelaide two years ago agreed with Davis, saying that, "It's been one of the fastest that I've known of. It's the only year I've rocked up with quite bad form - normally I have reasonable form coming into it. I felt every bit of it." Brown hopes to race himself into shape in the Tour de Langkawi, but has definitely learned a lesson about preparation for Australia's largest stage race.
South Australian Gene Bates, who normally rides for the Zalf Fior team in Italy, took out the King of the Mountains classification this year as well as finishing 11th overall. Bates paid tribute to the other riders and the race as a whole when we spoke to him. "It's ten times harder," he said. "It's incredible. The whole bunch is fit. Gone are the days when the Europeans would come here for a holiday.
"I spoke to the leader yesterday and he said he'd done 7,500 km [in the off-season] already. It's a lot more than any of the Aussies have done. It puts it into perspective that everyone has come here to race. It's really turned into a professional race now."
Can it continue to grow?
It remains to be seen what effect the ProTour has on the JCTDU, as at the moment it forms part of the Oceania Continental Tour and probably will for the foreseeable future. But the riders coming to Adelaide seem hungrier and better prepared than ever before, and that can only be a good thing. This year, top class riders such as Gilberto Simoni, Isidro Nozal and Filippo Pozzato took an interest, as well as the usual strong posse of sprinters (McEwen, Davis, Cooke, Brown, Kirsipuu) and home-grown talent such as Stuart O'Grady, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans. While the stars didn't come with the condition to win, they didn't disappoint either. In fact, only a couple of the Europeans were demonstrably lacking in early season fitness.
The race has gained status in the international media as well, with journalists from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy and Great Britain complementing the Australian contingent. There are still some problems with television rights and the clash with the Australian Open, which received wall-to-wall coverage for two weeks while the JCTDU was generally relegated to the midnight slot by the rights holders, Channel 10 (save for the final stage, which was covered live). Fortunately for fans, SBS - the channel generally regarded by Australians as being "The Cycling Network" - aired a 10 minute highlight package in prime time, several hours before the "official" half-hour show on Channel 10. There were also snippets of the race shown across several networks in their daily prime time news bulletins. Highlights were also broadcast internationally on Sky Sports, adding to its impact overseas.
Another strong point in favour of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under is its base in the Adelaide Hilton, which becomes a mecca for the cyclists for the entire week. Although the stages all start and finish at different locations (generally within an hour and a half of Adelaide), the riders and journalists are ferried back to the hotel afterwards and don't have to worry about packing and lengthy transfers. That all adds to the relaxed atmosphere, which is appropriate for an early season race despite the battles on the road.
The South Australian Government has the rights to host the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under until 2010, and if this year's event is anything to go by, the race should continue to improve in the coming years.