Tour Down Under: Richie Porte's stage-by-stage guide to the men’s race

The seven-time winner on Willunga Hill and two-time Tour Down Under champion offers us an expert insight into this year's race, as the likes of Luke Plapp and Simon Yates gun for the title

Clock10:41, Wednesday 10th January 2024
Richie Porte competes on Willunga Hill for the final time of his career, at the 2022 Santos Festival of Cycling

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Richie Porte competes on Willunga Hill for the final time of his career, at the 2022 Santos Festival of Cycling

Richie Porte was a two-time winner of the Santos Tour Down Under throughout his 15-year career and won eight stages along the way. The Australian's connection with his home race is inextricably linked with the iconic Willunga Hill, upon which Porte emerged victorious a record-breaking seven times.

Australia's most famous climb will headline this year's race once again and despite being retired since 2022, the former Ineos Grenadiers man will feature in a new public time trial event on Willunga Hill, with members of the public invited to try and set a blistering new KOM.

Between his preparations to return to Willunga Hill and his busy post-retirement life, we asked Porte to talk us through this year's Tour Down Under route. Each stage at a time, we hear insights from the former Tour de France podium finisher and find out where the race may be won.

Stage 1

Start: Tanunda

Finish: Tanunda

Distance: 144km

Stage 1 of the Tour Down Under always feels like the real start of the racing season for a lot of riders. Some of the Australians have raced nationals, and there’s the criterium the day before but this stage feels like the real curtain raiser and the race organisers have gone for a really exciting profile on stage 1 with the race starting and finishing in Tanunda.

Read more: Overview of the 2024 Tour Down Under

The key standout feature is Menglers Hill. It’s a really imposing climb for a rider to face once you turn onto the lower slopes but the road is skinny enough for teams to block attacks. The riders take on the climb three times, with the last ascent around 14km from the finish line. That’s enough time to come back if you’re dropped but I think we’ll see some damage done, especially on the final ascent as teams try and drop some of the weaker sprinters who maybe aren’t used to the big efforts this early in the season.

I still think we’ll get a sprint finish with a large group and to be honest the GC guys will be more than happy with that. They’ll want a sprinter’s team to be in control of the race at this point. As a rider, most of the day will be spent getting used to new equipment, teammates and your surroundings. There’s always something to look out for with the bonus sprints but the main objective for the GC riders is to come through this without losing time.

Stage 2

Start: Norword

Finish: Lobethal

Distance: 141.6km

Stage 2 continues the format of racing up a climb multiple times and this time it’s Fox Creek, which the riders ascend on two occasions having crested Norton Summit right at the start.

On paper, this is a sprint finish but there’s almost 3,000m of vertical climbing and I can see this being a reduced bunch sprint of around 30 to 40 riders. We did Fox Creek a few years ago and it’s a proper hard climb with a false flat from the bottom but then a really steep pitch in it. If it’s hot, or someone is out of position, you can easily lose position if a team drills it.

I can see a rider like Luke Plapp (Jayco AlUla) winning here like he did in 2021 when we used this climb as part of the Santos Festival of Cycling. He was so good and just rode away from everyone. It’s a decisive day but an in-form sprinter could make it. A bunch of sprinters will be dropped though and there are a couple of unclassified bumps before the finish too.

Read more: Luke Plapp and Grace Brown win Australian national time trial titles

Stage 3

Start: Tea Tree Gully

Finish: Campbelltown

Distance: 145.3km

The organisers seem in favour of hard starts and exciting racing right from the gun and for the second day running they’ve put a climb at the start with the ascent of Tea Tree Gully Hill. It’s just over 2km in length but has pitches of over 15 per cent, so there are going to be attacks as soon as the flag is dropped.

The second half of the stage is a rolling affair and this looks like another day for the sprinters but it’s a stage where the main teams will need to be vigilant and watch who goes in the break.

Read more: Caleb Ewan in the prime of his career ahead of Tour Down Under, says Matt White

The standout feature for me though is the flat-out descent from Gorge Road at Paracombe that comes near the end. Jack Bobridge won in Campbelltown in 2015 and the run down from the Gorge is one of the fastest stretches of road you can do in cycling. It’s not the most technical but the speeds will be incredibly high, so positioning is super important.

Stage 4

Start: Murray Bridge

Finish: Port Elliot

Distance: 136.2km

Murray Bridge is a long way out from the city, and to me, it always felt like the outback. There’s not much vegetation there, there’s always the chance of some cross-wind action and the finish is by the coast. It’s still a day for the sprinters but the winds could be a factor near the finish too because of the coastal winds.

Read more: 2024 Tour Down Under start lists confirmed

I remember losing nine seconds on GC in a finish like this before when we went through a roundabout with 2km to go. There was almost a crash, someone had their foot down and the bunch immediately split. This might look like an easy stage on paper because of the lack of big climbs and the slightly shorter distance but this is one of those days when the nerves will be high. There’s always wind about.

Stage 5

Start: Christies Beach

Finish: Willunga Hill

Distance: 129.3km

I know this stage relatively well. Willunga Hill is always the Queen stage but this time there’s a different start from what I remember when I was racing. With it being by the coast you can bet that some team is going to want to try and break up the race in the crosswinds. They’ll come up to you and ask if you want to join in and help split things up but it never really works because everyone is so dialled in on Willunga Hill and the two ascents.

I think a break will go early and you can give them four or five minutes before you have to start chasing. I remember that when I was with Trek we had to sacrifice Mads Pedersen super early when Matt Holmes won. It can be a tactical battle but the GC riders who can really climb will want the break to be reeled in because of the bonus seconds at the top.

Positioning is massive on the run-in to the climb and you have to burn some matches on the approach but you want your big, strong teammates, to put you near the front. There’s a huge fight and incredibly hectic with guys off in the gravel as they try and come through. The first ascent is just ridden at tempo but the pace increases over the top.

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The hardest part of the climb is probably between 1.2km to go and the final 300m. That’s where you win it. I never understood why teams didn’t attack me from the start of the climb though. There was one year when Sky had a rider off the front when I was at BMC Racing and then Wout Poels was on GC for them. That was probably the trickiest moment I had.

Instead most times they just waited for me to attack. If Jayco started firing guys up the road this year, provided they don’t have the jersey, they could have Simon Yates waiting in the wings. If you’re going full gas it’s an almost seven-minute effort at around 450w for a guy around 60kg.

Stage 6

Start: Unley

Finish: Mount Lofty

Distance: 128.2km

Stuart O’Grady and his team have done a great job with the route for this year’s race and they’ve kept the door open on GC right up to the final day and the climb to Mount Lofty. The peloton covers the climb three times with a summit finish and everything could still be wide open at this point.

Read more: Stuart O’Grady expecting an ‘epic finale’ at Tour Down Under

If a climber is in the lead following Willunga then the dynamics shouldn’t change too much but if a strong all-rounder builds up a decent lead in the first four stages, and manages to hold onto the overall lead after Willunga, then this stage could be explosive. Lofty isn’t as hard as Willunga - and I’ve only done it in training - but you can make a difference and the worst thing would be going into the final day with a sense of complacency.

You have to remember, that even if the overall win is secure, you’re going to get riders fighting for the top ten because of the all-important WorldTour points. Teams will throw the kitchen sink at this stage. There’s almost 3,000m of climbing in less than 130km, so we’re going to get action from start to finish.

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