A lot of the focus at the Tour Down Under is on Australian riders.
With it being their only ‘home’ WorldTour race and many returning much earlier in the southern hemisphere summer, compared to European counterparts, to train and prepare for a new campaign it’s obvious why.
But looking past the bronzed locals on this year’s start list was another obvious candidate for pundits looking to tip a winner on stage one of the men’s race: German fast man Phil Bauhaus.
Bauhaus won stage one of last year’s race, also in Tanunda, wine country in South Australia where the blazing sun saw all those involved breaking a sweat at sign-on, a second peloton forming under the shade of a tree as riders prepared to depart for the first WorldTour race of the year.
The 29-year-old may have pipped Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) for line honours too had it not been for a series of unfortunate events in the lead-up to and during the stage. Instead, he settled for second, ahead of Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty) and Caleb Ewan (Jayco-Alula).
Bauhaus thanked teammate Jack Haig at the team van by the finish line after the 144km stage, the climber having assumed part of his lead-out in the finale. As Bauhaus pointed out, it wasn’t Haig’s job, but he appreciated his contribution in a finish where the team was – through no fault of its own – left depleted.
“I could position myself [behind] Bora with Sam and Caleb, so yeah, I start sprinting from third place and then I still could pass Caleb, but it’s difficult to come around to first place these days,” Bauhaus said post-race.
“I mean Sam is also a pretty good sprinter. He had the best lead-out, and I was the best from the rest.
“We did the best possible. Second place I think is the maximum we could get today.”
And it was pretty good considering Bauhaus’ right-hand man Nikias Arndt was a late withdrawal from the race. Arndt’s apparent substitution, Nicolo Buratti, crashed with just under 10 kilometres of the stage remaining, and Torstein Traaen came down earlier.
“It’s still a way to race. To finish on the podium, it’s never easy,” Bauhaus said.
Speaking earlier at the stage start, Bahrain Victorious sports director Neil Stephens noted the loss of Arndt, who has resumed training in Spain after injuring himself at the gym.
“Phil is going great. The problem with Phil is last year we had Nikias Arndt here. Nikias had a gym accident, he went down doing some weights, hurt his knee, so he’s unfortunately out of the race for this year. A late retirement and he’s really the right-hand man of Phil for the sprint finishes, so that’s a little bit of the unknown. We’re going to be trying to work out the lead-out without Nikias here to coordinate it.”
While in Australia, Bauhaus is set to work with Buratti as well as Cameron Scott. The team confirmed in a press release post-race that Traeen, who finished the stage, was sent to hospital post-race with a possible broken arm.
“We’ve got a few good young guys, they’re fantastic bike riders, they’re going to do a great job, but they’re lacking the experience of Nikias Arndt. Nikias is a really solid person to have in sprint finishes,” Stephens told Cyclingnews.
The Tour Down Under continues on Wednesday with an undulating second stage, which could prove too much for the pure sprinters in the bunch, providing an opportunity for puncheurs.
Climbers like Haig will have to wait until later in the week for their opportunities. Haig returns to the Tour Down Under for the first time since 2015, when he finished 16th.
“He’s going really good,” Stephens said. It’s hard to say whether he could win or be a podium but he’s certainly training as best he can, everything has gone really well, he’s a good bike rider, and so we’ve done what’s in our control.
“I think probably the best rider in the field is Luke Plapp [Jayco-Alula] and he’s in really good shape … Out of the leaders he stands out most, then there’s a group of people below that will go okay as well.”
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