The Down Under Classic, a lesser-known yet thrilling criterium race, serves as a prelude to the much-anticipated Tour Down Under in Adelaide. Although it might not ring a bell for many cycling enthusiasts outside Adelaide, or for those who haven’t stumbled upon a live stream, this event is a hidden gem in the cycling world.
This city-center crit is more than just an opening act for the men’s Tour Down Under (with a similar event following the women’s race). Kicking off on a Tuesday, one might assume it’s merely a light, introductory race for the 140 riders in the men’s peloton before the real competition begins. However, the Down Under Classic defies such expectations.
The race has all the elements of an engaging contest: 19 top professional teams along with an Australian team, racing around a 1.35km circuit in the heart of Adelaide for just over an hour. It’s the quintessence of a criterium race. Yet, despite the potential for a more relaxed approach, the riders displayed remarkable intensity.
From the start, the race was charged with energy. Contrary to the assumption that it might resemble any other criterium, the Down Under Classic stood out with its high tempo and non-stop action lasting 61 minutes. This wasn’t a typical race; it was akin to the exhilarating final stages of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysées.
The peloton remained stretched out for the duration, and it took a considerable 34 minutes for a breakaway to form – a significant development in such a short race. The relentless pace and the competitive spirit of the cyclists transformed the Down Under Classic into a riveting spectacle, distinguishing it from other criterium races and making it an event worth watching for any cycling fan.
The Down Under Classic, an often overlooked race with no UCI points or a spot on ProCyclingStats, unexpectedly transformed into one of the most earnestly contested races I’ve witnessed. Contrary to a typical post-Tour de France kermesse, this event was marked by its competitive intensity.
Initially, expectations were set for a routine display ending in a win for Caleb Ewan. However, Ewan’s absence seemed to open the field, injecting an unpredictable and frenzied energy into the race.
The event demanded constant attention, with each lap, lasting just over 90 seconds, filled with relentless surges, sharp accelerations out of corners, and continuous breakaway attempts. This relentless action continued until a break finally established itself.
The breakaway group, comprising Isaac del Torro (UAE Team Emirates), Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers), Jack Rootkin-Gray (EF Education-EasyPost), Gil Gelders (Soudal Quick-Step), Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich PostNL), Natnael Tetsfazion (Trek-Segafredo), and Harry Sweeny (EF Education-EasyPost), surprisingly took control of the race. Initially, it seemed an unlikely scenario, but they held their ground.
Bora-Hansgrohe appeared to be the only team earnestly working to close the gap, supporting Sam Welsford. As the race approached its conclusion, the 16-second gap at the 55-minute mark closed dramatically on the final lap, but the breakaway remained uncatchable. Narváez ultimately clinched the win, followed by Tetsfazion and Del Torro, marking a unique and triumphant beginning to their season.
The race’s intensity was further evidenced by the gusts of wind from the speeding peloton and the racers consuming gels for a burst of energy, despite the race’s short duration. Even Elia Viviani, typically seen at the rear, made a late surge to impact the race, though unsuccessfully.
Post-race discussions revealed Bora-Hansgrohe’s frustrations, particularly voiced by their Director Sportif Bernie Eisel, over the lack of collaborative effort from other teams. This sentiment underscored the race’s significance, which, though unexpected, was undeniably present.
The Down Under Classic, with its thrilling dynamics and competitive spirit, served as a reminder of cycling’s inherent excitement. Narváez’s celebratory reaction spoke volumes – in the world of cycling, every victory counts, every race matters. This was an event that left a lasting impression, even on a seasoned, perhaps somewhat jaded, observer like myself.