The Tour Down Under is now the race that opens the season. For a brief moment Australia becomes the focus of the road cycling world. Many Europeans aren’t aware just how keen the Aussies are on cycling, at times the roads of the major cities early on a Sunday morning have just as many cyclists as Lombardy or Flanders.
I’m in two minds about the Tour Down Under. It’s got slick organisation and many riders enjoy the event, the “back to school” atmosphere is made easy with good weather and the relaxed Aussie manner. But I fear the event is used extensively for tourism promotion and if there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just the nagging feeling that a marketing campaign tends to have a fixed duration. A change of mind from a politician or a marketing department and the event could be under threat. Here’s hoping it continues as the more an event establishes itself, the stronger its roots.
So assuming the race has an illustrious future, what about finding ways to make more from the race? As we’re seeing, ahem, UCI points are increasingly valuable. This can be exploited by the race organisers to bolster the race a bit.
How? By ensuring the points go to a wider range of riders. The race has long been a festival for sprinters, indeed the fast men often finish high on GC as well as bagging most of the stages. It’s great to see the sprinters go head to head but my memory last year was the move by Cadel Evans and the emergence of Peter Sagan.
A time trial stage
This would be a way to mix up the general classification. But for me there is an additional bonus since the precious ranking points are at stake and it could lure some TT specialists and big name stage racers to give the Tour Down Under a go. But the need to take an additional time trial bike could be a burden. The Tour of Qatar instructs riders to use a road bike only in order to make the logistics easier but I can’t help feel this is unsatisfactory given teams often want to showcase their wares.
A summit finish
Usually the biggest climb of the race is Willunga Hill. It’s 3km and about 7.5%, roughly a third category climb in Tour de France measurements although they say the climb is made harder by some open drags on the way to the start of the climb. Since the race takes place in South Australia, note this is the same state as several mountain ranges. Now some of these mountains are some distance from Adelaide and so this might prove logistically too much. Instead the race could include a finish at the top of Willunga hill, something which might give a few different riders the chance to shine.
A one day race
Given so many cyclists are in town for the race, what about creating a one day race as well? Perhaps run just a couple of days after the Tour, this could be held in a different location and feature some added mileage and perhaps a hillier parcours. Adequately rewarded with UCI points, this might attract a few bigger names to take part.
The TDU is increasingly attracting media attention and riders alike. There are ways to attract more riders, to open the race up a bit and to make the battle for the overall even more of a scrap.