There’s a race on. It’s becoming a cliché to say we should talk about the sport instead of scandal, races instead of revelations. So here it is, a proper World Tour race packed with big names, Australian sunshine and it’s all just a few days away.
Here’s a stage-by-stage preview, a look at the contenders, the jerseys as well as what time you can expect to watch the finish on TV.
When does it start?
Some say Sunday and others say Tuesday. Tuesday is correct because Sunday is just an exhibition criterium that doesn’t count, some fun and the publicity for the winner makes it worth a scrap. We’ll stick to the race.
The format is six stages held in South Australia and the race is based in the state capital of Adelaide. Scroll down for individual stage profiles and analysis.
135km. After a neutral start that gets going by the Adelaide velodrome before they head for the hills of Golden Grove. You can see the climbing on the profile, rising as the road twists, ideal for the early break to go. The first climb is 4km long and averages 5% but climbs in steps with a nasty ramp near the top. If the profile looks repetitive above, it’s because there are three laps around the finish in Lobethal.
A sprint stage looks most likely but as is often the case in the race, some climbing to make it hard. The field can split, sprinters can get heavy legs and the finish can be chaotic with tired riders. Lobethal is German for “Praise Valley” – one of many places named by German immigrants – so it would be fitting if André Greipel won here, no?
The Corkscrew Road climb at the end of the stage is crucial. Coming after Kangaroo Creek – what else? – this road doesn’t take its name from the local wineries, instead it’s got several hairpin bends, a rarity for South Australia and an obvious draw for local cyclists. The climb is 3.7km long and the gradient hits 10%. A launch pad for a win? Yes but not easy. We’ll have to see how teams get over the climb, if the sprint trains can marshal the chase on the descent. The final 3km profile shows how flat the finish is, there’s almost no corkscrew twisting on the way down, only the pop of a podium champagne bottle for the winner. Worth watching for the Corkscrew climb and its steep ramps.
A circuit race with the climb to the Eagle on the Hill lookout to start . If everyone is waiting for Willunga Hill on Stage 5, maybe today will be as decisive if it the five lumpy laps can wear down the riders. But it doesn’t seem to be hilly enough, it might take a surprise or some weather to mix things up.
This looks like a day for the sprinters once the first climb is out of the way, Kersbrook Road on Humbug Scrub – great name. The race heads into the Barossa Valley, famous for its wines. Watch out for crashes, many Aussie roads have a strip of dust and gravel alongside the tarmac and desperate riders could try to use this as they compete for space on the run into the finish only to wipe out.
The Queen Stage. First it’s McClaren Vale and a ride past its wineries and then a spin past the sea at Aldinga, a circuit that’s repeated again and again.
After 120km the circuits end and the race turns to the hills. Old Willunga Hill is the key moment with 3km at an average if 7.5%, a steady gradient most of the way. Normally this will determine the overall classification and the main contenders will set the pace on the first climb before giving everything on the final climb. Worth tuning in for.
A victory parade, this is a criterium style stage in Adelaide.
Let’s break this in two groups. There are several sprint stages that it’s worth listing the sprinters first because they’ll play a big role in the race. Then we’ll pick a second group of overall contenders.
The trouble is that we have no guide to form, only reputation. The state of fitness is hard to predict, especially for the overall contenders because whilst they want this race, few can afford to be in peak fitness now, there are bigger objectives in the coming months.
Sprinters: Matthew Goss (Orica-Greenedge), André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff), Mark Renshaw (Blanco), Andrea Guardini (Astana), J-J Rojas (Movistar), Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM), Yauheni Hutarovich (Ag2r), Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida), Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Andrew Fenn (OPQS), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano).
Quite a list. Greipel and Kittel stand out with Guardini and Démare as the young pretenders. Greipel is there with most of the wagons of his Tour de France sprint train like Roelandts, Henderson and Sieberg. Garmin come with a strong train and the plan is to place Farrar but watch the likes of Steele Von Hoff, a versatile and impressive neo-pro.
Overall contenders Simon Gerrans (Orica-Greenedge), Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Edvald Boasson-Hagen and Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), Tiago Machado (Radioshack),
Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp), Wilco Kelderman (Blanco), Max Iglinskiy and Enrico Gasparotto (Astana), J-J Rojas, Andrey Amador and Eros Capecchi (Movistar), Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Peter Velits (OPQS).
That’s a long list but how do you chose amongst these? Well pick someone who can sprint once they get to the top of Willunga. They need to get the time bonus as well as put distance into the others. My pick would be Boasson-Hagen, sixth last year and apparently he’s been training hard over the winter, logging a 40 hour week in December. Defending champion Simon Gerrans is in good shape after the Aussie nationals. Rojas is an outside pick as a sprinter who can climb, able to win time bonuses on other days, perhaps Matt Goss goes here too?
The leaders jersey is ochre, like the soil of the Australian outback. Note the time bonuses, 10 seconds for the winner of each stage, six seconds for second place and four seconds for third. Intermediate sprints offer three seconds, two seconds for second and one second for the first three too.
Young riders are under 25 and the Competitive jersey is for the most aggressive rider. UCI rules state you can only have four jerseys in a race so we might not see all six in the race, two will be for podium ceremonies.
TV: unlike previous editions the stages will be broadcast live in Australia. Hopes for an unrestricted livestream have been dashed so cyclingfans and steephill.tv are the go-to sites for video streams.
I fear Australians might find hours of live broadcast each day not as thrilling as the TV channel promises but be sure to catch the last half hour each day. The finish each day is expected between 2.00pm and 3.00pm but give it some leeway.
- 3.00pm in South Australia = 5.30am Euro time = 8.30pm PST = 11.30pm EST
It’s the 15th edition of the race and if you want a history of the race, complete with the ID of the the unknown rider above plus Phil Liggett dressed as a policeman, see last year’s Tour Down Under race history post.
Is it a proper race or a training camp in the sun?
This pops up from time to time and my reply is that it’s a proper race, albeit a sunny prologue to a long season.
- Yes it’s sunny and yes some riders will use it for training. Note some riders use the Tour of Flanders as practice for Paris-Roubaix
- Some riders could going home with broken bones and it’s certain many will rub shoulders and elbow each other for sprint placings
- 548 UCI points are up for grabs, as many in the Tour de Romandie
- 100 points go to the overall winner, as many as you get for winning Roubaix or Il Lombardia
It just could be much more. The course is flat and the stage with the Willunga Hill finish is not hard, it’s just the riders force the pace so much to prompt a selection otherwise they’ll lose the overall to the sprinters. A time trial stage is a logistic problem, it’s World Tour so the idea that riders should do it on their normal road bikes doesn’t work so well but teams can’t fly out hundreds of TT bikes and special wheels just to use them for 20 minutes. Still the race is lucky, if it appeared in August people would mind more but after the off-season people will take any race they can get. Think of it as a prologue to the season, it’s a fine way to open the season in bright sunshine. It works.
For me the question is really about other Australian races. The country has its own pro team, supplies a large number of pro riders and a big following. There’s room for more high level stage racing and maybe to include a high status one day race at this time of year.
Note this is a blog post but there’s a copycat page which you’ll find linked at the top of the screen. If you visit and want the same info again, like a stage profile or TV listing, then it’s easy to find the “Tour Down Under” with the links above.