Welcome to a new season of racing. The Tour de San Luis is next week too and the Tropicale Amissa Bongo has opened the pro calendar but this is the first race on the UCI WorldTour calendar. All the big teams together and it’s all on TV.
This race has got harder in recent years and the 2014 edition continues the trend with a sharp climb on the first day that could rule out several sprinters. Here’s the pre-race race preview with a look at each stage, the contenders, a TV guide and more.
The action begins on Sunday evening with the “People’s Choice Classic”, a 50km criterium by Adelaide University. It’s a separate event and the Tour Down Under starts on Tuesday.
Stage 1: Tuesday 21 January – Nuriootpa > Angaston, 135m
After Monday’s opening criterium, the race begins. So much for a sprinter’s race, the opening stage includes a tricky hill near the finish. The race uses laps but the third and final lap includes the climb of Mengeler’s Hill and it’ll thin the peloton. A sprint finish is still likely but the climb has been used in previous years and it’s been enough to see several sprinters ditched. Oscar Freire won in 2012 suggesting a win by the likes of Michael Matthews or perhaps Movistar’s J-J Rojas and J-J Lobato, all sprinters who can cope with a climb.
Stage 2: Wednesday 22 January – Prospect > Stirling, 150km
Still no chance for the sprinters again as the race heads to Stirling and the place where Tom Jelte Slagter won the day and ultimately the race. Unlike last year the race isn’t lapping around Stirling and Mylor all day but it does climb plenty on the first half before the three repeat climbs to Stirling. Whilst it make take Old Willunga Hill on Stage 5 to determine the winner, it’s likely we see the overall contenders emerge here.
Stage 3: Thursday 23 January – Norwood > Campbelltown, 145km.
Another day and all the sprinters can hope for is some race miles and a sun tan. 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, taken last year in nearby Rostrevor by Sky’s Geraint Thomas. Worth watching for the Corkscrew climb and its steep ramps.
Stage 4: Friday 24 January – Unley >Victor Harbor, 148.5km
The race heads south and away from Adelaide to finish on the coast. The early climb starts as soon as neutralised section ends and looks ideal for a breakaway to launch but behind the sprinters’ teams will be working hard to set up a bunch finish in Victor Harbor, famous for its horse-drawn trams. Two turns in the final kilometre make a risky too, especially as the road takes a narrow access road, turns via a roundabout before reaching the esplanade for the final 600 metres.
Stage 5: Saturday 25 January – McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill, 151.5km
The Queen Stage. It sounds civil with McClaren Vale and its wineries and then a jaunt along the coast 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. It’s a tactical finish, being on the right wheel matters as the speed is so high, the idea is to ride the slipstream of your rival and then strike out as late as possible but before everyone else. Simon Gerrans has pounced several times on here and its one for the puncheurs.
Stage 6: Sunday 26 January – Adelaide, 95km
The final stage and a victory parade with 20 laps of a circuit in Adelaide. Expect a bunch sprint.
Judging form is hard as there’s little to go on except reputation and suitability and for the Australians, their national championship road race. But here goes…
Orica-Greenedge come with several riders. Simon Gerrans is the prime pick given past success in this race, recent form and his abilities are perfectly suited to this race. But Michael Matthews could be an early wearer of the ochre jersey.
Cadel Evans told the media the other day he wanted to win World Tour points for his team and if so, here’s a fine choice. He’s in form but the route is probably too punchy for him, he risks being outsprinted for the time bonuses.
Team Sky have a two-pronged attack with Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas but playing the old one-two is unlikely because the climbs are so short that few have time to trade attacks. Instead Thomas is the sharper finisher who could collect more time bonuses.
Movistar’s J-J Rojas but he could be more an early rival for Michael Matthews and the time bonus game but Javier Moreno was second overall last year and one to watch but he was the surprise last year and his form isn’t known.
Astana have a solid team with uphill finish specialist Enrico Gasparotto but are the hills just that bit too short for him? Jan Bakelants had a great 2013 and is the OPQS team leader, he’s versatile on a hilly course but can he sprint for the time bonuses? Garmin-Sharp come with Rohan Dennis with the hardy Jack Bauer in support and Steele von Hoff for the sprints. Belkin return minus Tom Slagter who emigrated to Garmin-Sharp, instead Robert Gesink will be their man for Willunga but can he poach time bonuses before? Lampre-Merida’s Diego Ulissi is the outside pick, excellent end-of-season form in 2013, the course looks ideal for him but he’s probably lacking the race mileage. Lotto-Belisol are geared up to support André Greipel but Jurgen Roelandts could get a free role on the hillier days. Similarly Giant-Shimano might look like Team Kittel but Simon Geschke is a handy rider for the uphill finishes.
Others to watch include Frank Schleck on the comeback. Marcel Kittel and André Greipel are the headline sprinters but we should view them each as part of their teams and we’ll see the Giant-Shimano and Lotto-Belisol trains in action with the other sprinters playing hobo. Watch Mark Renshaw who’s probably faster on a slight uphill finish than the flat, the OPQS recruit might get some chances before a year in service of Mark Cavendish.
I’m also interested to see Caleb Ewan. He’s riding with the Uni-SA team but is really an Orica-Greenedge rider and it’ll be fascinating to see how he performs both as a comparison but also the tactics of whether he’s riding with Michael Matthews and Matt Goss or isn’t afraid to stick an elbow in.
Full startlist over at procyclingstats.com
Those are the jerseys and note the points jersey isn’t on the race website yet. UCI rules limit a race to four jerseys so the last two are just part of the podium ceremony.
Bonus time: 10 seconds for the winner of each stage, six seconds for second place and four seconds for third. Intermediate sprints offer 3-2-1 seconds respectively for the first three.
It’s on Australian TV’s Channel 9 (highlights) and Gem (live) and other channels will be carrying live video, British viewers can see it on Sky. Otherwise this is could mark a return to the furtive practice of watching via a pirate stream and cyclingfans is the default choice. Here the forecast finish times, note Australian Central Daylight Time in Adelaide is UTC/GMT + 10.30 hours.
Forecast finish times
Stage 1 – Tuesday: 2.24pm ACDT / 4.54am Euro time / 10.54pm EST in US (Monday)
Stage 2 – Wednesday: 2.57pm ACDT / 5.27am Euro time / 11.27pm EST in US (Tuesday)
Stage 3 – Thursday: 2.56pm ACDT / 5.26am Euro time / 11.26pm EST in US (Wednesday)
Stage 4 – Friday: 3.25pm ACDT / 5.55am Euro time / 11.55pm EST in US (Thursday)
Stage 5 – Saturday: 3.02pm ACDT / 5.32am Euro time / 11.32pm EST in US (Friday)
Stage 6 – Sunday: 2.30pm ACDT / 5.00am Euro time / 11.00pm EST in US (Saturday)
ACDT is local time in Adelaide and these are estimates supplied by the race and note the variability in case you’re getting up early or staying up late. If you think it’s a pain, remember Australians and others get this all year with the classics and grand tours.
What to watch? Stages 1 to 5 all promise something. Stage 1 brings Mengeler’s Hill and tension as sprinters get dropped and the lead group has to drive on. Stage 2 features the hilly circuit to break up the race, Stage 3 has the hairpin-bendy Corkscrew with a high speed descent to the finish. Stage 4 might be “only” a sprint finish but all the more reason to watch the sprint trains in action and the final kilometre looks risky. Stage 5 is the “summit finish” to settle the race.
It’s one thing to watch it on TV, another to experience in person. One of the clever things with the race is the way it’s become Australia’s week of cycling. The race is based in Adelaide meaning no transfers and fans can spin out of town each day to watch the action. Teams mingle with locals, often riding back after a stage to spin the legs and in the build-up to the race several teams have dropped into bike shops and done other promotional work. All this means big crowds are forecast and last year one estimate said 110,000 people were out on one day alone.
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.