The season begins on Tuesday with the Tour Down Under. This is now an established race with habitual finish lines, known climbs and even ritualised photo ceremonies. Even picking the contenders feels familiar with a strong list of local contenders keen to profit from their summer of cycling.
Here’s a preview of the race with stage profiles, the contenders and pretenders for stages and the GC plus TV listings and finish times.
Stage 1: one for the sprinters and beware the downhill finish. This isn’t a technical descent, it’s just that downhill finishes can see the sprinters going even faster than usual, spinning out of gears and with even less weight over the back wheel. Put simply the chances of a crash are higher.
Stage 2: a lumpy stage before the sharp climb to Paracombe which featured in 2015 when Rohan Dennis surged up the climb for the stage win which propelled him to the overall win. Then the climb was the defining feature of the stage, this time there’s a lot more going before with more climbing to do as the lap around the start town of Stirling five times before heading to the finish over Norton Summit. A breather in the valley should see the teams driving hard to set up their riders for the finish. In 2015 they came downhill and had to do a tight U-turn onto the climb, now they approach in the other direction but positioning will still be crucial for such a sharp effort.
Stage 3: this should be for the sprinters but watch out for the crosswinds which can split the field. A finish circuit around Victor Harbor has some lumps on the profile which are more benign than they look.
Stage 4: one for the sprinters again. The downhill run to the line isn’t as pronounced as the profile suggests and there’s an uphill drag to the finish line to alter the mix of riders even if this year’s field has no dragstrip sprinters.
Stage 5: The crucial stage with Old Willunga Hill. The race tours the vineyards and the coast at Aldinga. After 120km the race turns to the hills. Vineyards can evoke sybaritic notions of wine-tasting but the racing cyclist knows otherwise, the low vegetation means exposed terrain where a small breeze can be enough to split things up. Old Willunga Hill is the key moment with 3km at an average of 7.5%, a wide road with a steady gradient most of the way. This isn’t Alpe d’Huez but in a race where the overall classification is a matter of seconds, gapping a rival or taking the time bonus on the finish line can make all the difference. 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: a criterium around Adelaide. Normally a procession followed by a big sprint but if the time gaps are tight among the GC contenders then the intermediate sprints and the finish can revive the GC battle.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott) is the prototype rider for this race. As proof of concept he has already won it four times too. He’s very able on these short climbs and he’s won bunch sprints too which helps him harvest a lot of time bonuses and his experience means he knows exactly when to strike. He’s local which helps because this is a major goal for him rather than a pre-season warm-up. He’s got a strong team with Caleb Ewan but this could mean forfeiting a time bonus or two in the name of a stage win for Ewan. This year’s course is hillier so is this why Esteban Chaves starts too, are Orica-Scott parading him in front of the home crowds or is he humming after the Colombian summer and ready to pounce in Paracombe and Willunga?
Riche Porte (BMC Racing) been runner-up for the last two years, each time taking the stage on Willunga but never being able to distance his rivals enough. You sense he needs to win this race once and for all, at least to finally land the rewards after trying so often. Now the course suits him more than ever with the hillier Paracombe stage but he’s still unlikely to place in the sprint finishes to poach time bonuses. Rohan Dennis won in 2015 when BMC team mate Cadel Evans was supposed to win. Lèse majesté maybe but certainly good racing as Dennis took advantages of the others marking Evans to jump and this again gives BMC options.
Sergio Henao (Team Sky) was third overall last year thanks to his second place on Willunga. Geraint Thomas has been third overall here too, back in 2013 and the pair have a chance at the win. Henao seems the better pick but it’s a hunch based on his summer training schedule and Thomas’s ambitions for events later in the year.
When Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) attacked up the Corkscrew last year nobody knew who it was. We might blame cycling’s retro reliance on small paper numbers pinned to the jersey but even if a TV graphic had flashed up “Woods” within seconds most commentators would be none the wiser. Now we’ve learned his name but has he learned how to translate his prodigious power into wins? Paddy Bevin should be good for the punchy stage finishes while T-J Slagter has won this race overall.
Dimension Data’s Nathan Haas could be good for a stage win, he’s often too generous in races, surging too soon in the finish but if he can become as clinical as Gerrans then his chances rise and via the accumulation of time bonuses he can place high overall too. Lachlan Morton‘s in form after a strong showing at the Australian nationals but would surely need a much more mountainous course to win overall.
Rattling through foir teams Astana are led by L-L Sanchez who has shown in this race before but surely doesn’t have the punch any more to take a race like this; Movistar bring a strong team with Jesus Herrada as an outsider pick for Stage 2 into Paracombe and Carlos Barbero for Stage 4 but this is a crowded field; UAE Abu Dhabi have Ben Swift for the sprints and Diego Ulissi for the uphill finishes and a place on GC, the Italian has won a stage here before in 2014 but is now a captain of his team and can start his season more gently. Ag2r La Mondiale’s Domenico Pozzovivo has done well here before but the level of the race has gone up while Pozzovivo’s older now.
Uni-SA have a strong team with Cameron Meyer in form. He’s supposed to have given up road cycling but is in form and in a happier place and he’s got the race craft for this, the question is whether his renewed focus on the track means he’s heavier when it comes to the hills.
Finally to pre-empt any comments, Peter Sagan‘s aiming for Milan-Sanremo and the course is too hilly for him. He might fancy a stage but don’t bet on him winning overall. Instead Bora-Hansgrohe have Sam Bennett for the sprints too and Jay McCarthy as an outsider for the hilly stages, he’s won a stage here before.
|Simon Gerrans, Richie Porte|
|Sergio Henao, Dennis, Woods, Herrada|
Forecast finish times
Stage 1 – Tuesday: 2.27pm ETA / 4.57am Euro time / 10.57pm EST in US (Monday)
Stage 2 – Wednesday: 2.29pm ETA / 4.59am Euro time / 10.59pm EST in US (Tuesday)
Stage 3 – Thursday: 2.51pm ETA / 5.21am Euro time / 11.21pm EST in US (Wednesday)
Stage 4 – Friday: 3.30pm ETA / 6.00am Euro time / 12.00am EST in US (Friday)
Stage 5 – Saturday: 3.02pm ETA / 5.32am Euro time / 11.32pm EST in US (Friday)
Stage 6 – Sunday: 3.30pm ETA / 5.30am Euro time / 11.30pm EST in US (Saturday)
ETA 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.
What to watch? If the Tour Down Under was cuisine it would be tapas or kaiseki rather than a giant feast. Rather than gorging for hours on a single Queen Stage, aim instead to consume a little bit of each stage instead. Unlike a long classic or grand tour stage all the action and tactics come very late in the race, indeed you’ll rarely miss much if you tune in for the last 10 minutes each day.
Where to watch? It’s on Australia’s Channel 9 and Gem and there’s a livestream page to watch on the web which normally works fine. As back-up British viewers can see it on The Bike Channel but it’s not live and there’s Universal HD and NBC Sports in the US. There is also the Tour Tracker app in some countries. Otherwise this marks a return to the furtive practice of watching via a pirate stream and cyclingfans and steephill.tv are the default choices.