It’s dark and cold outside, and most of us are still gamely dragging ourselves through our New Year’s resolutions. On the other side of the world in the warmth and light of the Australian sun, the UCI World Tour teams are preparing to throw themselves into the season. We take a look at The Tour Down Under and what we can expect to see this January.
The Tour Down Under (TDU) is starting to be seen as the traditional season opener for the World Tour teams. And whilst it doesn’t quite have the kudos or significance of the Giro, Tour de France or La Vuelta, over the past few seasons the lure of racing under the sun has proved ever popular for some of the biggest names in the sport. Often the first time World Tour teams will properly show off new riders, kits and sponsors, the Australian race is also the first time racers can gauge the form of their rivals on the world stage. The TDU will be the first time the likes of former world champion Peter Sagan, his sprint rivals Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan along with GC contender Richie Porte will see action. Last year’s winner, Team Mitchelton-Scott’s Daryl Impey is also set to try to retain his crown.
Established in 1999, the twenty first edition is due to take place from the 15-20th January with six stages taking place on the roads around Adelaide on Australia’s southern coast. With no major mountain climbs anywhere on the route, the undulating parcours is probably not the place for the true climbers of the peloton to really shine. What this does mean is the TDU is the realm of the heavy hitting sprinters and breakaway specialists. One look at the list of previous winners, plus the fact that Andre Greipel, the German fast man, has won not one but two overall titles says a lot for the type of rider who can stand out from the peloton. That’s not to say that the TDU is a walk in the park, there are still plenty of surprises along the way. With no stage being longer than 150 kilometres (yes, that is classed as pretty short by World Tour standards!), then you can expect the speeds the stages are ridden at to be blisteringly quick. And if that wasn’t enough, the final stage makes the riders climb the now infamous Willunga Hill, a nasty three kilometre, nearly eight percent climb, twice within the closing stages of the race.
Starting a few days before the World Tour level men’s TDU, Adelaide also hosts a four day, four stage women’s TDU. Whilst this event hasn’t gained the same top flight World Tour status as the men’s event, it is in itself becoming a key season opener for many of the top teams. This year’s race features top level teams from Trek-Segafredo, Mitchelton-Scott and the new CCC-Liv team.
As with any stage race there are multiple jerseys to be won at the Tour Down Under. The leader of the overall classification (GC) is awarded the Ochre jersey. Ochre is a colour long associated with Australia, representing as it does the colour of the South Australian outback. Up for grabs are also the blue Sprints or points jersey for the rider who finishes highest at designated sprints and stage finishes, white and navy blue polka dot King and Queen of the Mountains jersey for the best climber, plus a white jersey for the best young rider.
The Season ahead
Traditionally, season openers such as the TDU don’t tend to be a recognised as a sure fire indicator as to which rider is going to perform best during the bigger Grand Tours. What they do offer is the chance for lower tier team riders, the domestiques, to begin to show their form and begin to prove their worthiness to be included in the squad that will be sent to the big races. And as has been proven, it’s a race that even specialist sprinters can have a go at being a GC contender.
What also makes the TDU so exciting is it makes the perfect arena for teams to finally reveal and test brand new bikes, components and kit in the heat of a proper race. Although most World Tour teams have already revealed their often completely redesigned clothing and colours, it can be a chance for the keen eyed amongst us to spot the very latest kit. There could even be a few prototype parts that might still be under wraps to get the scoop on.
This year’s race will see Dimension Data taking the plunge to an all disc-braked bike choice, racing on 2019 BMC Teammachines. Expect to see Trek Segafredo reveal a few choice changes to their Madone and Emonda race bikes, key of which is the switch to SRAM’s wireless eTAP groupset after years running Shimano Dura Ace.
Peter Sagan’s Bora Hansgrohe team will no doubt have a few stand out bits of kit courtesy of key sponsor Specialized to look out for too, we should see him on the new Specialized Allez Sprint – the first time in a long time we’ll see an aluminium bike racing at the top level against carbon machines.