A mixture of sprinters’ stages, hillier treks, city centre racing and an uphill finish at Willunga are all packed into six days of challenging riding. Factor in some highly motivated home side teams and riders, fit and in form from racing through the Australian summer, and it all helps keep the pace high and the foreign UCI WorldTour squads on their toes.
As a way to hit the ground running for the 2014 season, in fact, the Santos Tour Down Under cannot be matched. A 50 kilometre circuit race on Sunday January 19, the People’s Choice Classic, acts as a curtain-raiser before the stage racing itself gets under way on Tuesday January 21st, with a 135 kilometre trek from Nuriootpa to Angaston.
The chances of a bunch sprint, though, are small, given a first category climb, Mengler’s Hill, just eleven kilometres from the finish, as well as a slight rise on the last run-in seems certain to break up the pack.
Stage two’s 150 run from Prospect to Stirling is goes through rolling terrain which has lots of potential for ambushes, whilst stage three once again could see the pack disintegrate on a first category climb the Corkscrew that comes with seven kilometres to go and is followed by a fast downhill all the way to the finish at Campbeltown.
The most decisive stage, as always, will almost certainly be the ascent of Willunga Hill on Saturday after 151.5 kilometres, the race’s longest day in the saddle.
The Tour Down Under’s only summit finish and with gradients touching ten percent in places, riders will have to tackle Willunga Hill twice and the leader at the top is all but certain to be the outright winner too. Sunday January 26th then completes the racing, with a flat, circuit-based 95 kilometre ride through the streets of Adelaide.
In total, the riders in the Santos Tour Down Under peloton will have to complete 875 kilometres of racing.
And of them, which can be expected to make their mark so early? For the sprints, Germany’s André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) will be the benchmark for all the fastmen, given he has won the race twice outright and holds the current record for Santos Tour Down Under stage wins – 14.
However, compatriot Marcel Kittel (Team Giant-Shimano) raised his game enormously in 2013 and will be sure to give him a run for his money.
A fair proportion of local hopes for overall victory, meanwhile, will be pinned on three riders. the recently crowned Australian national road champion, Simon Gerrans (ORICA GreenEDGE) , Richie Porte (Team Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing). Gerrans, like Greipel, is also a two-time outright victor and heads Australia’s only UCI WorldTour squad, whilst Porte’s recent podium finish in the Australian national road race also indicates rising form. Evans (BMC Racing), a former Tour de France winner who took his first Tour Down Under stage way back in 2002, can also never be ruled out.
All in all, an appropriately star-studded field for the first UCI WorldTour event of 2014.