The 2013 UCI WorldTour kicks off on Tuesday with its traditional curtain-raiser, the 15th edition of the Tour Down Under. This year’s race boasts arguably its strongest ever line-up – including world champion Philippe Gilbert – as the professional peloton seeks to shake off the winter rust and prepare for a long season ahead.
What kind of race is it?
The six-day event always has something of a start-of-term feel to it, with the majority of top stage race riders absent. It has traditionally been a sprinters’ paradise, primarily comprising flat stages with some relatively benign climbs. However, this year’s parcours – like 2012’s – looks less straightforward.
The roll call of previous winners features identifiable sprint names such as Andre Greipel, Stuart O’Grady and Allan Davis, although puncheur Simon Gerrans benefitted from the summit finish on Old Willunga Hill to claim overall victory last year. As this is the first race of the season for most of the riders, form is almost impossible to read, which can lead to some surprising names on the podium. Aussie riders are always keen to impress in their home race.
The most recent winners of the race are:
2008: Andre Greipel (High Road)
2009: Allan Davis (Quick Step)
2010: Andre Greipel (HTC-Columbia)
2011: Cameron Meyer (Garmin-Cervelo)
2012: Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE)
What happened last year?
The race was decided on the penultimate queen stage, where Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) was the only man who could hold the wheel of stage winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the summit finish of Old Willunga Hill. The pair ended up level on time but the Aussie claimed the overall on count-back after successfully negotiating the final day. That concluding stage was won by Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol), who had also dominated the sprints on stages one and three.
A breakaway win by William Clarke (UniSA-Australia) on the rolling second stage ultimately made no difference to the final GC, as did Oscar Freire‘s victory on stage four, which came after many of the other sprinters had been dropped on a small late climb.
1. Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) 20:46:12
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) same time
3. Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:08
4. Michael Rogers (Sky) +0:14
5. Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Australia) s/t
6. Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:16
7. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) +0:18
8. Javier Moreno (Movistar) +0:23
9. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) +0:29
10. Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) +0:32
This year’s race
This year’s parcours is broadly similar to last year’s. It again features Old Willunga Hill at the climax of the penultimate stage, which should again be decisive and eliminate the sprinters from contention for the overall. The fast-twitch men could conceivably compete for the spoils on every other stage, although in reality only three – one, four and the concluding city circuit criterium – clearly favour them.
The second stage is one of two back-to-back days which could end in either a sprint or a breakaway victory, with the summit of the 3.7km Corkscrew Road climb coming 7km from the finish. The sprinters’ teams will struggle to contain a determined group of attackers on this difficult hill, with a downhill drag all the way from the summit also aiding a break’s prospects.
Stage three to Stirling features five lumpy laps to sap the sprinters’ legs and set up the prospect of a successful escape. None of the climbs are especially onerous, but their cumulative effect on legs which are not yet 100% race-hardened may tip the balance towards a small group sprint rather than a full bunch gallop.
Old Willunga Hill again provides the battleground for Saturday’s queen stage. The ascent is fairly steady over its 3km-plus length, averaging 7.5%. It should prove decisive again this year, although intermediate time bonuses on the short concluding city centre stage offer the possibility of a last-gasp change in the finishing order.
Who to watch
As usual, this year’s race is heavy on sprint talent, with a smattering of big-name stage racers who will be looking to ease their way gently into the season. The event will be graced by the rainbow jersey of Philippe Gilbert (BMC) as well as Andy Schleck (RadioShack), who will be looking to bounce back from a miserable 2012, and Giro podium finisher Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM).
Defending champion Simon Gerrans returns at the head of an Orica-GreenEDGE team which also includes sprinter Matt Goss and Adelaide local Stuart O’Grady, still evergreen at 39. Indeed, apart from Mark Cavendish (who is racing at the Tour de San Luis), Peter Sagan and Vuelta ace John Degenkolb, most of the sport’s top sprinters will take the start, although don’t expect many of them to be at top form yet. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) loves this race, having won the overall twice previously and also Sunday’s warm-up People’s Choice Classic. But he will face stiff competition from fellow German Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), Mark Renshaw (Blanco), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) and the Sky pair of Edvald Boasson Hagen and ladies’ favourite Bernhard Eisel, not to mention a host of others looking to break into the top echelon, such as Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Andrea Guardini (Astana), J J Rojas (Movistar) and Britain’s Andrew Fenn (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Other familiar faces will include the ever popular Jens Voigt (RadioShack) in what may well be his final season. Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) was the only man to finish all three Grand Tours in 2012. Oh, and there will be a Sagan on hand for Cannondale – not Peter but his older brother Juraj.
With this year’s parcours broadly similar to last year’s, look for a Classics-style puncheur to take the overall while the sprinters battle it out on the flat stages. It’s most likely too early in the season for the likes of Gilbert and Schleck, so don’t be surprised if Gerrans repeats his 2012 triumph.
January 22nd: Stage 1 – Prospect to Lobethal, 135km
January 23rd: Stage 2 – Mt Barker to Rostrevor, 116.5km
January 24th: Stage 3 – Unley to Stirling, 139km
January 25th: Stage 4 – Modbury to Tanunda, 126.5km
January 26th: Stage 5 – McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, 151.5km
January 27th: Stage 6 – Adelaide City Council Street Circuit, 90km
The Tour Down Under starts on Tuesday 22nd January and concludes on Sunday 27th. Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Sky Sports in the UK. For other live coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website