The 2014 UCI WorldTour kicks off tomorrow (Tuesday) with the 16th edition of the Tour Down Under, the traditional curtain-raiser which sees the peloton rise from its winter slumber. Here’s a quick preview of what to expect.
- The Tour Down Under is run over six stages, starting on Tuesday 21st January and finishing with a city circuit race in Adelaide on Sunday 26th.
- The race is largely sprinter-friendly, although stages one and three feature punchy climbs near the finish which may prove selective.
- Stage five, which finishes at the top of the second ascent of Old Willunga Hill (3.5km, 7%-plus average) is likely to determine the overall winner.
- If the race is close – and it usually is – time bonuses should ensure an exciting last stage, as GC contenders mix it with the sprinters.
- Editor’s note: There were concerns that stage one might be postponed due to the risk of bush fires. However, race organisers confirmed earlier today that the stage will proceed as planned.
- All 18 WorldTour teams will take part, plus local squads Drapac and UniSA-Australia. Each team has seven riders.
- Unique among top-level races, the overall leader wears an ochre jersey.
- Eight of the 15 previous winners of the race are Australian.
- Stuart O’Grady, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) have each won the race twice. Both Greipel and Gerrans are participating this year.
- Greipel has a record 14 stage wins, including three last year.
- The 2013 edition was won by Blanco’s Tom-Jelte Slagter, who now races for Garmin-Sharp. He’s not here this year.
- The Drapac team includes brothers Bernard and Wesley Sulzberger.
Who to watch
Form is difficult to predict so early in the season. Some riders use this race to build form for the spring while others will already be near their peak in the hope of getting some eye-catching results under their belts early on.
With Mark Cavendish in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis, expect German powerhouses Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) to lay down some early markers in the sprints, although they may still be some way short of top form. Kittel has already drawn first blood, overhauling Greipel to win Sunday’s warm-up People’s Choice Classic, a mini-circuit race run over just 50km.
Despite Cav’s absence, Omega Pharma-Quick Step boast a formidable triple sprint threat. 2013 Tour de France stage winner Matteo Trentin is joined by top lead-out man Mark Renshaw and young Brit Andrew Fenn.
Home hopes will rest on BMC veteran Cadel Evans, Sky’s likely Giro leader Richie Porte and Orica-GreenEDGE’s Gerrans for the GC. In the sprints Renshaw and Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff should also feature.
Other big names include Frank Schleck (Trek) and Robert Gesink (Belkin). But watch out also for OPQS’ Jan Bakelants, a stage winner and yellow jersey winner at the 2013 Tour de France whose characteristics are well suited to the parcours. Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler would also have been expected to liven up proceedings, but he’s out with a collarbone injury.
Finally, perennial fan favourites Jens Voigt (Trek) and Bernhard Eisel (Sky) will also take the start.
January 21st: Stage 1 – Nuriootpa to Angaston, 135km
January 22nd: Stage 2 – Prospect to Stirling, 150km
January 23rd: Stage 3 – Norwood to Campbelltown, 145km
January 24th: Stage 4 – Unley to Victor Harbor, 148.5km
January 25th: Stage 5 – McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, 151.5km
January 26th: Stage 6 – Adelaide city circuit, 85.5km (18 laps of 4.75km)
Daily live coverage and highlights will be shown by Sky Sports in the UK. For other coverage check cyclingfans.com.
Link: Official website