I just so happened to have opened up this site on the eve of the first WorldTour race of the season. It wasn’t planned that way but since the the pro season is about to kick-off, I might as well say a few words about it and indeed give you a prediction to put your hard earned cash on, but with no guarantees it’ll actually make you rich!
The thing about the first race of the season is it’s so hard to call as to what might happen. Cycling isn’t like many other sports; there isn’t a pre-season race schedule (that I’m aware of, unless you classify the pre-Tour Down Under criterium on Sunday as the pre-season in which case winner André Greipel is in fine form) and so unless you are a spy working for one of the teams trying to scout out what the others are up to, a fanatic bordering on the obsessive kind of fan that is probably close to getting some kind of restraining order against him, or someone who happened to be on a cycling holiday in Majorca — the pre-season cycling hot spot of earth — when a group wearing what looked like the Team Sky logo flashed past you up that climb at the sort of speed you came back down the climb, then you’ll have no clue as to the form of anyone.
Most will try and tell you they’re in good form, and one or two will inevitably look to peak early in order to take an early season scalp for their palmares, but make no mistake about it, all of them are aware that this is January and the Tour Down Under, which while good for points in the rankings, is more about finding that race pace form and looking towards the bigger events back in Europe in the spring.
Still because this is the first race of the year and because of the unpredictability of it all there’s a fair chance that this Tour Down Under could be full of entertaining racing. Some breaks may stick because there is still a lack of cohesiveness between teams, and some might find themselves slightly ahead of the fitness curve than others. Likewise, some big names will realise they’ve still work to do.
Expect the all new Australian outfit GreenEdge to be at the fore of almost everything as they look to expose their name. They’ll have someone in every break, they’ll hope to win at least one stage and would love to have a man feature in the general classification. It’ll be interesting to watch this team this coming season. I suspect they’ll be much like Team Sky in their first year, realising it isn’t as easy as it looks and that results don’t come cheap, but should otherwise be a good group despite a failure to entice Tour de France champion and native Australian Cadel Evans away from the mighty BMC team, and likewise with Mark Renshaw who elected to sign with Rabobank instead after Team Highroad folded at the end of 2011.
Talking of the BMC team, 2012 looks set to be the season of the ‘super team’. BMC have loaded up on talent, Quick Step and Omega Pharma have joined forces to create Omega Pharma – QuickStep, while Sky in signing Mark Cavendish and RadioShack with the Schleck’s will make the team classification category more intensely fought over than ever before. There are so many questions to be answered as to how it’ll work out for each of them, such as will Cadel Evans enjoy having the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd going for individual stage wins? And will the previously tested friendship of Bradley Wiggins and Cavendish be strained again when they share the same strip of road at the Tour in July with one man looking for a lead-out train and the other looking for men capable and fresh enough to aid him in the mountains?
None of these questions will be answered down in Australia of course, but no sooner will the pedals turn in anger than we’ll surely get some riders and their teams trying to lay down a marker for the season to come.
The six stage race itself is confined to South Australia and on the southern edge of that, hugging the coast. It is romantic to think of a race that would circumnavigate the country, but let’s face it, Australia is so big and any realistic tour that would hope to cover all the corners of it would either have to last several months and make the Tour de France look like your Sunday coffee run, or have the teams rack up so many air miles they could fly home for free. Saying that, maybe some year they ought to run a race right across the country — which would be 95 percent desert. A real test of attrition. The winner is the first man to get from the east coast of Australia to the west coast of Australia . . . on your marks, get set, GO! And we’ll even allow race radios.
This Tour though is still 803km over the course of six days. That’s 134km per day on average which is pretty remarkable for the middle of January. It’ll be hot summer weather down there, but for the riders taking part, this is still essentially their winter. The majority of the stages are flat which should lead towards bunch sprints or a medium size breakaway sticking, though stages two and five should make for an interesting finish. Both are uphill slogs to the line with stage five being most challenging and the belief is that if a sprinter wants the glory on the GC they’ll have to carry a good 30-40 seconds into that final climb up Willunga Hill (3km at 7.6 percent).
Look for the usual suspects to make a mark on the second stage, and in particular stage five. The likes of Greipel (two times winner), Edvald Boasson Hagen, Luis León Sánchez (another past winner) or indeed the returning bad-boy of the pro-peloton, and former stage winner at the TDU, Alejandro Valverde. The two stages would be ideally suited to Philippe Gilbert, but sadly he isn’t here so everyone else gets a chance. With no basis on which to back it up, I’ll say Boasson Hagen will win at least one stage and will walk away with the GC though Valverde will certainly run him close in looking to show he’s back with a bang.
TCS Tour Down Under GC pick: Edvald Boasson Hagen