Tag Archives: Tour Down Under

New season set to begin in searing heat Down Under

It’s hard to believe that here we are on the verge of another season on the road for cycling’s finest. While I’m down in my basement punching out 30 to 45 minute sessions on my turbo in the hopes of generating some kind of base fitness, the best in the World are ready and set to go racing, starting with the Tour Down Under this weekend.

It hardly seems like anytime since the last season ended and yet here we are, about to go again. That’s the way of it in the modern day of sport however. With money to be made there is no time to sit around wasting months of an off season when you can run out the old season on late and drag them back for a new season early. Look at Football, it barely stops — certainly not in a World Cup year. Likewise the Formula One season now finishes in late November and starts up again with winter testing in February.

Australia are in the thick of their summer right now and so it’s understandable that they’d have this race now. Currently the country is enjoying one of its hottest summers on record, highlighted by the conditions at the Australian Open tennis tournament taking place at the moment. Temperatures have soared so high that water bottles have melted, some players have collapsed, and the rest left to complain about it.

I don’t expect the same from the cyclists. They had equally daunting temperatures at last years Tour of California. All they will do is tame the pace a little. Coupled with it being a very early season race and those temperatures, I wouldn’t expect record setting average speeds. Still, the racing will be competitive when it matters and while plenty are there to use it as a race to ride themselves into shape, others are there to win it. This is a World Tour race after all; the prize money is good and the points valuable. 100 points for the winner … no different than the Paris-Nice or Tour de Suisse, for example, or the Monument Classics for that matter.

Besides Australia recently had their National Championships and so a number of the local riders — Simon Gerrans, Richie Porte, Rohan Dennis and Cadel Evans — will be in decent shape and looking to make their mark on home turf. It was Tom-Jelte Slagter who won it last year and Gerrans the year before, so don’t let the time and conditions deter your viewing, you can be sure of some competitive racing starting Saturday.

As for who will win? Well, pick a name. Predicting winners is hard enough when you have an idea of the form riders are in, never mind when it’s the first race of the year and you have no clue as to who is feeling good and who is targeting the event for competition or intense training. But for the sake of fun, I should pick someone, so why not Simon Gerrans to win back the title he lost last year?

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The WorldTour Down Under: The 2012 pro racing season is upon us

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