No longer is the Santos Tour Down Under seen as a Koala-cuddling, glorified summer training camp attended by a concoction of domestic aspirants looking to make a name for themselves in front of a small handful of European teams. Since its inception into the WorldTour in 2008 (where a win is equal on points to a victory in Paris-Roubaix or fifth place in the Tour de France), teams have seen great value in posting a good result in Adelaide, as nowadays WorldTour points are crucial to teams’ ongoing participation in the world’s biggest races. The race brings in $42 million per year to the local South Australian economy whilst it was estimated 32,000 people made the trip to Adelaide specifically for the 2013 edition. Bicycling Australia previews the 2014 edition and speaks to Race Director Mike Turtur about how it differs from editions past.
The 16th edition of the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest bike race sees subtle changes to a route in which organisers hope will attract a balance of sprinters and genuine GC contenders. The courses for both the People’s Choice Classic and Stage 6 circuit race have changed and make up two opportunities for the outright sprinters to start their season with a win. The traditional Old Willunga Hill finish and hilly stage to Stirling remain mostly unchanged while Stage 1 in the Barossa Valley and Stage 3 into Campbelltown both finish within 12km of a King of the Mountains climb.
“In years gone by we were predominantly a sprinter’s race. However when we joined the WorldTour we understood that it was ok to have a race that’s suited to sprinters only, but if we were going to attract other types of riders to the event we needed to look at the course. With the inclusion of the hilltop finish at Willunga and Corkscrew Road in Montacute, along with this year having the Menglers Hill climb coming 14km from the finish of Stage 1, it opens up opportunities for the all-rounders to be successful. There are also days for the sprinters including Stage 4 to Victor Harbour, Stage 6 around Adelaide and I believe Stage 2 to Stirling. I believe we’ve got the balance right,” said Turtur.
The 2014 route is also more spectator friendly than in editions past, with all but one stage finishing within 20km of its start. Five of the seven races also include a circuit of some sort where spectators can see the riders pass multiple times. It’s also of huge benefit to visiting teams for transport to and from the stages to be kept to a minimum.
“We’re trying to create a package that’s attractive to everyone, including spectators and the teams. Talking with riders and team managers, the feedback that I get is that minimising transfers to and from the stages is critically important – especially to the European teams making the trip over to Adelaide,” Turtur notes. “We are very fortunate with the terrain whereby within 10km from the CBD we are in the country.”
People’s Choice Classic
Race organisers have changed the circuit for the traditional stand-alone opening criterium around the streets of Adelaide. The race had traditionally been held around Rymill Park in East Adelaide, however it’s scenic new location along the River Torrens in North Adelaide should still see a sprinter prevail during the 25 laps of this 2km circuit.
“We decided that if we were going to change the Stage 6 circuit (due to the cricket), we thought we’d also look at changing the People’s Choice Classic to have a fresh start. The new circuit is partially part of the old Stage 6 circuit but we have introduced a new section on Victoria Drive where the finish line will be. The race is in a beautiful setting with plenty of vantage points for spectators and will provide a great opening to the week.”
Stage 1: Nuriootpa to Angaston (135km)
Stage 1 takes place entirely in the Barossa Valley and makes three circuits visiting beautiful towns such as Greenock, Tanunda and Bethany before the decisive climb of Menglers Hill just before the finish in Angaston. The stage will be a fantastic opportunity for spectators to view the race multiple times in one of Australia’s most beautiful wine regions.
“There’s a bit of nostalgia in Stage 1 because back in our first Tour in 1999 we started the Barossa stage in Nuriootpa. Instead of leaving the Barossa Valley we are going to stay the whole day there, which will be fantastic for the people of the Barossa who have been very good to the race over the years. We have used the tricky little uphill finish into Angaston before, but having the Menglers Hill climb just 14km from the finish is the critical factor today. It could well be that the GC is already hotly contested on day 1.”
Stage 2: Prospect to Stirling (150km)
A traditionally decisive stage, the race will finish with just two hilly circuits around Stirling rather than the five we saw last year. According to Turtur, this may open the final up more to the sprinters than the stage traditionally has in the past. Watch out for Orica-GreenEDGE’s own Michael Matthews who won this stage in 2001 as a neo-pro and came second into Stirling on the same stage in 2012.
“Today we head to a traditionally popular location in Stirling via the northern part of Adelaide and Adelaide Hills. Stirling has produced a spectacular finishing circuit for us in the past and what the fewer finishing circuits will do, I believe, is create a day for the sprinters. Although a difficult circuit, we’ve seen in previous years where we’ve done less than three circuits that the sprinters such as Greipel and Goss have survived and been able to contest for the win”
Stage 3: Norwood to Campbelltown (145km)
Stage 3 starts and finishes in the eastern suburbs of Adelaide, however the bulk of the stage is raced through the rolling Adelaide hills and scenic countryside towns such as Chain of Ponds and Cudlee Creek. The final should favour the all-rounders though with the summit of the 2.5km, 9% Corkscrew Road coming very near to the finish in Campbelltown.
“There’s more nostalgia on Stage 3, many people of my vintage will know the Paracombe circuit very well. The National Road Championships were held around here in the late 1970s and we will do one lap of this circuit early in the race. The race will then circuit out past the Barossa Valley through Williamstown and Springton before tackling the now famous Corkscrew Road climb just 7km before the finish into Campbelltown. The similar finish worked really well for the race in 2013 and is very much a decisive stage for the all-rounders. If a small break or solo rider gets 20 seconds by the top of the steep climb, it’s all downhill to the finish and will be very difficult to bring any escapees back.”
Stage 4: Unley to Victor Harbour (148.5km)
The traditional stage to the Fleurieu Peninsula returns in 2014 and again should suit the sprinters. Of the four times the race has finished on the Peninsula since its WorldTour inception, a bunch sprint has been the result each time with German Andre Greipel taking the win on two occasions. Don’t discount heavy winds in this part of the state either, which could cause splits in the peloton.
“Coinciding with the Bupa Challenge where members of the public have the opportunity the ride the full stage, Stage 4 starts in Unley and finishes in Victor Harbour after a few years away from the south coast town. Another popular location for the spectators and although a technical finish with a few roundabouts and turns, should be a day for the sprinters.”
Stage 5: McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill (151.5km)
The ‘Willunga stage’ remains unchanged for 2014 and will again be the catalyst for final attacks by those seeking to wear the ochre jersey into Adelaide on Australia Day. This will be the third year of a summit finish on Old Willunga Hill and should again provide huge crowds and a Tour-de-France-like atmosphere on the rise up to the finish line. Simon Gerrans won the stage last year and was pipped for the win by Alejandro Valverde in 2012, while Cadel Evans could also be a contender in what could be the 36-year-old’s last appearance in the Tour Down Under. We should remember too that Willunga has traditionally been a breeding ground for future talent, with a 22-year-old Alberto Contador taking victory ahead of teammate Luis Leon Sanchez on the stage here in 2005.
“The hilltop finish has worked so well for us with massive crowds and a full carnival atmosphere around the circuit. The last two years we have finished on Old Willunga Hill has given us a great stage each year. Of course Simon Gerrans winning on Australia Day in 2013 and Gerrans as well the year before going head to head with Valverde right to the line. We could again see the race decided on the final climb up Willunga.”
Stage 6: Adelaide Street Circuit (95km)
The final stage of the race has been moved from its traditional home around North Adelaide due the race coinciding with the One Day International cricket match between Australia and England at the Adelaide Oval. Like previous years, Stage 6 should again be a race for the sprinters and unlike last year’s circuit, there are no KOM points on offer.
“We’re using a new circuit in 2014 and have never used the circuit in its entirety before. Having come west along Flinders Street and gone down King William Street and past the Tour Village, the riders go back east along Flinders Street and finish on Bartels Road, which prior to this year was part of the People’s Choice Classic circuit. It’s a fantastically fast circuit through the city and should be a day for the sprinters. The race will obviously coincide with the cricket at the Adelaide Oval along with the Australia Day carnival and parade in Adelaide which will provide an amazing atmosphere in the city all day.”
Ochre Leader’s Jersey
Awarded to the winner of the General Classification, the rider with the overall quickest aggregate time. Time bonuses are also awarded to the top three place-getters at the end of each stage (10, six and four seconds respectively) and also at the intermediate sprints (three, two and one seconds respectively). As has been the case in the past few years, the final ochre jersey will likely go to an all-rounder who can mix it with the best climbers on Old Willunga Hill but also be competitive in small bunch finishes where bonus seconds will be vital.
King of the Mountains (KOM) Jersey
Awarded to the rider who accumulates the most points over the race’s seven classified KOM climbs. Climbs are split between Category 2 (of which there are three) where the first four riders over the line gain points, and the more difficult Category 1 (four during the race) where the first six riders over the top receive points. Old Willunga Hill is classified as Category 1 and as the riders will ascend it twice within 23km, it will be a decisive day for this classification. However the jersey should favour opportunists who will look to occupy breakaways and maximise points before the decisive Willunga stage.
Awarded to the rider who has accumulated the most sprint points during the race. Points are allocated to the Top 10 at each stage finish (with the winner receiving 15 points) and also during Intermediate Sprints along the course for the first three riders (with the winner receiving five points). There are 13 intermediate sprint points during the tour with two on every stage except Stage 6 (where there are three). Usually this jersey is awarded to the most successful sprinter in the race, however Briton Geraint Thomas won the classification in 2013 by one point over Andre Greipel after consistently finishing towards the front of the race, even on the tougher stages.
Young Rider Jersey
Awarded to the rider aged under 25 who is the highest placed on the General Classification standings. Similar to the Ochre jersey, however only the younger riders are eligible.
Most Competitive Rider Jersey
Decided upon by a panel of judges and awarded after each stage to the rider who is deemed to have attacked, animated, or been the most aggressive rider throughout the course of the stage. A final winner is then decided upon when the race is over and a jersey presented at the final presentation in Adelaide.
Winning Team Jersey
Awarded to the most consistent team in the race. A team’s top three riders on each stage are recorded and added together. The team with the lowest aggregate time at the end of the race is awarded the prize.
As the biggest and only WorldTour race on the Australian calendar, the Aussie contingent and especially Orica-GreenEDGE will particularly look for results at the early season race. Since the introduction of the summit finish on Old Willunga Hill in 2012, the race for the Ochre jersey has really opened up to the all-rounders and classics specialists. Simon Gerrans has finished in the top two on Old Willunga in the past two years and should again sporting good form as GreenEDGE’s likely man for the overall victory. Teammate Michael Matthews should also be competitive in the small bunch finishes that look likely on the stages to Angaston and Campbelltown having come off fantastic end of season form at the Vuelta where he won two stages. Matt Goss will also be looking to again reach the heights of his stellar 2011 season after a solid off-season.
Arguably the majority of the media attention however will be on Cadel Evans who returns to the race for the first time since 2010. “Cadel has a great history with the race having ridden it eight times and winning the young riders classification back in 1999 and the King of the Mountains jersey multiple times also,” noted Turtur. “Cadel really honoured the race and the fans to come here wearing the rainbow jersey in 2011, and had we finished on top of Willunga that year he would have won that race. I think the 2014 course really suits Cadel with the climbs hard enough and long enough to really do some damage.”
With that in mind, the overseas contingent of classics riders will again be looking to spoil the Australian’s party. Riders such as Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert have previously found a perfect balance can be made in Adelaide. That between a race that builds form over low racing kilometres yet rolling hills in a warm January climate, whilst also granting the opportunity for teams to pick up valuable WorldTour points early in the season. With a route that continues to be subtly modified to suit the riders, teams and spectators, the organisers continue to strike the right balance between a nuanced route that attracts some of the world’s best riders to battle it out across some of Australia’s most beautiful countryside.