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On Top Down Under: 2015 Santos Tour Down Under Preview

New teams. New riders. 
New sponsors. Oh yeah, 
and koalas. Lots of koalas. 
It’s hard to believe another year of cycling has passed, but January is just around the corner which means it’s time for Australian cycling fans to start getting excited about the six-stage 2015 Santos Tour Down Under.

Dozens of world 
cycling’s biggest names will once again assemble at the Hilton in the heart of the Adelaide CBD, each bristling with the hope and energy only a new season can bring. Joining them will be the annual assortment of fresh faces eager to impress their new teams who, in turn, are keen to claim an early season WorldTour scalp or two and the UCI points that come with it.
 
Whether it be from the WorldTour teams themselves or the ever-aggressive Uni-SA composite squad, the Santos Tour Down Under has a habit of unearthing future stars and the 16th Edition is likely to be no different. One rider who won’t be racing for the first time in a long time, however, is Jens Voigt who hung up his professional cleats following his much-publicised hour record attempt last September. Mind you, given it’s the European winter don’t be surprised to still see the ever-popular German down under in some capacity. Cuddling a kangaroo, perhaps? Or even key-noting the traditional Saturday night legends dinner?
 
On and off the road Australia’s lone UCI WorldTour race continues to get bigger every year, thanks in no small part to astute and pragmatic planning headed by race boss Mike Tutur. The highly centralised nature of the racing whereby riders, support staff and fans can spend the entire week in the same Adelaide hotel bed makes for a noticeably more relaxed tour than many of the logistically-draining stage races throughout the season. Given it’s also the first big event of the year, the stages are kept intentionally short and, at worst, punchy. As Turtur told Bicycling Australia earlier in 2014, adding an extra 50km to 150km stage routes at such an early point in the season wouldn’t achieve very much other than keep plenty of riders away. 
 
Looking at the 2015 parcours, the race will re-visit plenty of familiar towns and regions, highlighted by the Saturday’s now iconic Queen Stage taking in McLaren Vale, Snapper Point and two ascents of Willunga Hill. There’s an all new finish in Paracombe on Stage Three as well, which is sure to have teams perusing their race books a little more closely than usual.
 
After two GC wins already in their three-year history Orica-GreenEDGE will again be looking to start their year in winning style. The fearless youngsters from Uni-SA will again try to be in every break. German legend Andre Greipel will again be charging home in the sprints. But it won’t be easy in 2015; for as the Santos Tour Down Under continues to mature, the depth in the race continues to grow, and the victories continue to get harder. Whoever wins will deserve it.
 
The Stats
Teams: 20
Riders: 140
Race Director: Mike Turtur
Race Owner: South Australia Government
UCI Status: WorldTour
Stages: 6
Total distance: 812.3 km
Categorised climbs: 8
Longest stage: Stage 5 (151.5 km) 
 
The Records
Most appearances: Stuart O’Grady (13)
Most Ochre Jerseys: Simon Gerrans (3), Stuart O’Grady (2), Andre Greipel (2)
Most Sprint Jerseys: Robbie McEwan (3), Allan Davis (2), Andre Greipel (2)
Most KOM Jerseys: Cadel Evans (3)
Most stage wins: Andre Greipel (16)
Overall spectators: 782,393 (2011)
Event-specific spectators: 40,016 (2013)
 
The Winners
One year ago: Simon Gerrans, Orica-GreenEDGE (2014)
Five years ago: Andre Greipel, HTC-Columbia (2010)
Ten years ago: Luis Leon Sanchez, Liberty Seguros (2005)
Fifteen years ago: Gilles Maignan, AG2R (2000)
Inaugural race: Stuart O’Grady, Crédit Agricole (1999)
 
The GC Contenders
Forecasting Ochre Jersey favourites for a 2015 race when the 2014 season hasn’t even finished is asking for trouble. A lot can change in the offseason. But through a series of wild assumptions and second guesses, here goes nothing.
 
Simon Gerrans. A perennial early-season threat and three-time overall winner of the race, Gerrans is ideally suited to the short punchy stages in and around Adelaide. The crowd favourite is likely to again feature at the sharp end of the 2015 race particularly if he shows good form at the National Championships in Ballarat; it’s been a reliable barometer in recent seasons. Against him, however, is history. No rider has ever won back-to-back Tour Down Under titles. Then again since joining Orica-GreenEDGE Gerrans has had a habit of making his own history.
 
Richie Porte. Hard to know if Porte will return in 2015. Whilst his impressive win atop a heaving Willunga Hill was one of last year’s undoubted highlights, what ensued for Porte in 2014 was far from what he or Team Sky would have hoped for. Given the disappointments of the past 12 months, you get the feeling they may try a different approach in 2015. But if the Tasmanian pocket rocket does prepare to strike in January, he’s sure to be a factor. Can he win? Maybe. Although by his own admission the South Australian climbs are just a bit too short for his liking.
 
Alejandro Valverde & Philippe Gilbert. Wherever Gerrans performs well, so can riders like Valverde and Gilbert. Oozing class and experience, both have raced here before with Valverde in particular showing a real liking for the style of racing on offer. If they come to race, watch out.
 
Rohan Dennis. The first WorldTour race in his first full season with BMC, there seems little doubt Dennis, 24, will be out to impress in front of his home fans – assuming he gets a start. Depending on BMC’s plans he may even find himself as team leader. Dennis has history with this race having performed superbly in 2012, finishing 5th on GC. For him it’s just a shame there isn’t a time trial.
 
Rafal Majka. A January stage race may be too early in the season for the sensation of 2014. But depending on the racing program Bjarne Riis conjures for both he and Alberto Contador in 2015, we may just see the young Polish rider in Adelaide which would be a huge coup for both fans and organisers. Not dissimilar to Porte you suspect the climbs in and around Adelaide may be too short and gentle for him to put time into the field, but it will be fun watching him try.
 
Geraint Thomas. The Welshman is a regular visitor to Adelaide and should again be lining up in January. If Richie Porte fails to start for Team Sky, and possibly even if he does, Thomas has the all-round ability on these type of stages to make his presence felt on GC.
 
The Roughies
The Yates brothers. As good as he is,  even Gerrans can’t go on forever. It would be a surprise if Orica-GreenEDGE doesn’t send at least one of the fast developing Yates twins – Sean and Adam – along to provide a glimpse of the team’s future. Both British siblings delivered strong moments for Gerry Ryan’s men in their debut seasons in 2014 and, on paper, would appear to have the credentials to do well in Adelaide.
 
Ben Hermans. The BMC rider finished 5th on GC in 2013 and rode strongly last year in support of Cadel Evans. With an obvious liking for the terrain and conditions it would be a surprise not to see him here, and racing well.
 
Edvald Boasson-Hagen. The hugely talented Norwegian is yet to realise his full potential at the highest level and will, no doubt, be feeling liberated after leaving Team Sky at the end of 2014. He’ll also be determined to make an impression for his new team, MTN-Qhubeka, assuming they get an invitation. But will he have the support he needs?
 
Warren Barguil. Quite possibly the best of an exciting new breed of French GC hopefuls, Barguil’s place may ultimately hinge on the plans of team leader Marcel Kittel. If the German comes to Australia as he did last year, he’ll likely bring his lead-out train meaning there may be no place or opportunity for Barguil. He could head to Argentina instead, or even wait until the European Spring.
 
The Sprinters
Barring injury, you can pretty much  bank on Andre Greipel being here in 2015.
 
He’s such a regular visitor surely dual-citizenship will soon be on offer? But which of the world’s other speed men will join him? Marcel Kittel had such a great time in 2014 it’s hard not seeing him returning, but if he doesn’t you can assume his place will go to one of his almost-as-quick team-mates, John Degenkolb or perhaps Slovenian Luka Mezgec. After his race-leading exploits at the Giro and Vuelta, Orica-GreenEDGE may choose to keep Michael Matthews in cotton wool and instead blood Caleb Ewan who had a tough time at the 2014 Tour Down Under when riding for the Uni-SA team, hindered by injuries from a crash on the Corkscrew stage early in the week. Expect a few lesser known sprinters to get their chance too as their team leaders opt to remain closer to Europe. After an off-season change of teams Matt Goss may even be on the start line with MTN-Qhubeka.
 
The Teams
 
AG2R LA MONDIALE
ASTANA PRO TEAM
BMC RACING TEAM
CANNONDALE-GARMIN PRO CYCLING
DRAPAC PROFESSIONAL CYCLING
ETIXX – QUICK STEP
FDJ. Fr
IAM CYCLING
KATUSHA
LAMPRE-MERIDA
LOTTO NL JUMBO
LOTTO-SOUDAL
MOVISTAR TEAM
ORICA GREENEDGE
TEAM SKY
TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN
TEAM EUROPCAR
TINKOFF-SAXO
TREK FACTORY RACING
UNISA AUSTRALIA
 
The Stages
People’s Choice Classic – Rymill Park, Adelaide
Sunday 18 January, 7pm
51 km
As has become tradition the annual People’s Choice Classic kicks things off on Sunday evening, this year in Adelaide’s East End. A helter skelter closed circuit road race, it’s the first chance for fans to get up close to their favourite cyclists. With 30 scorching laps of the 1.7km loop expect plenty of nerves – in the 2014 event a serious crash saw CJ Sutton (fractured wrist) and Giovanni Visconti (broken leg) forced to withdraw from the Santos Tour Down Under. Marcel Kittel won in a tight finish from countryman Andre Greipel. Caleb Ewan, riding for Uni-SA, was third.
 
Stage 1 – Tanunda to Campbelltown
Tuesday 20 January, 11am
132.6 km
It’s a Barossa Valley start for the race in 2015 with the township of Tanunda, more commonly used as a finish in recent years, taking pride of place on the first morning. While the peloton will initially meander through some of Australia’s most famous vineyards, it’s certain to be no picnic for the riders.
The short but brutal Checker Hill awaits at the 104km mark with gradients of up to 19% followed by a blistering descent towards the now familiar finish of Campelltown in suburban Adelaide.
 
Stage 2 – Unley to Stirling
Wednesday 21 January, 11am
150.5 km
Today’s stage is unlikely to decide the overall  winner. But with varied terrain and a testing uphill finish it may just deliver a new rider into the Ochre Jersey and see the chances of other hopefuls fade. From the start line in Unley, just south of Adelaide, the riders will make their way through Upper Sturt and Basket Range followed by two sets of loops, first at Hahndorf and then Mylor, before embarking on an uphill push to the line in the historic township of Stirling.
 
Stage 3 – Norwood to Paracombe
Thursday 22 January, 11am
143.2km
By his own admission Mike Turtur can only dream of being able to finish a stage on The Parade in the thriving inner-city Adelaide suburb of Norwood. But while logistics make that impossible he can certainly start one there under the protection of race neutral. The bustling start will be contrasted by the small town of Paracombe, whose population of under 500 people will be hosting its first ever stage finish, set amidst the picturesque Adelaide Hills’ apple orchards and vineyards.
 
Stage 4 – Glenelg to Mount Barker 
(BUPA Challenge)
Friday 23 January, 11am
144.5 km
The beachfront at Glenelg is well known to Adelaide cyclists, largely because it boasts one of the few long stretches of flat road in the region. But there are still plenty of lumps to be negotiated today as the race heads south to the day’s only KOM at Sellick’s Hill before looping back to the east and then north. Not to mention the potential for cross winds. As has become tradition the pros will be preceded today by thousands of amateur riders participating in the 2015 Bupa Challenge Tour. As a result there’s sure to be a lot of tired bodies and a great atmosphere at the finish line in Mount Barker, just 33km from the Adelaide CBD. In 2014 the UCI President, Brian Cookson, rode the equivalent BUPA stage to Victor Harbour.
 
Stage 5 – McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill
Saturday 24 January, 11am
151.5 km
The undisputed Queen Stage is back taking riders on exactly the same course as 2014 – which is just as well given Mike Turtur might be lynched if he tried to change it. The start takes place in picturesque McLaren Vale, loved for its wineries and cellar doors, before heading south-west towards the notoriously exposed beachfront at Snapper Point and two ascents of the revered Willunga Hill. This stage has grown to be arguably the greatest day on the Australian road cycling calendar. In 2014 it was Tasmania’s Richie Porte who won the battle. But Simon Gerrans won the war, using a searing push in the final kilometre to distance Cadel Evans by just enough to reclaim the Ochre Jersey. He never gave it back.
 
Stage 6 – Adelaide City Street Circuit
Sunday 25 January, 1:15pm
90 km
In 2015 the final stage will be held on a new closed circuit route. But it will once again see riders pilot their carbon beasts through the heart of the Adelaide CBD. Expect big and excited crowds, hot weather and an early breakaway to be reeled in towards the closing stages by the powerful sprinters’ teams. The other variable to watch for is the potential impact of time bonuses. If the GC battle is close, as it often is nowadays, the leader’s team will need to remain vigilant to the very end.
 
 
 
 
 

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After the euphoria of victory in Paris, Evans looks genuinely relaxed in the airport gate lounge, a lifelong, inspirational task achieved. It's a legacy he leaves for young Australian riders for ever.

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