Tour Down Under – what’s that all about then?
Sunday sees the first UCI World Tour race of the season, the Tour Down Under. You could consider it the Tour of Australia, except that it doesn’t really venture far from Adelaide. That’s fair though. Le Tour d’Australie would be pretty bloody time consuming, what with it being 5,000-and-odd kilometres from Perth to Cairns by road. Pretty flat too. You’d be looking at 20-odd sprint finishes at least.
Racing or training?
The Tour Down Under used to be seen as glorified training, but that’s changed in recent years. You still don’t get the Grand Tour winners duking it out, but some of the lesser names will be actively targeting this race for the points that are on offer. Perhaps more interestingly for this website, riders like Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard should already be getting into form for the spring classics, so we can get a bit of an idea of how they’re going.
Last year’s race was won by the impressively named Tom-Jelte Slagter. (Not sure whether to name your baby ‘Tom’ or ‘Jelte’, Mrs Slagter? Why not go for both?) However, if you’re looking for this year’s contenders, I’d start with the Aussies.
Genial munchkin, Simon Gerrans, became Australian national champion last week and is the kind of rider who could do well on a route which isn’t mountainous, but which features some decidely bobbly terrain. Temperamental munchkin, Cadel Evans, is riding too; as is occasionally abrasive munchkin, Richie Porte. Rohan Dennis is yet another Aussie who might be worth keeping an eye on, even though he’s a full-sized human.
Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel are there too, so the sprints will be proper, bratwurst-and-sauerkraut, Teutonic stuff. Sprinters are pretty much always on top of their game because they’re less reliant on cardiovascular fitness and so don’t peak in quite the same way as other riders.
If you’re looking for your Joaquim Rodriguezes, your Vincenzo Nibalis, your Mark Cavendishes and your Peter Sagans, you’ll be disappointed. You should instead look to the Tour of San Luis in Argentina where you’ll find one of each. The racing’s probably a little less earnest there though, even if the terrain’s tougher. Grand Tour riders are a long way from peak fitness at this time of year.