The Tour Down Under is a triumph of marketing over substance. Has the season-opener been hyped into something it isn’t?

Words by Edward Pickering

The marketing hype behind the Tour Down Under almost had me believing it was going to be the best race ever. All the major sprinters were gathered together in one place for the first and last time before the Tour de France. Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel would go head to head for the first time since Greipel left HTC. Maybe Tyler Farrar would take advantage of the rivalry and beat them both.

Except it wasn’t the best race ever. It was OK. A nice little season-opener that I enjoyed watching, although I find the parcours a little unimaginative, and there are too many sprint finishes for an event that enjoys such a prominent place in the UCI’s hierarchy of races.

Before angry emails arrive from Australia, I’m not down on the Tour Down Under. It’s the first international road race of the year – we’ve had no racing since the Tour of Lombardy, and it’s a pleasure to see the new kits, racing under what is possibly the bluest sky in cycling. The local fans seem to love it, and show up in impressive numbers. Visually, it’s an excellent advert for the sport.

What it is not, however, is a bike race on any level approaching the Tour, or the Giro, or Paris-Nice, or the Eneco Tour.

Thanks to a combination of marketing and UCI politics, the race seems to have been elevated way beyond reality. The UCI have blessed the Tour Down Under by including it in the World Calendar. For winning it, ahead of a field largely enjoying breaking themselves into the season, Cameron Meyer gained 100 World Tour points. That’s what Jurgen Van den Broeck got for coming fifth in the Tour de France last year. It’s what Vincenzo Nibali got for coming third in the Giro d’Italia. Fabian Cancellara’s wins in Flanders and Roubaix last year, two of the athletic performances of the year, ahead of exceptionally competitive fields, got him 100 points apiece. I’d argue, and hope that anybody with a functioning set of critical faculties would agree, that Meyer’s ride in Australia was not the equal of any of these performances. Not by a long way.

Season-long rankings tend always to compare apples to oranges, and the World Tour would be no more than an amusing diversion if so much were not riding on the acquisition of points. The world championships selection criteria depend on them. Team car order in subsequent World Tour events is dictated by the individual standings – cars go in the order of participating riders’ rankings. (In 2010, Robbie McEwen found himself having to ride Flanders and Roubaix because his fourth place in the Tour Down Under had given him enough points to guarantee Katusha a place near the front of the convoy). And most importantly, they are an element in the so far unexplained UCI team rankings, which dictate who gets ProTeam licences.

Of course, with the focus on acquiring points in these events comes a move away from smaller races, which are going to struggle to survive.

By including the Tour Down Under in the World Tour, the UCI evidently hope that it will be perceived as a major race – that suits the narrative they are trying to impose on cycling, which is that it should be developing into an F1-style international travelling circus. And the race’s marketing department is extremely enthusiastic – that’s their job.

But both these groups have an interest in describing the Tour Down Under as a major race. My interest is in enjoying exciting, varied racing, with the top names competing. The Tour Down Under should be enjoyed for what it is – a nice warm-up to the season and a good place for riders to make a name for themselves. It’s not the Tour de France.

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  • Jack Zollo

    There has been a lot of talk regarding the Tour Down Under, both negative and positive, yet who is claiming it is more than it is? Okay the UCI is; but the points system for the Tour riders is far from perfect and far from truly determining the best rider of the season, so not allowing for the UCI to have say in the Tour Down Under’s judgment, a true critique of the season’s first race must be founded on what this race truly is and is not.
    The Tour Down Under is a sprinter’s dream. Even with two “ascents” over Wallunga Hill, the race is determined by finishing order and time bonuses. The race is for lesser riders to shine and stars to make brief cameos. The race has attracted big names in the recent past; Cadel Evans, Samual Sanchez last year, Mark Cavendish, Tyler Farrar this year. But all admit that the race is not for them.
    The Tour Down Under is not a grand tour or a Spring Classic by any means and any attempt to compare it to one is foolish at best.
    The TDU’s best attribute is its placement on the calendar. The racing fandom is tired of hearing of the past year’s doping scandals, rider transfers and who did and did not make Top Tier status; they want racing. The TDU gives them that and it gives them rooting interest because the big teams are there.
    The TDU must always be judged for what it is, vice what it is not. It is the prologue of the grand tour that is the season. We don’t see who will shine in April, May, July or September but we do see the beauty of the peloton emerge from its dormancy.

  • john rook

    The TdU is a glorified criterium series , nothing more , nothing less .

  • john rook

    The TdU isn’t a major stage race , in reality it’s a glorified criterium series which wouldn’t merit a decent field if it wasn’t for the UCI points that you quite rightly point out decide the team car positions for the real races .None of the teams would be bothered otherwise . To compare, in terms of points, the TdU with a classic like Roubaix is laughable and shows how desperate the UCI is to sell the World Tour dream to anyone with the money .

  • john rook

    The TdU is a collection of small time races bundled up into a so called stage race . It has nothing of the difficulty that is expected of a small Tour and the time bonuses deciding the overall just confirms it’s really a glorified citerium series . The Tour of Majorica is more selective but it’s not blown up into a World event that the TdU pretends to be . There would be no-one at this race if it wasn’t for the UCI points which decide team car position for the real races .

  • BK

    Valid comments but the World Tour concept needs races like this outside Europe and fans need the world tour to bring the teams and the riders that they see in July. The TDU needs tweeks though so that people take it seriously, it is its own worst enemy here and as it is a WT event it can’t hide behind the “first race of the season” crap defense that it always rolls out. Bite the bullet, make it an 8 day race starting on the Sunday, end the willunga stage on top of the hill, use serveral of the longer harder climbs around the place for mid stage/end of stage variation, and do a TT as a prologue or as the last stage. Then it will be taken seriously. On another note, the Tour of Britian needs to be WT, the 2010 addition was awesome.


    i totally agree.
    Although i travel to the race each year, aside from sunshine, blue skies & the start of a new season, the stages,
    morph into a continuous boring dribble of daily sprints.
    After 13 years,its time for a change….

    Another point that needs addressing,
    is that it is still not televised on mainstream Australian channels.