Sky will have a chance to win the race overall of the Tour Down Under this year with Edvald Boasson Hagen. The race features its first uphill stage finish and stages suited to the Norwegian.
“The race suits an all-rounder,” said director Mike Turtur. “I think the hilltop in Willunga will be a real factor.”
Willunga Hill used to play a part in the stage to the city’s centre, but now it is the main attraction at the end of stage five on Saturday. Cadel Evans used it two years ago to attack in his rainbow jersey, but it remained too far from the finish line to make a difference. This year, Boasson Hagen and Sky could use it to their advantage.
“Willunga climb is going to change it a bit,” Boasson Hagen said. “It’s a hard climb, but not that steep. It could be a big group going up there, but if someone goes hard from the bottom, it will be hard to keep up with them. Sky will hopefully be up there.”
Boasson Hagen and Alex Dowsett arrived early on January 4 to join Sky’s Australians. They spent the time training under the summer sun before the week-long stage race. Geraint Thomas was the last Sky rider to arrive, joining the team a week ago.
He is in shape to fight for the overall with other pre-race favourites Luis León Sánchez (Rabobank), Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). The sprinters, such as André Greipel who won two years ago, will need to collect bonus seconds on the earlier stages.
“I’m an all-rounder, not a pure sprinter like Mark Cavendish. I’m more of a classics rider,” Boasson Hagen said. “The Sterling stage will be good for me, maybe another one. My main goal is not here, though. If I manage to get to the podium, that would be a really good start to the year. I’m here to start the season early to be ready for the classics.
“After the Tour Down Under, I will focus on the cobbled classics: Paris-Roubaix is my main goal, the Tour of Flanders as well. I’ll return to the Tour de France, hoping for a stage win, but the main goals are stages with Mark Cavendish and the GC with Bradley Wiggins.”
The Tour Down Under starts on Tuesday with a 149-kilometre stage to Prospect. The Willunga stage is on January 4 and the race finishes in Adelaide on next Sunday. Today, the 133 riders will take part in a pre-race criterium.