The thought of competitive racing may feel like a distant speck on the horizon for those of us drudging through the British winter, but for the professional peloton the season is about to get started down in sunny Australia.
First up is the People’s Choice Classic on January 18, a short one-day race held in Adelaide that’s been running since 2006 and invariably ends in a bunch sprint, before the six-day Tour Down Under gets underway on January 20.
The Tour Down Under is generally seen as a race of beginnings – the beginning of the season and the 2015 WorldTour to name but two. But for former World Champion and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans this year’s edition will be an ending, with the 37-year old set retire from the professional peloton. He has enjoyed a remarkable career of unprecedented success for an Australian cyclist, and ought to receive a worthy send-off from the home crowds.
Evans leaves behind him an Australian cycling scene in rude health, most notably in the form of its ever improving WorldTour team Orica-GreenEdge. Sporting Director Matt White is yet to announce Orica’s roster but may send star name Michael Matthews; however, defending champion Simon Gerrans has been ruled out having broken his collarbone last month.
Confirmed to ride are youngsters Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Lawson Craddock (Giant-Alpecin), who hope to make an impression on home roads, while veterans Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) and Mark Renshaw (Etixx-QuickStep) all enter without showing any signs of abating. Richie Porte also rides, and will lead a strong looking Sky squad with support from the likes of Peter Kennaugh, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard.
Porte will fancy his chances of winning the overall, but will first take a back seat as sprinters contest the People’s Choice Classic. Lasting just 51km and with no notable obstacles in its Adelaide circuit, the classic is a gentle way for the riders to acclimatise themselves back into racing.
The first stage of the Tour Down Under is similarly flat, as the race heads north out of Adelaide in what will surely be another sprint finish. From here the race gets gradually more difficult, starting with an uphill finish in stage two likely to be too much for the pure sprinters, then a short, punchy hill-top finish in stage three that will draw the GC favourites to the front.
Things ought to calm down again as the race heads south of Adelaide for a flat stage four, but the following sees the riders face the crucial Willunga Hill. This climb is the most difficult on route and has proven to be the decisive point of the race in the past, and will be tackled first with around twenty kilometres to go and then again at the finish.
For the final stage the peloton returns to Adelaide for a circuit around the town and another inevitable bunch sprint, which ought not to cause any late drama in the GC.
Tour Down Under 2015: Stages
People’s Choice Classic, January 17, East End, Adelaide, 51km
Stage one, January 20, Tanunda to Campbelltown, 132.6km
Stage two, January 21, Unley to Stirling, 150.5km
Stage three, January 22, Norwood to Paracombe, 143.2km
Stage four, January 23, Glenelg to Mt Barker, 144.5km
Stage five, January 24, McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill, 151.5km
Stage six, January 25, King William Road, Adelaide, 90km
Tour Down Under 2015: Teams
Ag2r La Mondiale (France)
Astana Pro Team (Kazakhstan)
BMC Racing Team (USA)
IAM Cycling (Switzerland)
Team Katusha (Russia)
Team Lotto NL-Jumbo (Netherlands)
Team Sky (Great Britain)
Trek Factory Racing (USA)
Drapac Professional Cycling (Australia)
Tour Down Under 2015: TV coverage
The Tour Down Under will be aired live on Sky Sports One
Tour Down Under 2015: Recent winners
2014 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
2013 Tom-Jelte Slagter (Ned) Blanco
2012 Simon Gerrans (Aus) GreenEdge
2011 Cameron Meyer (Aus) Garmin-Cervelo
2010 Andre Greipel (Ger) HTC-Columbia
2009 Allan Davis (Aus) Quick Step
2008 Andre Greipel (Ger) High Road
2007 Martin Elmiger (Swi) Ag2r
2006 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Ag2r
2005 Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Liberty Seguros
Tour Down Under: Last Year’s top 10 (2014)
1. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge 19-57-35
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC at 1 secs
3. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida at 5 secs
4. Richie Porte (Aus) Sky at 10 secs
5. Nathan Haas (Aus) Garmin-Sharp at 27 secs
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin at 30 secs
7. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge at 34 secs
8. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky at 37 secs
9. Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Belisol
10. Egor Silin (Rus) Katusha at 47 secs