Cycling Weekly picks out the leading contenders in this year's Tour Down Under (January 20-25)
We rate the chances of the main contenders for the opening WorldTour event of the season.
Richie Porte, SkyOf all the talented Australian stage racers in the peloton, Richie Porte is the only one currently at the prime in his career. The Sky rider turns 30 at the end of the month and will feel that this is the year to finally fulfil his clear potential. Winning the Tour Down Under would be a great way to start, and victory in the Australian Time Trial Championships last week suggests he has the form to do so.
Cadel Evans, BMCCadel Evans may be retiring from the pro peloton, but the 37-year old is far from a washed-up old star no longer capable of competing. Last year he managed to win the Giro del Trentino and finish eighth at the Giro, as well second overall at the Tour Down Under. The ex-Tour winner and former World Champion will be determined to end his illustrious career on a high, and the romantic’s dream of winning his home race is a very real possibility.
Tom Dumoulin, Giant-Alpecin2015 looks set to be a big year from Dumoulin. The Dutchman demonstrated his impressive talent sporadically last year, particularly in the second half of the season when he finished third at the Eneco Tour and took bronze in the World Time Trial Championships. Although he would have benefited from a time trial, Dumoulin is quick enough on short climbs to be a serious contender for the overall.
Michael Rogers, Tinkoff-SaxoAnother of Australian cycling’s veterans, Rogers is still performing to a remarkably high standard with one Vuelta and two Tour stages last year. However, he hasn’t podiumed in the Tour Down Under since 2002, and the race may be too early in the season for him to be in top form. Team director Lars Michaelsen has managed expectations by claiming the aim is a top five finish.
Daryl Impey, Orica-GreenEdgeIn the absence of last year’s winner Simon Gerrans and star rider Michael Matthews, there isn’t an obvious leader for Orica-GreenEdge. South African Daryl Impey could be the best shout, having finished seventh last year and possessing a quick turn of pace both in sprints and on small climbs, although comments from sports director Matt White suggests that stage wins will be the goal rather than the overall. As an Australian outfit this race means a lot more to Orica than it does to the other WorldTour teams, so expect Impey and his teammates to already be in good form.
Geraint Thomas, SkyPorte may enter the race as Sky’s leader, but the parcours may suit the punchier Geraint Thomas better. The British rider typically starts the season very well, as was the case in 2013 when he won a stage, the points classification and finished second overall. Should he be placed ahead of Porte ahead of the crucial Willunga Hill stage, Thomas may take over leadership.
Rohan Dennis, BMCSecond overall at the Tour of California and fifth at the World Time Trial championships last year suggest that the 24-year old Dennis will be the future of Australian cycling. This year, however, he is likely to play second fiddle in BMC to Cadel Evans. The absence of a time trial, his specialist discipline, will also dent his chances of registering a high result in the overall.
Ones to Watch
Marcel Kittel, Giant-Alpecin
Big German Marcel Kittel looks likely to repeat last year’s win at the People’s Choice Classic, and after that is comfortably the strongest sprinter at the Tour Down Under in the absence of Andre Greipel. How much success he has will depend on how well his rusty early-season legs can drag his large frame over the hills that precede the flat finishes.
Heinrich Haussler, IAM Cycling
Classics specialist Haussler will be easy to spot in the peloton in his Australian National Championships jersey, which he earned winning the road race last week. That ride suggests he has the form to do well at the Tour Down Under, and the parcours balance of sprint finishes and small hills suits his characteristics perfectly.
Mark Renshaw, Etixx-QuickStep
The absence of leader Mark Cavendish could mean that star lead-out man Mark Renshaw gets a chance to ride for himself on home roads, although team leadership could be assigned to fellow sprinter Gianni Meersman. Regardless of which the team opts to work for, Etixx-QuickStep will challenge for stage wins in the bunch sprints.