Dutchman Tom-Jelte Slagter and Canadian Michael Woods will be co-leaders for the Cannondale-Drapac team at the opening WorldTour race of the 2017 season: the Tour Down Under in Australia from January 17-22.
Slagter won the race overall in 2013 while riding for the Belkin team, and is joined by Woods as joint team leader in the six-stage event. Woods was one of the revelations of last year’s race, having placed fifth overall as a neo-pro in the squad.
“Last year I knew I was in really good form and Jonathan Vaughters [team manager] told me, ‘we’re going to make you the guy for Down Under’,” said Woods.
“I was super-stoked about that. In retrospect, that was crazy that JV just was like, “Dude I’m going to give this rookie a shot at a WorldTour race’ with no experience whatsoever, but it panned out awesome.
“I think when the guys saw my name as one of the leaders in the pre-race email they were probably thinking, ‘Um, this is a really bad idea’.”
Slagter and Woods will be joined by New Zealander Patrick Bevin, American Alex Howes, Australians Brendan Canty and Will Clarke, and Belgian Tom Van Asbroeck – with the latter three making their debut for the American team at the TDU.
The same team will also contest the one-day People’s Choice Classic on January 14 and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on January 29, all in Australia.
The Tour Down Under is the first WorldTour outing for British sports director Tom Southam, who joins Cannondale-Drapac from the Drapac Professional Cycling team for 2017.
“You could say it’s like being given the keys to your older brother’s sports car for the first time,” said Southam.
“First thing you want to do is drive it fast, you also need to be cautious that you don’t plough it in to a wall. But at least you know someone somewhere trusts you enough to leave you in charge.”
The Tour Down Under takes place in and around Adelaide, South Australia, from January 17-22. Last year’s edition was won for a fourth time by Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott). Along with Gerrans, leading challengers for the race include Richie Porte (BMC), Sergio Henao (Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Geraint Thomas (Sky).