Summer’s past is a distant memory in these dark January months, yet summer’s future remains beyond reach. Despair not, however, if you want to catch sight of some proper road bike racing in sunny climes. January 17th sees the first UCI world Tour event of the season as the professional peloton roll out of Adelaide for the Tour Down Under.
It gives us all a chance to see the new teams in their new kit and on their new bikes. While the week will be a bit of a tester for some to see how those legs are fairing after a few months off, there’s sure to be some hotly contested racing, particularly among the Australians - it’s been won by an Aussie 11 times in the last 18 years since it began in 1999. Holding World Tour status since 2005 this race attracts some of the hottest talent on the planet including World Champion Peter Sagan and defending TDU winner, Simon Gerrans.
There are a few quirks – the leaders jersey is ‘ochre’ to reflect the colour of the Australian earth and the King of the Mountains features blue polka dots. The sprint classification jersey is red while green is for the most combative, although they’ve stayed with traditional white for best young rider.
Quirkiest of all however is the honour bestowed upon the winner of the Obscure Pro award. This is a local tradition where fans treat one unknown rider as a star, mobbing him at hotels and painting his name on the road. The rider must be a non English-speaking domestique who typically acts as water carrier for a starrier teammate .
The first beneficiary was Arthur Vichot from Francaise des Jeux back in 2010. He arrived in Adelaide to be greeted by T-shirts and road surfaces bearing his name. Rather bewildered to begin with, he was apparently rather chuffed when he realised what was going on.
So early in the season it’s difficult to predict who the strongest riders will be. Complicating matters further is the fact that many of the teams will be getting used to new personnel and teammates.
Any out and out climbers will struggle on a parcours that usually results in a sprint finish on most stages. It is lumpy however, and this could suit the all round talents of Sagan who has the rare ability of being able to both climb and sprint.
He’ll have to put up with a strong fight from three Aussies racing for BMC: 2015 winner Rohan Dennis and 2017 National Champ Miles Scotson will be looking to deliver team leader Richie Porte to the top spot on the podium. Porte will be keen to, not only win his home race, but to assert his dominance within BMC as he holds bold Tour de France ambitions. Watch out for him on the Queen stage on Day 5 when they will be climbing Willunga Hill, a stage he has won for three consecutive years. For us Brits there’s a chance to cheer on Geraint Thomas. This could well be a race that suits him.
There should be some exciting sprint finishes with Caleb Ewan the Aussie pocket rocket who has shown an appetite for home wins. Stage 1, 3,4 and the final day on a 90km Adelaide street circuit could see him feasting. But other sprinters will be licking their lips in anticipation: Ben Swift will be hungry to make an impression with his new team, UAE Abu Dhabi, not to mention Tyler Farrar and Mark Renshaw of Dimension Data who will want to tuck in given that Mark Cavendish is not even at the table.
So kick the winter blues, light up a barbie, chuck on a few snags and crack open a tinny. Bask in some southern hemisphere sunshine by following the Tour Down Under because it's been too long since we've seen some proper racing: the season has begun!