The 2016 WorldTour kicks off this week in South Australia at the Tour Down Under. The race has delivered several hotly contested GC battles over the past few years (the last two editions were decided by two seconds or less) and a mostly familiar parcours and list of contenders should set up more of the same this year.
This year’s TDU is returning to several “traditional” — insofar as that word can be used to describe a race that has been around for 20 years — Tour Down Under spots, but the opening day covers new ground in the form of a sprinter’s stage to the town of Lyndoch.
Stage 2 will take the peloton on undulating roads from Unley to Stirling, where a moderately uphill finish could see the GC stars fighting for bonus seconds. The finish at Stirling played a key role in Simon Gerrans’s 2014 victory; nabbing runner-up honors on the day earned him a few bonus seconds, which proved to be just enough for a one-second GC victory when all was said and done.
Stage 3 sees the return of Corkscrew Hill after its absence from the race in 2015. The short but tough climb is followed by a descent into the finish line, which should set up some exciting racing.
Stage 4 looks to be a day for the sprinters, though a few bumps near the finish line could make things interesting.
A double ascent of Old Willunga hill awaits the peloton on Stage 5. It’s only three kilometers in length, but an average gradient over 7% makes gaps inevitable. It’s the last chance for the GC hopefuls to make their mark before a flat sixth and final stage in Adelaide.
The General Classification Contenders
Rohan Dennis took the surprise win last year in a tight battle against Richie Porte. This year, Porte joins Dennis at BMC, giving the red and black squad a formidable duo. It’s hard to say who will have the best shot this year—Porte always does well in this race even if he hasn’t won before, but he’s also going to be gunning for a Tour de France victory in 2016 and July is a long way away. Dennis seems more likely to have this race as a season target. In any case, both will be dangerous on home turf.
But three-time winner Simon Gerrans may be even more dangerous. He’s not the strongest pure climber on the startlist but the short, punchy stuff at the TDU is his bread and butter. He’s also an excellent finisher. If he’s in shape after a tough, injury-riddled 2015, Gerrans will be hard to beat, especially with the likes of Michael Albasini and Daryl Impey lending a hand.
Sky’s duo of Sergio Henao and Geraint Thomas packs a punch. Thomas was third overall in 2013, and is great on this sort of terrain. Henao doesn’t have much of a track record Down Under, but he’s an explosive climber who could surprise people in the fight for bonus seconds. As always, Sky can’t be overlooked.
Lampre-Merida also brings a nice one-two punch, with former podium finisher Diego Ulissi (third overall in 2014, when he also won a stage) and new signee Louis Meintjes. Ulissi has the perfect skillset to contend in this race, with an excellent burst of speed on the short uphill drags. Meintjes will be a fine alternative, perhaps on better form than many in attendance with the South African national championships around the corner.
Rubén Fernández was fifth in 2014 and leads a strong Movistar squad. He’s an exciting young talent with another year of experience under his belt and should be primed to take advantage of a rare chance to ride for himself at the WorldTour level. Katusha’s Rein Taaramae starred in several one-week races last year with Astana and will be keen to show off his talent for his new team. He’s smart racer who excels on a hilly parcours. Rafael Valls is another rider who will be looking to get his year with a new team (Lotto-Soudal) off to a good start.
Former winner Cam Meyer and his Dimension Data teammate Nathan Haas and climbing specialist Domenico Pozzovivo of Ag2r-La Mondiale are others to watch. So are Ryder Hesjedal, Julián Arredondo, Luis León Sánchez, Patrick Bevin, Jarlinson Pantano, Cyril Gautier, and Moreno Moser.
Australia’s Caleb Ewan will hope to thrill the home crowd on the flat stages, and I wouldn’t bet against him to pick up at least one stage for Orica-GreenEdge. His main rivals in the sprints will be Trek’s Giacomo Nizzolo, Cannondale’s Wouter Wippert, Movistar’s Juan Jose Lobato, and IAM’s underrated Matteo Pelucchi.
The always-aggressive Jack Bobridge warrants a special mention as a breakaway specialist worth keeping an eye on—now sporting a green and gold jersey after a brilliant solo ride at the Aussie National Championships last week, Bobridge will almost certainly be on the lookout for opportunities to get clear of the pack and do his own thing up the road, just as he did in 2015 when he took the opening stage of the race.
VeloHuman Top 10 GC Favorites
Winner: Simon Gerrans
Podium: Rohan Dennis, Richie Porte
Other Top Contenders: Diego Ulissi, Sergio Henao, Geraint Thomas, Rubén Fernández, Rein Taaramae, Rafael Valls, Julián Arredondo
Be sure to catch the latest Recon Ride for more pre-race thoughts on the 2016 Tour Down Under!