A revamped WorldTour gets started Tuesday in Australia with the 2017 Tour Down Under. VeloHuman previews the action as a familiar collection of names gets set to battle for the first stage race crown of the season over six days of racing in and around Adelaide.
The Tour Down Under has concocted a winning formula over its relatively short history, finding solid climbs and urban circuits to liven up an event with no small need of proving itself worthy of attention during an unorthodox time for most pros to race bikes. This year’s route stays the course with several well-known TDU locations, while providing a few new challenges that certainly fit the mold.
The race kicks off with a sprinter’s day from Unley to Lyndoch before the GC battle heats up with a more climber-friendly second stage. A tricky one-two punch at the end of the stage will likely create gaps in Paracombe.
The lumpy circuit that closes out stage 3 in Victor Harbor may also spring attackers, though tougher sprinters might be able to hold on. The speedsters will have another chance in stage 4.
The iconic Willunga Hill once again serves as the Tour Down Under’s queen stage on the fifth day. A pair of ascents to the finish line could decide the race, if it’s not already decided. A sprinters’ stage 6 closes things out in Adelaide.
The General Classification Favorites
The Tour Down Under’s unusual calendar location make it a somewhat unique target that seems to attract the same few contenders every year. Many are Australian, but not all.
Simon Gerrans is the defending champion, an Australian flying the flag of an Australian team. Elite on hilly profiles and packing a strong finishing kick, the veteran has the perfect skillset for this race—but at age 36, he is harder to see as the clear favorite. Orica-Scott teammate Esteban Chaves is a pretty impressive alternative.
Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis give BMC quite a one-two punch as well. Porte seems to be the guy for a very strong squad, and he has quite a history in this race, with multiple wins atop Willunga Hill. Not as punchy as other contenders, he has never won the overall title, usually lacking just a few bonus seconds to reach the top step of the GC podium, but with Gerrans another year older, maybe this is his year. 2015 winner Dennis can’t be counted out either, despite a stated focus on learning this season.
Neither of Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao is Australian, but this is a race that has seen both do well. Henao in particular has plenty of punch to hunt bonus seconds. Third in 2016, he’s certainly an overall contender this year.
The best-known name on the startlist, reigning world champ Peter Sagan, certainly merits a mention in the GC discussion as well. He’s certainly capable of winning this race, but motivation is a big question. It seems unlikely that he’ll be in form to outclimb a rider like Porte or Chaves on these hills in January, but you never know with Sagan.
Cannondale-Drapac’s Michael Woods and Tom-Jelte Slagter make a fine duo with punchy legs. UAE Abu Dhabi’s Diego Ulissi has had success in this race in the past, with just the right toolset for the short steep finales that typically decide the event.
Nathan Haas, Robert Gesink, Jay McCarthy, Jesús Herrada, Wilco Kelderman, Jarlinson Pantano, Gianluca Brambilla, Rafael Valls, Luis León Sánchez, and Lachlan Morton are others to watch this week in Australia.
Caleb Ewan looks to be the class of the sprinting field along with the aforementioned Peter Sagan, whose goals remain to be seen. Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe teammate Sam Bennett may also feature in the fast finishes, along with Danny Van Poppel, Niccolo Bonifazio, Edward Theuns, Mark Renshaw, Ben Swift, and Nikias Arndt.
VeloHuman Top 10 Overall Favorites
Winner: Richie Porte
Podium: Simon Gerrans, Sergio Henao
Other Top Contenders: Geraint Thomas, Esteban Chaves, Rohan Dennis, Diego Ulissi, Michael Woods, Robert Gesink, Peter Sagan