The Santos Tour Down Under has arrived in Adelaide for the 14th time and the fifth year as a UCI Pro Tour event.
Consisting of a prologue stage around the East End of vibrant Adelaide before a six stage race through different towns around South Australia, this race is synonymous with drawing in some of cycling’s biggest names throughout the event’s history.
The seven-time Tour De France yellow jersey winner Lance Armstrong, three-time Tour De France yellow jersey winner Alberto Contador and 2011 Tour de France yellow jersey winner Cadel Evans have all rode in the event.
Although they are not riding this installment of the race, there is no lack of big name professional riders racing in this year’s edition and most of the big name cyclists are sprinters.
Many of the best sprinters, climbers and all-rounders have decided not to bypass TDU because of London Olympics preparation, instead using the event as a base for the rest of the season which consists of the biggest races in the world and the road race and time-trial at the London Olympics.
Cycling aficionado will immediately think, without the ManX Missile, Mark Cavendish, is it really the best sprinters on show?
A matter of fact, it most certainly is.
To start with, a former dual Town Down Under winner and points classification winner of the 2009 Vuelta a España, the man known as Gorilla: Germany’s best sprinter Andre Greipel.
The bronze medalist at the World Championships in the road race held in Copenhagen last year, he is often described as the fastest man in the world over a straight line. Many teams will use their Domestiques (team riders) to act as flickers to ensure that he doesn’t have that straight line to the finish line. But Greipel is a formidable competitor and will always aspire to win at least the points classification.
Greipel is very dangerous on the flat stages and if he holds the ochre jersey or is near the leader, expect a possessed ‘gorilla’ to rampage through the streets of Adelaide for Lotto Belisol.
Then there is the cycling legend, three-time-world champion, Spain’s Oscar Freire who now rides for Russian team, Katusha.
He won the points championship in one of cycling’s greatest races, the Tour de France, back in 2008.
Freire is a dangerously nimble and is a feared cyclist who has proven himself on the biggest stages in professional cycling. An outsider to the sport would look at his diminutive frame and think he would not be that threatening, but this sprinter is respected by his rivals.
Freire has come under scrutiny in his time as a professional cyclist because, unlike many of his counterparts, he trains over a considerably shorter distance, sometimes as little as half the distance others would train.
But winning three World Championships, equaling the likes of fellow cycling legends Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen and ‘the cannibal’ Eddy Merckx, is no small feat and requires an astonishing level of endurance and power to achieve.
Freire, in my opinion would be dangerous in the opening stage of Prospect to Clare because of the fact there are no category climbs and only a very gradual rise of 400 metres over the 149km stage. He will be looking to establish a lead in the first stage because the hilly second stage and the Old Willunga Hill finish of the fifth stage should cost Freire some time.
Australian Matt Goss will be looking to better his runner-up finish from the Tour Down Under last year and being a key sprinter for the newly established Australian team GreenEdge, Matt will be hoping to send a message to the world of cycling for himself and his team.
Goss is a proven sprinter in Adelaide, having won the blue Points jersey last year, as well as a stage win in the Giro d’Italia which is one of the three biggest races in the world.
This Tasmanian born cyclist has had plenty of experience racing in Australian conditions and riding with Adelaide local Stuart O’Grady should all play into his advantage over many fellow riders.
Lampre-ISD is putting up the well known Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi, probably one of the most coveted sprinters in history with an impressive resume. He won the Green Jersey at the Tour De France in 2010, the Violet Jersey of the Giro d’Italia back in 2004 and the blue jersey of the Vuelta a España in 2005. Not to mention he is third in the all time classification of Most Grand Stage wins.
Petacchi has won an impressive six stages of the Tour de France, 20 stages of the Vuelta a España and 22 stages of the Giro d’Italia. He has won 48 stages- and to put that in context, the next rider of the Tour Down Under is Australia’s Robbie McEwen, who has won 24 stages in any of the three grand tours. Expect Alessandro to put in for a big tour.
At some point, I assume most people who watch the news or read a paper during either the Tour Down Under or Tour De France may probably have heard these names before.
However, there are world-class cyclists that many haven’t heard of competing in this installment, including the likes of Norway-born Sky Procycling team leader Edvald Boasson-Hagen. He is a multiple time winner of national time trial championship and should be a real contender on the prologue stage through Adelaide’s east end and the final stage around the streets of Adelaide.
BMC Racing (Cadel Evans team) has also put forward another of the great sprinters in cycling: Italian Alessandro Ballan who has won a road race world championship and a stage of the Vuelta a España.
Team UniSA has a good chance too, with local boy Rohan Dennis, who has just won the time trial at the National championships just 5 days before the start of the tour.
The 2012 Tour Down Under looks to be a standout year.
The Santos Tour Down Under starts on Sunday at 6:15pm with team presentations starting at 4:45pm at Rymill Park in Adelaide’s East end.