Jan 15, 2012 – All-rounders are tipped to prevail over the sprint specialists when the Tour Down Under clicks into gear Tuesday, with course changes set to help riders who can both climb and finish fast.
The six-stage event is the first of 28 races on the International Cycling Union (UCI) elite WorldTour series, and with rankings points for riders and teams on offer, organisers believe they have one of the best fields in years.
Despite missing Tour de France star and reigning world champion Mark Cavendish, sprint rivals Alessandro Petacchi, Andre Greipel and three-time world champion Oscar Freire should ensure thrilling finishes to each stage.
But whether an all-rounder or a pure sprinter dominates remains to be seen. In past editions sprinters have often taken an early overall lead and – thanks to bonus seconds on offer to the first three stage finishers – beaten the all-rounders to the winner’s ochre jersey.
But last year Australian Cameron Meyer turned the tables, offering hope to the all-rounders.
He triumphed over sprinter Matt Goss having got into a breakaway on stage four, when a lack of cooperation among the chasing bunch allowed him to take the stage win and the race lead.
This time round, organisers say course changes – an extra lap has been added to the finishing circuit on stage two and stage five will now finish at the summit of Old Willunga Hill – will make life harder for the sprinters.
“The extra lap added on the stage to Stirling and the hilltop finish at Willunga should be a real factor,” said race organiser Mike Turtur. “I think an all-rounder will win it.”
Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky is among the strongest candidates for victory – as are fellow Tour de France stage winners Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain and new Australian champion Simon Gerrans.
But Boasson Hagen, who climbs well and is usually just off the pace set by the sprint specialists, is taking nothing for granted and warned Sunday that the adapted Willunga finish introduces new challenges.
“But it’s not a steep climb so there could be a fairly big group riding to the top,” he said.
While his main aim this season is to finish well in both the Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders cobbled classics, Boasson Hagen wants a winning start to 2012.
“If I can get on the podium and get a stage this week, I’ll be really happy,” he added.
Key to overall victory for the sprinters this week will be starting strongly and staying in contention on the climbs to Old Willunga Hill – the only real difficulty of the week.
Meyer, now racing with GreenEdge alongside Goss, is expected to support Gerrans’ bid for a second triumph six years after his maiden win in 2006. And he warned that rivals must come prepared.
“We have a strong and versatile team here and the course suits us,” said Meyer. “The first four stages are going to throw up a few surprises and stage four is going to be a lot harder than people expect.”