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  • Writer's pictureSportFM

Tour returns Down Under

Tom McCracken

A two-year hiatus of summer without the Tour Down Under will come to an end, the race officially kicking off the Men's World Tour season tomorrow.


A race released from the shackles of covid sees a refreshing and more open, versatile Tour Down Under route.


Race Director and former professional Staurt O’Grady has ensured overall victory is possible to a variety of riders, designing a balanced race that flows from the city to centre, along the coast whilst finishing in the Adelaide hills.


A prologue (Short Time Trial) in the centre of Adeleide to start the race followed by multiple stages for the sprinters whilst stage 5 will host a final day showdown on the slopes of Mount Lofty.

An exciting finish where O’Grady hopes the race’s proximity to the city will attract a crowd whilst bringing new areas of Adelaide to the race. ‘The new final stage brings in a lot of excitement. It's a short stage, it's aggressive, it's more central to Adelaide, so I'm guessing more and more people will get there,’ he said.


The quality of the 2023 course has been recognised by the world's best cyclists, who have eagerly flooded into Adelaide for Tour Down Under’s return to the world tour calendar.


Amongst them is West Australian and fourth place finisher at the Tour de France Ben O'connor (AG2R-Citroen), believes this year's course provides new opportunities to win or lose the race.

‘The course it's going to be an interesting one, because with the prologue you're already going to have time gaps and if you lose 15 seconds you're already throwing away your chances’.


‘This new stage to Victor Harbour along a new route is really gonna throw a spanner in the works because it's going to be what I believe will be crosswinds and is going to be an extremely important day if not the most important day of the race,’ he said.


THE CONTENDERS?

Locals will have reason to cheer from the roadside as 28 Australians will feature from a 140 rider peloton, most noticeably Jai Hindley Australia's first ever Giro D'italia winner will be on the start line.


Eyes and expectations will be on Hindley, but also Australian road champion Lucas Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) who will do another year in the green and gold after a stunning victory at nationals last weekend in Ballarat.


Plapp won’t lack for support either, backed up by Tour de France winner Geriant Thomas , experienced British champion Ben Swift and young American prodigy Magnus Sheffield Whilst alongside O’Connor, fellow Perth local Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) return’s home in good form, ready to tackle a rejuvenated race but it’s Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech) who looms as a genuine threat after showing good form at nationals, resulting with second place.


Although Clarke will have to overcome covid after returning positive test last week Thursday.


Australian outfit Jayco-Alula will look to re-instigate their hometown dominance next week, and showed clear intent by flying in both team-leaders, all-rounder Michael Matthews and climbing specialist Simon Yates.


Matthews will be eager for success after a failed nationals campaign finishing third to Plapp, a missed opportunity but showed the form required to win at the Tour Down Under.

South Australian Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) will hope to surprise the field, after skipping this year's national championships.


The Adelaide locals will hope their man Dennis a previous time trial world champion can take the race by the throat on stage one and defend the lead till Mount Lofty Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) will undoubtedly be looking the same way, after a surprise victory on Tuesday claiming the national time trial title in Ballarat added a stamp of authority on his challenge for the overall.


It won't just be an aussie showdown, Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) alongside Gorka Izagirre (Movistar Team) and British rider Ethan Hayter (Ineos-Grenadiers) have the mould to navigate a reduced bunch sprint whilst tackling the climbs in the Adelaide hills.


Patrick Bevin from across the ditch is another strong contender and represents Team DSM’s best chances for the overall.


The Kiwi a strong time trialist who can sprint, will have strong support from Australian duo Matt Dinham and Christopher Hamilton.


THE FAST MEN?


Caleb Ewan makes his return to Adelaide this summer leading the Australian national team after his trade team Lotto-Destiny were relegated from the World tour calendar in a season to forget.


Ewan will look to see off challenges from compatriots Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Michael Matthews, whilst Bryan Coqaurd (Cofidis), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) both have the sprinting credentials to challenge.


Groves will have strong support despite leaving Australian outfit Jayco-Alula for Belgium Alpecin-Deceuninck, as Victorian Jensen Plowright makes his World tour debut alongside a matured Robbert Stannard.


The race begins tonight at 6:00pm.


IMAGES: FILE

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