Many tours begin with a time trial around a fixed course on aerodynamic bikes, but this year the Santos Tour Down Under is putting the men to the test with a 5.5km sprint around the River Torrens in road bikes.
Former world time trial champion Rohan Dennis must be a favourite, not just because he’s one of the world’s fastest on two wheels but also because he’s local and the crowd will be cheering him on.
Dennis will be looking to get his Team Jumbo–Visma a big time advantage because the rest of the five stages are anyone’s to grab.
Race director Stuart O’Grady (who won the first ever tour) has stirred the pot this year for the return of the Santos Tour Down Under and taken out the infamous climb up Old Willunga Hill that often decided the winner on the penultimate day.
This year it’s more than likely the general classification will change hands and teams daily, for a thrilling and deciding finish at the top of Mount Lofty on Sunday.
Besides the route changes, the sheer calibre of riders starting the season in Adelaide will make it tough to pick winners.
There are three former TDU champions in the mix this year.
The 2005 winner Luis Léon Sanchez (39) will line up for his 20th season of racing while Dennis (32), who won in 2015, will be looking stamp his mark early. And Daryl Impey (38), the only rider to win successive TDU titles (2018 and 2019), will certainly ensure the younger riders are kept guessing.
But all their eyes, as well as the 140-strong peloton, will be on young gun Luke Plapp.
He’s on tremendous form, having just soloed away to an impressive win at the Australian National Championships. As an Olympic track rider, the Victorian trains in Adelaide and knows the roads intimately.
Local knowledge is a huge help on the relatively short routes – ranging from 112km to 154km – but there is no discounting the sheer experience of the three Grand Tour champions also lining up today.
Chris Froome, Simon Yates, Geraint Thomas cannot be ignored.
The trio of Brits return to the TDU with a collection of Grand Tour victories to their credit and a wealth of experience but may not be in form this early in the season, not having competed like the Aussies did a few weeks ago at Nationals.
That leaves Aussie Simon Clarke, who had COVID last week, and his other Australian counterparts Michael Matthews, Chris Harper and Lucas Hamilton to be in the hunt for GC or stage wins.
Another is Jay Vine, who is making his WorldTour race debut with UAE Team Emirates, is a two-time eCycling world champion and last year he proved that he can turn his form from the home trainer into a win at last year’s Vuelta a España.
Jay is not to be confused with Jai Hindley, Australia’s second Grand Tour champion who won the Giro d’Italia in 2022 and is another favourite to make things interesting in the peloton.
No matter who wins each of the five stages, the new routes most likely mean the race will be won in a final sprint up Mount Lofty, which sounds tough (and it is) but isn’t the gradient that separated the sprinters from the climbers on Old Willunga.
Get to the top of Lofty on Sunday to take in the view of the latest Santos Tour Down Under champion against the backdrop of the Adelaide Plains and Gulf St Vincent.Jump to next article