New world racing

A guide to the 2016 TDU

Unlike its antiquated stage-race siblings in France and Italy the Tour Down Under (TDU) is a very much a new world proposition. The race has never laid claim to being the hardest, the longest, or the toughest on the calendar, instead the South Australian race has become regarded as a palate-tantalising hors d’oeuvre for the cycling season.

With a spot on the racing calendar that comes just weeks into the new season, the TDU is a hard race to predict a winner for, something echoed by the fact that no rider has ever managed to defend their title. Local riders do enjoy a strong advantage however, with Australians having won ten of the seventeen editions.

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While the days of pros turning up with only one or two six-hour rides in their legs may be gone, the riders who’ve spent their off-season in the heat of the southern hemisphere are at a distinct advantage when the mercury rises. But much as the heat and conditions no doubt favour the home riders, so too does the style of racing.

With no time trial ever having appeared in the TDU and no major cols to climb, the overall winner has to be able to fight daily to stay in contention, and use any advantage they can find on the undulating course as it spider-webs it’s way around the state capital. The fast and intense racing suits punchy, never-say-die type riders such as triple winner Simon Gerrans, and Spanish superstar Alejandro Valverde.

The race route is traditionally a firm but fair test. The stages are never too long, and the climbs come close enough to the finish not to eliminate anyone but those Europeans guilty of the very laziest of off-seasons. For the 2016 edition however, the organisers have favoured the firmer rather than the fairer side of things.

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Stage 1 will be a sprinters’ delight into Lyndoch, but things will get more interesting as soon as Stage 2, which finishes in Stirling. History shows that Stirling is one of the hardest finishes in the race and this year the riders will tackle five laps of the undulating course, which should see the bunch greatly reduced by the finish.

If Stage 2 softens the contenders up, Stage 3 is likely to blow the race apart. The infamous ‘Corkscrew’ climb, which Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas conquered in 2013, returns so expect a mad dash along the valley road to determine who will fight it out up the twisting slopes before the scramble down to the finish in Campbelltown.

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The final showdown should of course come on the Willunga Hill stage, won by Richie Porte last year, which will once again tackle two ascents of the iconic climb before the summit finish. Porte will no doubt be looking to start his BMC career in style. Don’t be surprised however if the general classification remains close, and the classic Adelaide street circuit finale becomes a tense battle before the sprinters take over for the final bunch sprint up King William Street.

The Tour Down Under has a habit of going down to the wire, with a tougher than usual course on the cards and hungry riders looking to make a mark and bag some WorldTour points – this could be one of the hardest yet.

This article appeared in a printed edition of the Doppio – Rapha’s double-shot of road racing reportage –produced for the Tour Down Under. You can download the newspaper as a pdf here.