January in Adelaide means 2 things. It’s going to be hot, with the mercury passing 40 degrees more often than not, and the city of churches becomes the city of lycra as the Santos Tour Down Under rolls into town.
For most of the peloton, pushing themselves to the limit around the roads of South Australia in the dry January heat will be a stark contrast to the cool winter Christmas they would have enjoyed in Europe, and makes a tough introduction to a new season. Some riders chose to prepare by spending the break in Australia; BMC’s Martin Kohler for one chose to base himself in Adelaide and was amazed when he spent 5.5 hours in the saddle without a nature break due to the 45 degree heat he was met with. Koen de Kort of Team Argos-Shimano had perhaps the most traditional Australian preparation as he joined in for a hit of backyard cricket on Christmas Day in Melbourne. However the riders have chosen to prepare, the shock of the Australian sun in the middle of January as they return to competitive riding is going to be hard work.
With no other UCI World Tour races on the calendar until March, the collective glare of the cycling fraternity is focussed on little ol’ Adelaide. With the fallout from the ongoing battle between USADA and Lance Armstrong having dominated headlines throughout the off-season, the Tour Down Under gives us a chance to focus our attention back to the racing.
And the racing promises to be fantastic in the 2013 edition of the Tour Down Under. This year’s Tour boasts names like 2010 Tour de France winner Andy Schleck, current World Road Race Champion Philippe Gilbert, 2 time Tour Down Under overall winner André Greipel, and winner of the Tour Down Under Sprint Jersey, up and coming superstar Edvald Boasson Hagen.
The battle for the Jayco Sprint Jersey looks particularly interesting. With 10 stage victories in the Tour already to his name, André Griepel has shown he is always ready to sprint in Adelaide. The big German won’t have it all his own way, though, with Orica-GreenEdge’s explosive Matt Goss also vying for stage victories. In addition, the Tour boasts Garmin-Sharp’s Tyler Farrar returning from injury to compete here, Argos-Shimano’s highly rated German youngster Marcel Kittel, Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, Movistar’s sprinting star, Spaniard José Joaquín Rojas, and Mark Renshaw debuting for the newly formed Blanco Pro Cycling Team, ensuring there will be no shortage of contenders for the sprint finishes.
The climbers get a chance to show off more of their prowess than normal this year, with race organisers including a climb up the iconic Corkscrew Road. Only 2.4 kilometres in length with an average gradient of 9.4%, this climb is one of the toughest in the State and is sure to split the peloton. While it will be fascinating to see how Andy Schleck fares after an injury riddled 2012, I can’t wait to see how UniSA-Australia rider Damien Howson’s form, however, returning home to ride in his very first Tour Down Under. Howson holds the record for most of the well known climbs in Adelaide, including Corkscrew Road, and fresh from being crowned Australian Under 23 Time Trial Champion, he will no doubt be keen to show off his climbing legs on the world stage.
And what would a Tour Down Under be without everyone’s favourite pro cyclist, Jens Voigt from Radioshack Leopard Trek. In his sixth Tour, you can be sure that the Jens Army will be out in force in case it turns out 41 year old German really is human and age catches up with him, forcing him to retire from cycling in the near future.
This year’s race has plenty of chances for the fans to get up close and personal with the peloton too, an extra hill climb for those who like to watch grown men suffer slowly, a grass start in Modbury’s Civic Park, the People’s Choice Classic taking in 30 laps of the streets of Adelaide’s East End, a stage that visits the vineyards of the Barossa Valley and finishing it all off with 20 laps of a street circuit in the CBD. There’s no excuse not to grab yourself a cowbell and head out to watch some of the best cyclist’s in the world kick off the 2013 season.