Southam blog: Stars at the Tour Down Under and race tactics

How the race could play out this week

I read the cycling press religiously at races. A lot of what is read or written can be quite generic. Two reasons being, firstly that there is not a lot to say pre-race – everyone wants to do well, let's be honest, and secondly because anyone with any sense wants to keep their cards close to their chest.

From what I've been reading here some of the more obvious stuff like peoples form and ambitions have been quite clear, but one of the more interesting themes I have picked up on in the press around the Tour Down Under is that the some people consider the field here is perhaps lacking in big stars, compared with the star-studded Tour de San Luis, in Argentina.

To be honest the point is debatable at best, Down Under is obviously a World Tour race, with those ever so valuable World Tour points, and still boasts Grand Tour contenders of the likes of Porte, Dennis and Thomas, not to mention probably the most exciting young sprinter in the world right now in Caleb Ewan.

Fortunately we've been able to put a team in both races this year for the first time, but being Australia's only World Tour race it is a no brainer for us that we put a great deal of focus into the Tour Down Under. The interesting thing about the quality of field conversation for me however is how the lack of big stars will affect the way that the race is run.

The reality is that in January big stars (see Tour de France contenders) can often be a way from their best form, but the influence that their presence has on a race does not diminish, however.

In a race with big stars the psychology of the rest of the field subtly changes. It is obvious who the contenders will be, and it is those riders that dictate how the race is run. Meaning that practically a lot of riders switch off to the possibility of winning, and instead either work for their leaders, or get ready to tow the line depending on how Vincenzo Nibali's team (for example) want the race to be run.

The opposite is then true of a race without the overbearing presence of big stars. All of a sudden you have a lot more riders all eyeing the possibility of winning a race, and as we all know in professional cycling there isn't a single race that doesn't count.

There are a host of professional bike riders that most people couldn't name or recognise if they were in an elevator with them, but there are very few bad professional bike riders (the odd one slips through, self-included) and almost any rider on his given day can be hard to beat.

So the interesting thing for me, while my colleague in San Luis works out how our team will take on the particular big guns there, will be to see just how exciting and potentially unpredictable a race the 2016 Tour Down Under could yet become. Oh, and if you don't believe me, watch Astana's three-up attack from the gun on lap one of last night's People Choice Classic. Interesting, indeed.

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