You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Tour Down Under comprised of just two riders considering Richie Porte and Caleb Ewan's shock and awe domination at the 2017 race. This year, the pair return with their ambitions undented but there is a host of riders vying for glory – from rival sprinters to potential GC prospects. Cyclingnews selects five hot-picks to watch during the race.
Name: André Greipel
Reason watch: At the ripe old age of 35 Greipel is the elder statesmen of the sprinters at this year's race but his tally of two overall wins, and a record-breaking 16 stage wins put him in a league of his own. That said, the German comes into the race looking to rediscover his best form. The 2017 campaign was a difficult season for Greipel for understandable personal reasons but the new year brings an opportunity for the Lotto man to show that he still has the legs to compete with the brigade of sprinters. It's contract year and there would be no better start to the campaign than for Greipel to notch up an early win. It certainly won't be easy. Caleb Ewan was unstoppable last year and with Mitchelton lacking a genuine GC contender this term, the home-team will be dedicated to their pocket-rocket sprinter. What Greipel may lack in power and finesse this early in the season, he more than makes up for in experience.
Name: Jay McCarthy
Reason to watch: The team may have been hit with an illness in the last week but it would take more than just a head cold to deter the 25-year-old, who has been third and fourth in the last two years and won a stage in 2016. Arguably Bora has the best team to challenge BMC and end the American team's recent dominance. In McCarthy they have a canny campaigner who can sprint from groups, climb and spot the right move. Peter Sagan, Daniel Oss, and Maciej Bodnar offer ample support, while Peter Sagan could win the overall if he truly wanted it. For McCarthy to win the overall, BMC would probably need to have an off-day or wear themselves out under the pressure of race-favourites, but if any one rider can at least push the likes of Richie Porte close it's probably McCarthy.
Name: Elia Viviani
Team: Quick-Step Floors
Reason to watch: In a flat track sprint against the best in the World Viviani would fall short but the Italian is still regarded as one of the most complete sprinters in the modern peloton. A move from Team Sky to Quick-Step Floors in the winter appears to have given the Italian a new lease of life and he has enjoyed the extra responsibility Patrick Lefevere has placed on him. In a recently recorded podcast interview [to be published Thursday] Viviani talks about his new team, and how he is not a like-for-like replacement of Marcel Kittel. That said, the Olympic Omnium champion enjoyed a stellar second half of the season in 2017 and will be looking to carry that confidence into his first outing for Quick-Step here in Adelaide. The sprint stages suit Ewan more and Greipel has the experience but don't count out Viviani. If there's a moment of hesitation or rustiness – it's January after all – he could well pounce.
Name: Diego Ulissi
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Reason to watch: If the Australian dominance of their home race is to end in 2018 then Ulissi could be the man the do it. The Italian has finished third, 11th and fifth in the three editions of the race he has taken part in and arrives in Adelaide in fine fettle. Rui Costa also makes the UAE squad but it is Ulissi who stands out given his previous outings at the race. He, of course, won a stage in 2014 and has eight top-five stage finishes to his name. On paper Porte and some of the other express climbers will have too much for him in Willunga Hill but if the race breaks up on stage 4 to Uraidla – as many predict it will – then Ulissi could be one of the main beneficiaries. UAE will not be expected to carry the responsibility of controlling the race but if they can support Ulissi before a late attack, the Italian could catch the likes of Porte and Dennis off-guard.
Name: Egan Arley Bernal
Team: Team Sky
Reason to watch: Without a clear GC candidate, Team Sky touchdown in Adelaide with one of the youngest teams on the startlist. Salvatore Puccio is one of just two riders above 24 but it's Bernal who stands out above all others in terms of race prospects. The Colombian was the jewel in the crown when it came to the team's off-season recruiting, and at just 20, many have already tipped him for the very top. It's only January, and this might be his first outing in Team Sky colours, but given his pedigree over a number of terrains, it wouldn't be a complete shock to see Bernal leave his mark. In 2010 a feisty Peter Sagan left his mark by jumping into breaks with Cadel Evans and Lance Armstrong. Eight years later it could be Bernal who announces himself to the Australian crowd.