Tour Down Under: A beginner's guide

All you need to know about Australia's WorldTour race

The Tour Down Under was first raced in 1999 and grew in stature until 2008 when it was awarded ProTour status, which raised it to the upper echelon of professional cycling. Lance Armstrong's appearances between 2009 and 2011 helped grow the race for both Australian and international audiences despite the American having little impact on the results sheets.

The only WorldTour race of the southern hemisphere has attracted world champions, Tour de France champions and launched the careers of young cyclists. Arguably, it's also the location of one of Alberto Contador's most important victories of his career with his 2005 stage win his first following brain surgery.

When and where is the Tour Down Under held?

The Tour Down Under is held in the middle of January in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. The race is run out of the Hilton Hotel with stage starts and finishes predominantly within 30 minutes of the city centre. A village is set up across the road from the Hilton where the teams are based for the week while the other half of the Victoria Square is given over to bicycle companies to show off their wares, hire out bicycles and host the cyclists for evening events, which all contributes to a festival atmosphere.

With the race held during the school holidays and several other sports and festivals taking place in January and February, the fans come out in force for the race as and Adelaide plays delightful host. The race itself is set up to be spectator friendly with a bicycle just about the best way to catch all the action.

What are the Tour Down Under stages like?

The Tour Down Under starts with a pre-race criterium around the city streets, which allows the riders an opportunity to stretch their legs and kick over their racing minds after the off-season. The first stage of the six stages often favours the sprinters but with undulating roads, hot summer weather touching 40 degrees and strong costal winds all factors to consider, a 125km stage of the Tour Down Under can often be tougher than the race book suggests.

With riders keen on grabbing their first UCI points of the season and impressing their new employers, there can be risky manoeuvres out on the road. As bonus seconds are often the difference between first and 21st on the opening stages, bonfications are an important factor on the stages and are like gold for the riders.

The Willunga Hill stage has proven to be a hit with both fans and riders and it is the queen stage of the race, offering the only real climbing test of the race and deciding the GC before the final day's city criterium.

Overall the stages dish up aggressive racing on short but often challenging parcours that offer a little for sprinters, puncheurs, climbers and breakaway specialists alike.

The Tour Down Under 2016 route map

Who can be contenders for the Tour Down Under?

The Tour Down Under parcours has changed over the last few years having initially favoured the sprinters with likes of Robbie McEwen and Allan Davis mopping up the stage wins but it's Andre Greipel who holds the stage-win record with 18. The inclusion of Old Willunga Hill has all but extinguished the hopes of the sprinters claiming an overall victory. Also a close race, bonus seconds for stage winners contribute to the overall standings.

While it's not the Tour de France, it's still a tough race, testament to the fact that no rider has won it back-to-back. Simon Gerrans has won the race three times and his characteristics as a rider capable of sprinting from a select group have helped the Australian claim multiple stage and overall victories.

What colours are the jerseys?

The leader of the Tour Down Under wears the ochre jersey in a nod to the colour of the Australian soil. A blue polka-dot jersey is awarded to the king of the mountains, a red jersey for the sprint classification, a white jersey for the best young rider, and green for the most combative. There is also a team classification award with the winning team awarded jerseys at the final podium ceremony.

What is unique about the Tour Down Under?

Australian fans are privileged to have the Tour Down Under with riders relaxed and happy to take 'selfies', cuddle koalas and joeys (baby kangaroos). You can get up close and personal with the riders. For a few years, the Adelaide locals created the support an obscure pro initiative with a non-English speaking domestique the only rider who could qualify. Arthur Vichot (FDJ), Angel Madrazo (Movistar) and Wouter Mol (Vacansoleil-DCM) were three lucky riders to be awarded the obscure pro award.

Some of the stages finish close to the Hilton and the quickest way back is to ride and beat the traffic. However, fans need to respect the riders with Campbell Flakemore's broken collarbone on the ride back to the Hilton, as fans found out, is the difference between the descending skills of a WorldTour rider and weekend warrior is miles apart.

As the first race on the calendar, fans have the opportunity to see new bikes and team kit in the flesh for the first team. While for the keen eyed, new tech such as SRAM's eTap can often be spotted in prototype form before featuring later in the season as a production model.

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