The Tour Down Under first became a WorldTour race in 2008 thanks to a previous tussle between the UCI and ASO, as the sport’s governing body tried to strengthen the WorldTour’s reach after the Tour de France organiser withdrew their races for a year.
Michael Albasini rode the 2008 Tour Down Under, finishing 12th overall behind Andre Greipel. He had not raced in South Australia since until this year but after being part of the dominant Orica-GreenEdge team that won the race with Simon Gerrans, he could clearly see the difference eight years on.
“It’s a huge difference!” he told Cyclingnews before the start of the conclusive stage of the eighteenth Santos Tour Down Under, clearly impressed by the size of the event and the enthusiasm of the crowds.
“Last time I came here, it was with Liquigas in 2008. They had to send a team because it was newly part of the ProTour but the management wasn’t very keen and they weren’t expecting any big results. Four years ago, I joined GreenEdge -I was a member of their very first team and there’s only a few of us left on the original roster but I had never raced with them in Australia.”
“It’s amazing how big the event has become with the Expo at the village in Adelaide, the crowd on Willunga Hill and so on. There are more people watching the race here than at many races in Europe. It has a lot to do with the existence of the Orica-GreenEdge team. When I took part in a training camp in Canberra at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport), I couldn’t realize how popular my Australian teammates were but here, it’s massive! Walking in the streets in Adelaide with Simon (Gerrans) is something! So many people recognize him. Cycling is now a real big sport in this part of the world.”
An Australian mentality
Albasini is now 35 and under contracted with GreenEdge until the end of 2017. He has become one of the team’s veterans, sharing his experience with talented young riders like Caleb Ewan, Esteban Chaves and Adam and Simon Yates. Despite being a professional since 2003, Albasini can still win races and took back-to-back stage wins at the Tour de Romandie in 2015. Albasini is from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland but feels at home at Orica-GreenEdge and his happy working for the team or targeting his own chances. Within the team he is nicknamed ‘Alba’.
“I’ve experienced a good atmosphere in the different teams I’ve raced for but the team spirit in this Australian team is unique. It’s a rare thing in what is still an individual sport,” he explained.
“There’s a lot of Australian mentality. At a race, we go for the strongest rider, not necessarily for the strongest Australian. Foreigners feel welcome at Orica-GreenEdge,” he explained.
“I mostly ride in support of other riders but I also have my occasions to win one or two races every year. When I have a job to do, I do it at 100%. I’m not selfish. Leaders need to have faith in their teammates. They know I’ll do the work I’m paid for.”