Dimension Data are riding the 2019 Tour Down Under with what is one of the strongest teams on paper. The seven-man squad includes 2013 winner Tom-Jelte Slagter, who was also third overall last year, Amstel Gold and Het Nieuwsblad winner Michael Valgren, and last year's Giro d'Italia phenomenon Ben O'Connor, who looks set for a very bright future.
Also on the team is Lars Bak, who finished third overall at the 2007 edition of the Tour Down Under. On the day he's celebrating his 39th birthday [Wednesday] – his seventh celebration of it at this race – the Dane talked to Cyclingnews about how he expects this year's race to unfold with his new team.
"With Tom, Michael and Ben here we have three cards to play for the GC, and for the stage wins, and we've actually also got Nic Dlamini, who won the mountains jersey last year, and Scott Davies, who was really good here last year, too," said Bak.
"We're here to make it a hard race and to do our best to take the win. If I see any opportunities, I'll grab them, but I'm mainly here to support them."
Compared to when Bak first rode the race and took third in 2007, the race has a very different feel to it, now attracting some of the world's best riders, and a number of climbers, in particular. This year's race is one of the most difficult in some years, with a tough day to Uraidla on stage 3, the return of the Corkscrew climb for stage 4, and a stage 6 finale that includes two ascents of Willunga Hill.
Bak has ridden the race six more times since 2007, and has seen the race develop first-hand.
"It's changed a lot. The parcours is definitely harder, and it's much better, and everybody comes here much better prepared," he said.
"You have these new circuits that we're going to do tomorrow [Thursday] for stage 3 to Uraidla, and I'm curious to see if the overall leader's team can control things there. It could be a really exciting stage if a small group gets away.
"Then you have Corkscrew [on stage 4], where you could have maybe 10 guys battling for the victory that day, so you have three stages where it's going to be full-on racing for the GC, and I think that's great. And with Willunga coming on the last stage, you keep the excitement until the last metres of the race. The Tour Down Under can still be won by only one or two seconds, or even on equal time sometimes, like last year, but now with Willunga on the last stage, it'll be the final battle."
Bak says he's feeling motivated having moved from Lotto Soudal to Dimension Data for 2019, where the newly-turned 39-year-old has been reunited with a number of former teammates from his HTC-Highroad days: Bernie Eisel, Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw and performance manager Rolf Aldag.
"Of course it's different, and quite different to Lotto – a Belgian team – where I was for seven years," he said. "This is a South African team, and they do things a little bit differently, but so far it's been really fun and exciting to be here, and so I'm looking forward to what's to come."