By Greg Johnson in Adelaide, Australia
Reigning Tour Down Under champion Martin Elmiger (Ag2r) is ready to defend his title at the 2008 event, but the Swiss rider has admitted it won't be an easy task. The South Australian race has had a boost in profile this year with it becoming the first event outside of European boarders to receive ProTour status.
"For sure it’s the first ProTour event - it’s important for the whole team, especially for me because last year I won," he said. "I feel good here. It will be hard the first stage, because nobody knows what’s happened [during the off season].
The Swiss rider emphasized how important it is for himself and his European counterparts to spend a decent block of training in Australia prior to the event due to the difference in temperatures. Elmiger has been training Down Under with his French ProTour squad for the past ten days and believed they are ready for this year’s race, which starts tomorrow.
"For sure it is hot, I was at home where it was minus 2° Celsius, I come here and it was plus 41 - so that's a big change," he explained. "A few hours a day here to train in these conditions and you feel okay."
Elmiger claimed last year’s race in a thrilling battle with Tasmanian Karl Menzies, which saw the Australian lose out to the Swiss rider by a single second. Elmiger’s title defence won't be easy, however, with some strong riders lining up in this year’s race - including new Australian Road Champion Matt Lloyd (Silence-Lotto).
"We trained well here, the whole team has been here for ten days, so we're in good shape and hopefully good enough to make some victories," the Ag2r leader added.