Wout Poels will start his season leading Team Sky at the Tour Down Under next week, his first participation in the Australian WorldTour race that starts January 15 in Adelaide. Poels will lead a seven-rider roster that also includes Owain Doull, Kenny Elissonde, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Christian Knees, Luke Rowe and Dylan van Baarle.
Poels is already in Australia, training in Brisbane with teammates Van Baarle and Pavel Sivakov, according to Team Sky, and getting acclimated to the Southern Hemisphere summer.
"Normally we would arrive two days before a race, but of course with the time difference, plus the fact it's full summer over here, it made sense to come out here for two weeks before the race starts," the 31-year-old Dutchman said in an interview published on the team's website. "It's good, especially with the weather - it's important to acclimatise. Today it was 30, 32 degrees, and it's humid - so we're sweating a lot.
"I've never done the Tour Down Under, and I've always thought it's an interesting race to do," Poels said. "I started to think about it last year, spoke to Tim [Kerrison], and I think it's a nice goal to start the season with."
The trio will travel to Adelaide on Thursday to meet up with the Tour Down Under roster.
The 2019 parcours should suit Poels well. The peloton will tackle the Corkscrew climb on stage 4 from Unley to Campbelltown. The climb is longer and harder than Willunga Hill and comes near the finish of the stage, with only a 5.7km descent between the summit and the finish.
The Queen stage on the final day will see the peloton take on the climb of Willunga Hill twice in the final 25km, finishing the stage and overall race at the top of the climb.
"You're never too sure what to expect from the first race of the season, but I've been training well," Poels said. "The whole winter went to plan. Hopefully we can do something nice at TDU - that's the goal. We will see."
Poels and Team Sky will compete in the Cadel Evan Great Ocean Road Race on January 27, and then head back to Europe, where he is expected to take on the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico before aiming for success in the Ardennes Classics.
Poels won Team Sky's first-ever Monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2016, but he missed the Ardennes races in 2017 with a knee injury, and a broken collarbone in Paris-Nice in 2018 kept him from reaching top form before the 2018 Ardennes campaign. He only returned to action at Amstel Gold, where he dropped out before finishing 64th at Flèche Wallonne and 117th in Liège. He rebounded in time to help teammate Chris Froome win the Giro d'Italia and Geraint Thomas claim the Tour de France, then finished things off with a stage win at the Tour of Britain.
"I love racing the Ardennes, although it wasn't the easiest first block back after a broken collarbone last year," Poels said. "I always have a few key goals for the season. I'd like to really do well in the Ardennes Classics - that's important to me - but I always like to do well in all of the races I start.
"Of course I would like to get selected for the Tour again, to support the boys there, but I'll try to be good everywhere I start," he said. "People like to have one clear target, but I never look at it like that. New year, new season - I have to smash it everywhere."
Team Sky's Australian adventure begins January 13 with the People's Choice Classic criterium, followed by the WorldTour stage race from January 15-20.
Team Sky for the 2019 Tour Down Under: Owain Doull, Kenny Elissonde, Kristoffer Halvorsen, Christian Knees, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Dylan van Baarle