All eyes have understandably been on Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and time trial world champion Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) in the build-up to the Tour Down Under, but spare a thought for 2013 overall champion Tom Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data).
The Dutchman has been ticking over nicely during the winter and arrives in Australia with the aim of making it onto the overall podium. It’s not an unimaginable goal given that the 29-year-old finished third in last year’s race and returns with an arguably stronger team around him this year.
“I come here with high expectations again,” the modest all-rounder told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 1 in Adelaide.
“We come here with a very high level in the team, and we’ve got guys for both the stage and the GC. We’re going to try our very best.”
Slagter’s 2013 win was based on his consistency. He won in Stirling and then finished second on Willunga Hill behind Simon Gerrans to move into the leader’s jersey with one stage to go. This year’s race once again takes on Willunga Hill, but there are also testing finishes that include the Corkscrew climb on stage 4, and a constantly undulating stage that includes more than 3,000 meters of climbing on the road to Uraildla the day before on stage 3. This year’s race route has been designed with hope that the GC riders will have more terrain than just Willunga to decide the outcome of the race.
“I like this year’s course. It’s harder than the ones in recent years. I hope that it’s in my favour, because I’ve trained a lot for this race. Hopefully it pays off. It’s hard to talk about minimum expectations, but the goal is the podium and after that we’ll see.
“Willunga is going to be key, but then you’ve got stage 3, which will be hard, and then on stage 4 we have Corkscrew. We have to be ready for several days.”
There is an argument that suggests Slagter’s level of form and fitness hasn’t dropped since his 2013 triumph and that the level of competition has simply improved around him. In 2017, Slagter posted the same time on Willunga Hill as in 2013, when he finished second. The only difference was that in 2017 he was dropped on the climb and lost 23 seconds to the stage winner Porte.
“In the last 10 years the level has gone up and up and more teams have come here with a higher level and a GC guy," he said. "Last year I did more or less the same time on Willunga as when I won the race, but Richie was faster.”