Round one of the UCI ProTour, the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under, was presented today in Adelaide, Australia, with a slightly shortened route and a management team confident its biggest drawcard in recent years, Lance Armstrong, may be back to compete.
Boasting the slogan, "See the real superheroes" the 2011 edition, to be held January 18-23, covers 758km which represents a slight decrease in overall distance compared to this year's edition (795.5km) but it retains the much-loved Old Willunga Hill on the race's penultimate day.
While the week of racing kicks off with the Cancer Council Classic criterium on Sunday, January 16 - which once again isn't included in the event's parcours - the town of Tailem bend will host a stage start for the first time next year. There's little change to the usual format of the event, with the addition of Black Top Road, Germantown Hill and Dawesley Hill as Skoda King of the Mountains points the most obvious alterations.
Talk amongst local press gathered at the launch was of the event's field, though; that of this year's edition was arguably the strongest ever, with the likes of UCI road world champion Cadel Evans, Armstrong, US national champion George Hincapie, Alejandro Valverde and Liquigas' Peter Sagan all attending and animating the racing.
South Australian Premier Mike Rann is confident that Armstrong will again choose the state's capital, Adelaide, to begin his 2011 season, however. "I've been in contact with him as recently as last night - he's very aware that we want him to come back and obviously he's focusing on the Tour de France... his last Tour," said Rann.
"He has set up a team, which is of course very important to him; so while this will be Lance Armstrong's last Tour de France it certainly won't be his last bike race, I know that for sure and we're looking forward to talking to him after the Tour de France."
By his own admission, race director Mike Turtur believes it's the "riders who make the race" regardless of the sprinter-friendly route, making it vital that he and his team can attract the best field possible.
He added that the event's ProTour status, combined with the favourable racing conditions, creates the ideal situation for the world's best riders to attend the race. "The majority of the teams - if not all of them - get what they're after here. They ride every day, get a good quality race and it starts the year off well for them."
There was even talk from the Premier and Turtur about the possibility of attracting the Fränk and Andy Schleck to the event, provided the new team they've been linked to can gain ProTour status. While Turtur admits that's a distant eventuality at the moment, he was keen to stress Armstrong's likelihood of competing beyond this season and hence ride the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under.
"I think it's important that he stays part of the team in it's second year of existence," said Turtur. "I think he's keen to continue competing with the group into the second year...
"We're reading between the lines to a degree and I know the force of the announcement about the Tour de France but it would be unlikely that he stops all together, because of the team. He knows it's a good quality race [the Tour Down Under] and he gets what he wants out of it."
The 2011 Santos Tour Down Under race details:
Stage 1 - January 18: Mawson Lakes - Angaston, 138km
Stage 2 - January 19: Tailem Bend - Mannum, 146km
Stage 3 - January 20: Unley - Stirling, 129km
Stage 4 - January 21: Norwood - Strathalbyn, 124km
Stage 5 - January 22: McLaren Vale - Willunga, 131km
Stage 6 - January 23: Adelaide City Council Circuit, 90km