Four-time Tour Down Under winner Simon Gerrans is aiming to make history next week at the Australian WorldTour race by becoming the first rider to defend his title. His Orica-Scott director sportif told Cyclingnews that he sees BMC's Richie Porte as the overwhelming favourite but Gerrans believes he and Esteban Chaves will be a formidable dual prong attack.
Having been struck down by illness over the festive period, Gerrans' preparation was hampered for the Australian nationals but he still managed to snare the silver medal behind late attacker Miles Scotson (BMC) last Sunday. Almost a week on, Gerrans is at full health and optimistic for his chances on his 13th appearance.
"I have been coming here for many years and it is always a big goal of mine and obviously, a big objective for my Orica-Scott teammates as well and the feeling is good. I am optimistic for some results," Gerrans said in the traditional pre-race press conference. "I think it will be very hard to top what our team was able to achieve in last years event but we are going to do our best."
Last year, Caleb Ewan took out two sprint stages while Gerrans claimed two of his own on way to a record fourth overall victory. On paper, the course is arguably the hardest yet in Tour Down Under history and Gerrans is hoping the anticipated hot weather will counterbalance the challenging parcours.
"For me, the hotter the better," said the 36-year-old. "I have had a fair bit of exposure to the hot weather so as uncomfortable as that might be for everyone, it does make the racing that bit tougher so that's what I am aiming for."
Since 2012, Willunga Hill has become the race deciding queen stage of the race but it's the reintroduction of the Paracombe finish, with a harder run in than its 2015 debut, that Gerrans and co are calling 'la etapa reina'.
"I see stage 2 as probably the new queen stage of the tour. With the five laps around Stirling, which is a demanding circuit in itself, then to race up the Gorge and finish on Paracombe, is going to be quite a select finish. We will really see the GC take place already after stage 2," said Gerrans.
Having proven his cunning and crafty race sense across the years at the Tour Down Under to hoover up the all important bonus seconds, Gerrans' chances for the victory won't necessarily be over on Paracombe. But the climb, at just over one kilometre, will shape how he approaches the other four stage of the race.
"That is obviously going to be the first real challenge. For the past few years, my challenge has been the Willunga finish, limiting my losses to a guy like Richie who has really taken ownership of that stage. For me, they are the two big challenges of this year's race."
While the hillier parcours isn't as suited to Gerrans as in previous years, Chaves is in his own right a bona fide contender suited to both Paracombe and Willunga Hill. With two cards to play in the battle for the general classification, Gerrans believes it allows Orica-Scott to approach the race tactically flexible and with Matt White calling the shots in the team car, "anything is possible in the race."
"Having a second hill top finish in there makes it tougher," said Gerrans. "I am generally limiting my losses on those kind of stages than trying to take time on my rivals. It is not out of the question, it is going to be a pretty tall order for me to win this year's edition. Like I said a little earlier, we have another fantastic option in the team who is one of the best climbers in the world in Esteban Chaves."