By Greg Johnson in Adelaide, South Australia
This year's Tour Down Under has already been hailed a success by Race Director Mike Turtur. The former Olympian has overseen all 11 editions of the Australian race, which has been treated to a high profile since joining the ProTour in 2008.
Turtur pointed to defending champion André Greipel (Team Columbia), two time winner Stuart O'Grady (Team Saxo Bank) and Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) as examples of the field's quality.
"I think it has been terrific for the race and for the future, but we have also got a better quality of riders across the board from the teams," he said. "It is the strongest field we have ever had without question."
The event has enjoyed high-profile guests in recent years, with Miguel Indurain attending last year's race, while this year sees Lance Armstrong make his professional return at the event.
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympic gold medallist believes the second lap of the Willunga climb, included in this year's race, will open up the playing field. Willunga has traditionally been known as the event's make or break section and with two laps of the climb this year will certainly make a difference.
"With the course changes it will make for an interesting race, especially the finish in Stirling and Willunga," he said. "There are also stages for the sprinters, so I think that maybe we have the balance right hopefully. I think also the most important aspect is that the second to last day, Willunga with the second lap, it means in my opinion that maybe you could be two minutes down on the general classification and still win, where as in the past that wasn't possible.
"I think it has opened the race up so I look forward to a great race," he added. "Certainly what has taken place in the run up to the event, especially in the last couple of months, is great for cycling, this region of Oceania and world wide. It will be great for the event leading into the future and can only do great things for us and put us on the map in the rest of the world."
Organizers had to include more climbing in this year's race, according to Turtur. In 2008 Greipel dominated the race with a bunch of sprint finish victories.
"With the quality of the ProTour across the board and the increased quality of riders, we saw in 2008 bunch finishes every day," he said. "That was a record for the race, never before had that happened and every break came back. It was obvious that we needed to make some changes and we looked at the stages and the intensity, bearing in mind it is an early season race we didn't want to go overboard.
"We haven't increased the distances but maybe the intensity to make it a little easier across the board," he added. "Certainly dealing with the better quality riders in the ProTour it was a question we had to address."
The possibility of including a time trial in future events was largely dismissed by Turtur. While many ProTour races include the one man against the clock format races, the timing in the season and the added logistical issues with bringing time trial bikes down to Australia mean it's unlikely to happen.
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