Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur and his team have spent much time tweaking the race’s route in recent years, but it seems the Olympic gold medallist is now satisfied with the balance that has been found. The event’s predominately flat parcours favours sprinters with strong enough teams to pull them over the Willunga climb or Spring Classic riders.
“The style of race, I think, suites the time of year,” said Tutur. “I think the riders would agree that the distances and terrain is what’s required at this time of year and I’ve got no problem whatsoever with it being a sprinter style of race. You look at other races like Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse, Dauphine, they’re all races that suite a certain types and we’re just one of those races that suite a certain type of rider.
“To have quality sprinters here, I’m happy,” he said. “To have the rainbow jersey and the big Grand Tour riders here like Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Pereiro, that’s just a bonus. We’re very happy.”
A second lap of the Willunga climb on stage five was introduced last year after fears the race was too easy for international riders. Some riders like Robbie McEwen spoke out against the move saying the race was then too difficult, but Turtur believes it’s the riders that make the route challenging.
“The headline last year was too hard too early. After I got my head out of my cornflakes…,” joked Turtur. “These guys make it hard. We could have a race on flat roads for 150 kilometres, and they’ll say it’s hard. I’m out the roof with a red flag [then] barely back inside the car and they’re attacking. The terrain isn’t difficult here and the distances are no more than 150 kilometres on any day.”
Turtur likened the race to the first week of the Tour de France, where the who’s who of sprinters and lead-out men line-up to vie for Grand Tour stage glory. While Tour Down Under might lack top foreign sprinters like Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen, it still attracts the likes of Andre Griepel and Gert Steegmans – both Grand Tour stage winners.
“I think this Tour is shaping up to be a bit like the first week of the Tour de France, with the big sprinters here and the depth of the teams with the lead-out guys that can organise the final kilometres like George Hincape and Jens Voight,” he said. “I think we’re going to see a week of big finishes, as you do at the Tour de France. That’s the style of our race, we haven’t got the terrain, the big mountains, and we don’t want them in January, no rider wants big mountain top finishes in January.
“For the athletic requirement at this time of year I think we’ve got it right,” he added. “There’s no need to have 200 kilometre plus stages, we haven’t got mountain top finishes – we just haven’t got them – so we do what we can with the roads and we design a race for this time of year. I think the boys would agree that everything to do with the race is just about where we need it to be.”
Turtur’s comments were supported by reigning UCI world road champion Cadel Evans. “I think part of why the Tour Down Under has been so successful is that riders can come here and start their year of,” he said. “If it was any harder riders wouldn’t want to come. But because the race is well organized, pleased to be here, it’s good weather, it’s a good way to start the season and we’re only doing 140-150 kilometre stages.
“It’s a great start to the year and that’s what I think draws such a big field and I think like Mike said it’s not often that you have three Grand Tour winners and it’s a race for sprinters,” he added.
The Santos Tour Down Under commences on Tuesday with a 141 kilometre stage from Clare to Tanunda.