After revealing the route of the 2019 Tour Down Under on Wednesday, race organiser Mike Turtur said he'd love to see world champion Peter Sagan return to the Australian stage race for a third year running in January – and wouldn't say no if recent Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas wanted to come back again, too.
"We're working through a number of possibilities with several riders, but the Tour de France has been on everyone's minds, so we're going to allow things to settle down a bit," Turtur told Cyclingnews. "But we're confident that we're going to have a pretty impressive start list come next year. Hopefully Peter Sagan will be part of it, too, but we'll have to wait and see."
The big news on Wednesday was that the 2019 Tour Down Under – which starts with the People's Choice Classic criterium on January 13 before the race proper begins two days later, running for six stages – will finish on January 20 with a summit finish on Willunga Hill.
The famous climb, near McLaren Vale, south of Adelaide, has become an eagerly anticipated spectacle on the race's penultimate stage of the race, attracting huge crowds.
But the usual final day's stage on a street circuit in central Adelaide, while popular with crowds and VIPs, has tended to be a processional affair, akin to the Tour de France's final stage on the Champs-Elysées. And as part of a three-week race like the Tour, it's a welcome culmination to the racing, whereas as part of a six-stage race, it's perhaps less needed – especially when the Tour Down Under is already prefaced by the People's Choice Classic criterium, in Adelaide's East End.
"When we looked at it purely from a racing point of view, it was obvious to us that a final stage up Willunga Hill on the last day was the way to go," said Turtur. "In the past we've just seen a parade of riders going around a circuit in Adelaide, which is nice, but it doesn't take the race down to the wire. The thinking is that now you can be 20-30 seconds down on GC going into the final stage but still have a chance to win."
Turtur said that the feedback from teams regarding moving the Willunga stage to the final day has been very positive, and was something that the organisers had been thinking about doing for the past couple of years.
"So we thought, 'Let's give it a try and see how it works out,'" he said.
The People's Choice Classic, which takes place two days before the race proper, already gives fans the opportunity to see the riders in a central location, and provides a carnival atmosphere to kick off a week of top-drawer WorldTour racing.
"It's maybe even friendlier for the general public than the traditional final stage," Turtur told Cyclingnews. "It's a shorter race on a smaller circuit, with a lot more action, and it's quick – it's all over in an hour and a bit – and great for families, on a Sunday evening, on what's hopefully a beautiful, balmy night, as we've experienced for it recently, just on the outskirts of town... It's a great race to showcase the riders up close, and spectators see them a lot more regularly on the shorter laps, so we're not entirely leaving the city circuit arrangement."
Welcoming back Corkscrew Road
As well as the shift of Willunga Hill to the final Sunday, the 2019 Tour Down Under also sees the return of another fan favourite in the climb of Corkscrew Road, which features at the end of stage 4 between Unley and Campbelltown.
Turtur reminds Cyclingnews that it was none other than recent Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas who took the stage victory when the climb was first included on the route in 2013.
"This will be the fourth time we've used Corkscrew, but the first time we went over it was when Thomas won the stage and took the leader's jersey."
The Welshman, then in his fourth season with Team Sky, held the race lead for the next three stages, only relinquishing it on – where else? – Willunga Hill on the penultimate stage to eventual overall winner Tom-Jelte Slagter.
"When we went up it the following year, Cadel Evans won the stage and took the leader's jersey, and then the last time we went over the climb, in 2016, it was a small group sprint when Simon Gerrans beat Rohan Dennis by about the width of a tyre," said Turtur. "So we've used Corkscrew three times with various outcomes. The climb is iconic, and really popular with the fans, and one that anyone who rides a bike around these parts has had a go of at least once."
Attracting Thomas back – who last rode the Tour Down Under in 2017, having ridden it every year since 2011 – would be a real coup, said Turtur, who's also keen to see the continued participation of the 2017 TDU winner, and another fan favourite, Richie Porte.
Porte suggested earlier this season, however, that, on his coach's advice, he may skip next year's Tour Down Under.
"Richie has a terrific history with the race, having won the stage up Willunga Hill the last five times, and winning the race overall the year before last," said Turtur. "For him not to be here next year would be a big loss for us, but hopefully things might yet change.
"I do think that the race is strong enough, and big enough, now in our 21st edition coming in January, to still be well received, but it would be sad if Richie isn't here," continued Turtur. "Hopefully he might see that Willunga is on the last stage, and that might get him thinking."
"Hopefully he'll see that Corkscrew's back, and that we've also got the new, punchy circuit around Uraidla to finish stage 3. Hopefully that might attract both Geraint and Richie."
A race organiser's dream come true
As for Sagan, Turtur said it doesn't get much better than the world champion winning a stage at your own race.
"Peter's the most popular rider in the world by a country mile," he said. "We've had the honour of having the rainbow jersey at the race on several other occasions, but we've never had anyone win in the rainbow jersey, and this year we saw him win twice – at the People's Choice Classic and on that tough day to Uraidla on stage 4. Him winning in the rainbow jersey, in your race, coming over the line with his hands in the air, it's just an organiser's dream come true."
That the Tour Down Under serves as a race to help get riders into shape for the early-season races that are to come back in Europe is, said Turtur, key to attracting riders and teams in the first place, especially as Peter Sagan went on to have one of his best-ever years.
"He went on to win Paris-Roubaix, and then three stage wins and the green jersey again at the Tour de France. He's had a good year, so he knows that starting here in Australia is beneficial to him. He likes to hit the ground running.
"If you look at some of the other riders who were here in 2018, a lot of them have gone on to do well in the spring Classics ands other races," continued Turtur.
"Michael Valgren won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold, for example, and Marc Soler won Paris-Nice overall. Egan Bernal, who did such a good job for Team Sky at the Tour de France, was here, and won our young rider's jersey. And Pierre Latour was here with AG2R, and he went on to win the white jersey as best young rider at the Tour.
"It's interesting to see riders come here and do well, and then to carry it through the rest of the year," Turtur said. "So we do like to highlight it when a rider who wins a big race happened to also be in Adelaide. It's something for teams to think about."