Cannondale-Drapac will begin the 2017 WorldTour at the Tour Down Under with a seven-man roster that includes the 2013 overall winner and the rider who had a break-out fifth-place performance last year during his WorldTour debut.
Tom-Jelte Slagter, who won the Tour Down Under overall in 2013 with Blanco Cycling, will join forces with Michael Woods, the Canadian neo-pro who shocked the peloton with a third-place finish in last year's Queen stage and fifth overall. The duo will be joined in Australia by Paddy Bevin, Brendan Canty, Will Clarke, Alex Howes abd Tom Van Asbroeck.
The same lineup will also race the People’s Choice Classic on January 15 in Adelaide and again on January 29 at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, now a WorldTour event. The Tour Down Under begins January 17 in Unley and concludes January 22 in Adelaide.
For Woods, the race is chance to claim the podium spot he missed out on last year.
“Last year I knew I was in really good form and Jonathan Vaughters told me, ‘We're going to make you the guy for Down Under,'" Woods said. "I was super-stoked about that. In retrospect, that was crazy that JV just was like, 'Dude, I'm going to give this rookie a shot at a WorldTour race,’ with no experience whatsoever, but it panned out awesome. I think when the guys saw my name as one of the leaders in the pre-race e-mail they were probably thinking, 'Um, this is a really bad idea.'"
Woods rewarded Vaughters' faith with a top performance, however, including a third-place finish on the Queen stage behind Richie Porte (BMC) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky).
"I want to replicate that if not improve on that performance this year," Woods said. "We also have a good guy in Tom-Jelte Slagter, who's won the race before, so we're coming in with a very strong roster. I feel good having TJ there — it takes a bit of pressure off me. We have a few ways to do well."
Slagter won the Queen stage at the Tour Down Under in 2013, the same year he took the overall win. He said the result still stands out as one of his favourite memories.
"The one I recall the most was the Tour Down Under win in 2013. It was a great team effort," Slagter said. "I’m happy to be going back to the TDU — I’ve got good memories there. It’s an early race but an important one. We’ve got a good team going, and I think we’re all motivated. Between myself and Mike Woods, I think the overall is something we can look at."
The team will be directed in the Tour Down Under by Tom Southam, who will make his debut behind the wheel of the Cannondale-Drapac team car.
“You could say it's like being given the keys to your older brother's sports car for the first time,” Southam said. “First thing you want to do is drive it fast, you also need to be cautious that you don't plow it in to a wall. But at least you know someone somewhere trusts you enough to leave you in charge.
“The main thing on my mind is getting the best out of what we have at this race," he added. "I think the guys we have here are really good, so it's great to be in a position to think that we can do something. Both Mike and TJ have proven they can do well here, both are great athletes and having them both there gives us a great hand to play. Then on the other stages we've got Paddy Bevin and Tom Van Asbroeck.”
Cannondale-Drapac for Tour Down Under: Paddy Bevin, Brendan Canty, Will Clarke, Alex Howes, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Tom Van Asbroeck, Michael Woods