The Tour Down Under, Australia's first WorldTour race, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2018, and features a varied parcours that tips its hat to the race's past while exploring some new terrain. The first WorldTour race of the season has attracted a star-studded start list of past champions and future contenders.
International icons such as triple world champion Peter Sagan, and local heroes like Richie Porte and Caleb Ewan, will assemble in Adelaide for the six-stage race. The race's traditional curtain raiser, the People's Choice Classic criterium, provides the riders with a chance to shake out the off-season cobwebs on 14 January before the stage race starts two days later.
Along with the 20th-anniversary celebration, in 2018 the Santos Women's Tour race also celebrates its first year at the UCI 2.1 level.
For the first time since the inaugural Tour Down Under in 1999, the race will begin in Port Adelaide. The port is well known for its eponymous SANFL and AFL teams but in January, it's all about the bike. From its location northwest of the city centre, the race heads towards the Barossa wine region for three laps of a finishing circuit in Lyndoch. The circuit was used in 2017 as the stage finish but due to extreme heat, the final lap was cut from the course.
Mountains classification points on offer at Humbug Scrub offer an added incentive for the day's breakaway but with the ochre jersey on the line, anything but a bunch sprint finish would be a surprise. A return of high temperatures could well be on the cards, offering a baking welcome back to racing for the peloton.
While stage 1 is a blast from the past, stage 2 from Unley to Stirling is a perennial classic at the Tour Down Under. Rolling out of the inner city suburb, the peloton takes in the Adelaide hills and some familiar host towns before entering Stirling for three laps. The lumpy finishing circuit has eliminated the larger sprinters in previous years with stage wins more commonly going to the punchy sprinters. With bonus seconds on the line, there is also added general classification significance. This is a stage on which the race could be lost, as the cliché goes, but not one on which the overall will be decided.
Stage 3 is another tried and true classic, taking the riders south from Glenelg to Victor Harbor. The seaside suburb of Glenelg often provides a large crowd to cheer the riders off with the coastal winds next to welcome them. While the stage is a sprinters paradise, the breezy Fleurieu Peninsula can ensure a stressful and nervous day for those with an eye on the ochre jersey. Another circuit finish provides the riders with a dress rehearsal for the final in what should again be a bunch sprint.
Stage 4 features a new addition to the menu. While the Norwood departure is familiar, Uraidla makes its debut as host of a stage finish. The distance between the two towns is just 15km but the peloton will take a far longer route, heading east to Mt Pleasant then making a loop through Lenswood, Cudlee Creek, and Rostrevor, before heading to the finish in Uraidla. The inclusion of the testing Norton Summit inside the finale 10km is sure to cause a selection. From the top, it is a fast race to the finish with the possibility of an ochre jersey also awaiting the winner.
After the unknowns of stage 4, the Willunga Hill queen stage is a return to normality for the Tour Down Under. Richie Porte has made the stage his own in recent years with four straight wins. The challenge for Porte is to make it five, and for his rivals, to stop him in his tracks. Starting in McLaren Vale, the stage again features the early circuits out to Aldinga Beach, then concludes with two laps of the Willunga Hill circuit. The stage is the final opportunity for the climbers and GC riders in their bid for victory.
The Tour Down Under returns to Adelaide for the sixth and final stage, another familiar circuit with the start and finish line on King Willem Road. The greenery of the Adelaide Park Lands north of the River Torrens ensures a picturesque finale but with the fast pace of the stage, the riders won't have time to take in the sights.
While there remains the possibility of a GC shake-up, it is more often than not a day without GC drama, with an expected bunch sprint finish.
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Riders to watch
World champion Peter Sagan headlines the 2018 Tour Down Under start list but the Slovakian isn't the only big name rider confirmed to line out in Adelaide. Former winners Andre Greipel, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Luis Leon Sanchez and the BMC trio Rohan Dennis, Simon Gerrans and Richie Porte add further quality.
As a race that favours bunch sprinters, it is no surprise that again some of the fastest men in the peloton are starting their seasons in Australia. Six-time stage winner Caleb Ewan headlines the list, while Greipel, the Bora duo of Sagan and Sam Bennett, and Elia Viviani who makes his Quick-Step Floors debut, will be out to stop the Mitchelton-Scott rider. A youthful brigade of Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb), Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates) and Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team Sky) should also feature at the pointy end of stages.
In the battle for the general classification, Richie Porte will start as the favourite if only for the fact that he is gunning for his fifth straight queen stage win atop Willunga Hill. Porte was third in the Australian national time trial and active throughout the road race leading into the Tour Down Under, showing glimpses of the type of early season form that had him starting last year's Tour de France as a podium contender.
Teammates Rohan Dennis and Simon Gerrans could also take on overall leadership at BMC in what is a deep squad for the race. The Australian list of GC contenders also includes the likes of Brendan Canty (EF Education First-Drapac), Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe), Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data), and Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin). New Zealander George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) is also a contender.
From Europe, the Izagirre brothers Gorka and Ion (Bahrain-Merida) alongside Domenico Pozzovivo, Peter Kennaugh (Bora-Hansgrohe), Pierre Latour (AG2R-La Mondiale), Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb) and the UAE Team Emirates pairing of Diego Ulissi and Rui Costa are riders to watch.
Last year's best young rider Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha-Alpecin) and Tour de L'Avenir winner Egan Bernal on his Team Sky debut lead the Colombian charge for the ochre jersey.
Peter Sagan can't be discounted as an overall contender, and having a rainbow jersey winner of the race could well be the present the race is wishing for.
Cyclingnews will have full race coverage of the Tour Down Under, including live coverage of all six stages, complimented by exclusive news, features, tech and a regular podcast from our team on the ground in Adelaide.