The 2020 WorldTour starts next week at the Tour Down Under, and Cyclingnews will have complete and comprehensive coverage from the Australian race.
To kick off our reporting and analysis, we have picked 10 top-tier riders to watch in this year's race. With a focus on GC stars, sprinters and those in between, we take a look at the riders who can make a difference in this year's race.
French climber Romain Bardet arrives at his first Tour Down Under eager to race again for the first time since last year's Tour de France, but nevertheless playing down his chances at the Australian stage race, saying that he's looking for a "calm start" to his season.
It will therefore be interesting to watch the 2019 Tour's 'king of the mountains' on the uphill finish at Paracombe for stage 3 of the Tour Down Under come Thursday, January 23. Will such a natural climber be able to hold back? He'll be up against the likes of Rohan Dennis (Team Ineos) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) – the past two winners on the climb, in 2015 and 2017, respectively – while Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates is also likely to be in the mix.
With double ascents of Willunga Hill to come on the final stage, Bardet could even find himself in a position to win the race overall. If anyone's capable of upsetting Porte's run of six victories in a row on the climb, it's the Frenchman.
Cofidis’ marquee signing will be looking to open his account as early as possible in the year – as he has done for the past two years at the Tour Down Under – but with a new leadout squad it may take time for the European champion to find his groove. Granted, Fabio Sabatini has made the journey with him from Belgium, but it will be fascinating to see how Viviani gels with what is very much a team in transition. With Nathan Haas on the roster, Cofidis will have a two-pronged offensive, and the Australian’s versatility could be key in helping Viviani start with a bang.
Bennett finds himself in a similar position to the one Viviani was in at the start of the 2018 season, having signed for QuickStep after a period in which his previous team offered somewhat lukewarm support. However, Bennett now has a fully-fledged leadout to back him in the sprints, and his first opportunity comes in Australia. The Irishman has never won at the Tour Down Under, having had his chances scuppered by illness in the past, but with the strongest leadout in the race he will want to kick-start a new chapter of his career by making the right impression. Given the shoes he has to fill, he’s probably under more pressure than Viviani.
The 2019 season was a mixed year for the Kiwi climber. He helped his team to third overall at the Tour de France, courtesy of a number of pivotal performances in the mountains, but he missed out on securing an individual result that would have put further shine on his endeavours. Redemption starts here with a course suitable to the 29-year-old’s skillset. Surprisingly, Bennett has only cracked the top-10 in Australia once, back in 2015, but he has been on the cusp of a good ride for some time. He will not be in a position to compete for bonus seconds in sprints, and will have to be tactically astute if the race splits, but the two uphill finishes are primed for him to showcase his talents. A strong ride at the Tour Down Under would do Bennett’s confidence the world of good and set up him nicely for a number of spring stage races.
The South African is the only rider in history to defend his Tour Down Under crown with wins in 2018 and 2019, but the chances of winning three straight titles looks slim given the reintroduction of the Paracombe climb on stage 3. This should – in theory – tip the balance towards the likes of Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and the other climbers, but it might also bring Mitchelton away from their TDU blueprint with the Australian team deploying a different set of tactics. That might mean that they forgo GC and instead chase stage wins, but Impey and the high-flying Cameron Meyer will certainly be in the mix no matter the schemes Matt White has them running. It’s probably too soon in the year to expect anything from Simon Yates, but his inclusion might worry some of Mitchelton’s closest rivals. Mitchelton brought Esteban Chaves to the race a few years ago, and he was the only rider to really test Porte.
While this isn’t Dennis’ major objective for the season, a home race in new colours comes with a level of responsibility and pressure. Dennis will be hoping to perform for his new employers after they rescued him from Bahrain oblivion, and with a course that contains two uphill finishes, the Adelaide local has a route that suits him. Team Ineos have also sent a strong squad to the race, meaning that the 2015 race winner will be well supported should he have the desire to get stuck in.
It’s hard to put into context just how popular Greipel is in Australia, but there’s a genuine two-way admiration between the German and the race-going fans. It helps that he’s been so successful in the past – with a record-setting 18 stage wins and two GCs – but his friendly and approachable demeanour have warmed the locals to his personality. When he didn’t race the Tour Down Under in 2019 it felt like something was missing, but with his return to the WorldTour comes another crack at the race. At 37 Greipel is nearer the end of his career than the start, and while the raw speed might not be there anymore, his popularity will not have waned.
The Danish world champion arrives at the Tour Down Under with the rainbow jersey on his shoulders but little in the way of pressure to perform. Pedersen’s season ramps up once he returns to Europe and the Classics start. He will, however, still be one of the biggest draws when he lines up at the start of the Tour Down Under. His role at the race will likely centre around protecting Richie Porte and helping him on the approach to the two main climbs, but the Dane might also show off the rainbow stripes if the opportunity arises.
With Peter Sagan starting his season elsewhere, McCarthy and Bora can concentrate on the task at hand, with no distractions that come with the media circus that follows whenever and wherever Sagan races. McCarthy – a hugely underrated rider in his own right - has been knocking on the door at the Tour Down Under for several years, with a stage and two top-five placings on GC, but he has never landed the big one. Not quite fast enough to compete with the purist of sprinters and just a shade slower than the pocket-rocket climbers, the 27-year-old has had to graft for every opportunity. Last time the race climbed Paracombe and Willunga in the same year McCarthy took third overall, and that will be an omen that inspires the Bora rider this time around.
Jarrad Drizners (UniSA-Australia)
Drizners launched himself on the scene with a win in the U23 race at Australian nationals earlier this month and will make his Tour Down Under debut in the coming weeks. Still just 20, he and the rest of the Uni-SA squad will target breaks and stage wins. If his win in the U23 race was anything to go by then Drizners looks like a real find and becomes just the latest rider to join Axel Merckx's finishing school at Hagens Berman Axeon. Drizners also won the U23 criterium championships last year and splits his time between being incredibly fast on the track and even faster on the road. He looks like the real deal.
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