5 riders to watch at the 2019 Tour Down Under

The season starts here with the first WorldTour race of the year: the 2019 Santos Tour Down Under, running from January 15-20, with the traditional curtain-raiser criterium, the Down Under Classic, warming the riders up on January 13. Here, Cyclingnews picks the five men most likely to animate the week of racing.

Defending champion Daryl Impey returns with a strong Mitchelton-Scott squad, while last year's runner-up – and the 2017 champion – Richie Porte returns as the leader of his new Trek-Segafredo team.

Look for stage wins from the big sprinters – the likes of Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) – and for the riders with an eye on the GC to try to steal a march on their rivals whenever they can ahead of the big climbing showdown on Willunga Hill where the race ends on January 20.

And Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is back for a third straight year – this time clad in his Slovakian national road race champion's jersey, rather than those familiar world champ's stripes, although it doesn't really look that much different, and he'll be easy enough to pick out as he gets his season under way in Australia.

Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott)

Impey stayed under the radar for most of last year's race before emerging to take the race lead after the penultimate stage – to Willunga Hill. That same stage becomes the final stage for this year's race, which will keep the excitement going right up until the final pedal strokes of the race.

The South African finished second to Porte on the stage to Willunga Hill in 2018, ceding eight seconds to the Australian. It was enough to put Impey into the race lead, but on equal time with Porte, with Impey given the ochre leader's jersey on 'countback'. Porte then had little chance of gaining any kind of advantage on the final, flat and fast stage in central Adelaide, being closely marked by Impey and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates.

Impey went on to have a fine 2018 season, winning the time trial and the road race at the South African national championships in February, and a stage and the points jersey at the Critérium du Dauphiné. A true all-rounder – or at least a sprinter who can climb well – he should be well in the hunt for the overall victory once again.

Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Undoubtedly the sprinter of 2018 – and that was without even taking part in the Tour de France – Viviani opened his win account on stage 3 of last year's Tour Down Under at Victor Harbor.

From there, the victories flooded in – 18 in all – which included four stage wins at the Giro d'Italia, the Italian road race national championships, the Cyclassics Hamburg and three stage wins at the Vuelta a España.

Having left Team Sky at the end of 2017, Viviani clearly settled in immediately at Quick-Step last season, and although the team has a new main sponsor in the shape of Deceuninck this year, Viviani is already part of the furniture, and plenty will again be expected of him in a team of stars who somehow co-exist and are happy to ride for each other, with the Belgian WorldTour squad racking up a phenomenal total of 73 wins in 2018.

Viviani will be well backed up by a tried-and-trusted squad of lead-out riders that includes the experienced Michael Mørkøv and Fabio Sabatini in Australia, so expect Viviani to again be right up at the top of the results on the flatter stages.

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo)

Porte appeared philosophical about having to settle for second place at last year's Tour Down Under. He'd won the race overall in 2017, and made it a fifth-straight stage victory on Willunga Hill in 2018, but eventual overall winner Daryl Impey did enough to take the race lead on the climb, and Porte had accepted defeat, even with a stage still to go.

It would be hard to bet against Porte making it a sixth successive win on Willunga this year. However, it'll be interesting to see if the dynamic of the race changes in any way with the move of the famous South Australian climb from the penultimate stage to the final stage this year.

Porte will surely be in the mix on the stage, but whether he'll still be in the hunt for the overall win remains to be seen. This is his very first race of 2019 – there were no Bay Crits or national championships for the 33-year-old – so his form will be a complete unknown until racing gets under way with the Down Under Classic.

After crashing out of the Tour de France and breaking his collarbone last July, Porte recovered to ride the Vuelta a España – but never featured in the fight for the GC, riding to 84th place overall – and then rode a stage of the Hammer Hong Kong in October before finishing his season with a 'DNF' on the second stage of the Tour of Guangxi in China later that month.

Now at Trek-Segafredo, Porte will be keen to get the new season off to a good start and impress his new employers. The Tour de France will be foremost on his mind, but the build up to it starts here.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal)

It's a new year and, with it, a new team for Caleb Ewan in 2019. The Australian sprinter will want to put the memory of 2018 well behind him, named as he was early in the season as being likely to head to his first Tour de France with Mitchelton-Scott's only to be sensationally overlooked when the eight-man squad was announced ahead of the race with a GC focus on supporting Adam Yates.

Almost guaranteed a spot at this year's Tour de France with Lotto Soudal – barring injury or illness – Ewan has already got his season off to a good start with two wins at the Bay Crits in early January, although the national championships then went less well. Having eschewed a defence of his national criterium champion's crown in favour of concentrating on the road race, Ewan never featured on the challenging course, which he had nevertheless finished fourth at in 2018.

The Tour Down Under, then, will be Ewan's first real test with a full squad backing him in the sprints at a race where he took a stage win on the uphill drag into Stirling last year, and he'll be able to count on German lead-out man Roger Kluge – who moved with him from Mitchelton – and Britain's Adam Blythe, who's joined from the now defunct Aqua Blue Sport, to guide him into a pouncing position this season, starting with the Tour Down Under.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)

Sagan has truly become the face of the Tour Down Under, and in 2019 starts his third season in a row in Adelaide. A huge crowd favourite wherever he goes in the world, the 28-year-old delighted the race organisers last year by winning both the Down Under Classic and stage 4 from Norwood to Uraidla in the rainbow stripes of world champion.

He may now 'only' be in the Slovakian champion's jersey, having had his three-year streak as world champion ended by Moivistar's Alejandro Valverde late last season, but Sagan will be happy to get a first win in the bag at this year's race, which could come at Uraidla again, which features on the route once more, or in the sprints against Viviani and Ewan.

Sagan even wore the ochre leader's jersey on the Willunga Hill stage at last year's Tour Down Under, which couldn't have been more perfect for the race other than if he'd won the overall classification. With Willunga on the menu once more, that's unlikely to happen, but Sagan can excel just about everywhere else at this race, and can be certain of plenty of media attention and fan support wherever he goes and whatever he does.

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