News feature, September 28, 2007
The Tour Down Under's race director Mike Tutur is bracing for a busy three months following the announcement overnight that the event would not only receive the ProTour status it had been campaigning for, but would receive it a year earlier than expected in 2008. The announcement comes just days after the UCI revealed that the three Grand Tours - Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana - would be dropped from the ProTour schedule and marks a major step towards the sport's international governing body's dream of expanding the prestigious calendar beyond the confines of Europe.
"We are having a meeting next month in Como for discussions with the UCI and the ProTour team's representatives, until then we are not sure how this will effect the race," Turtur revealed to Cyclingnews. "It is too difficult to change the course for 2008, as all the relevant documentation has all been submitted, but we are confident that the course will do the job."
The announcement made it Stuttgart overnight will see the Adelaide, Australia event become the first ProTour round held outside of Europe. While it's expected the race won't be changed dramatically for its January 22, 2008 start, Turtur believes seeing 18 ProTour teams line-up for the event's 10th Anniversary will be a fitting celebration. The change in status from a 2.HC race to a ProTour event will see squads sending higher calibre rosters to Australia's shores than in previous editions and will also see the amount of squads rise to 18, up from the current 14 outfits. Despite the increase in personnel that comes with the ProTour status, Tutur is confident that Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, is equipped to cater for the event's needs.
"We looked into the logistics of it all very quickly and the two great features of the race, the central hotel for the riders and the lack of travelling while here, will remain for the 2008 race as we are confident that we are capable of handling the extra load," Turtur explained. "We already have a great relationship with the South Australia police and we are confident that they will have no troubles re-adjusting either."
Turtur believes that the UCI's decision to include the event is a step in right direction for the sport. "This move is a significant step for cycling and for the UCI's plans to globalise the sport," he said. "It had to happen and will only benefit the sport especially after all the issues that cycling has had in the past."
Having 18 ProTour teams all converging in the Southern Hemisphere could be seen as a good opportunity to hold a string of UCI ranked events in the region, however Turtur believes the small window in rider's schedules will make such a move difficult. "The ProTour teams only have a two week window at that time of year so a series of races in Australia probably wouldn't work as they will all be wanting to get back to Europe for races those early season races in France etc," he said.
Turtur is unsure of what the future may hold for the event but expects to know more after a meeting with the relevant parties next month in Como, Italy. "We will know more after the meeting in Como, but we have our own ideas on where we want to take the event," Turtur said, before adding the stage lengths won't vary much. "I am a firm believer that at that time of the year 130 kilometre stages are much better than those around 150-160. It is the riders that will decide how hard the racing will be not the length or the terrain."
One other detail that won't be known until the Como meeting is the fate of local squad's participation in the event. In years gone by the SouthAustralia.com-AIS squad has been a regular participant, as have composite teams like the UniSA squad and this year a national team from New Zealand. "After the discussion next month in Como we will know more," said Turtur.
The Tour Down Under's impact on the Australian cycling since its inception in 1998 has been phenomenal. Australia has since become known as a breeding ground for some of the brightest talent in cycling thanks to the likes of O'Grady, Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen and Bradley McGee.
"We have seen the event grow from the first year, when Stuey won and it has been great for these local guys to be able to bring their trade teams out here to their own backyard and it has been great for Australia," said Turtur, who claimed gold in the 4000 metre team's pursuit at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
The Tour Down Under announcement, combined with the confirmation of Melbourne as the 2010 World Championships, shows that Australia has become a recognised contributor to the cycling world's development. "Australia has consistently been ranked in the top five nations in the world with our riders doing well in races throughout the year at the world's biggest events like the Tour and the worlds," noted Turtur. "It just goes to show that the UCI recognises the contribution that Oceania has made to the world of cycling and it's thanks to guys like Stuey that we have placed Australia on the cycling map."
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