In 2018, the Tour Down Under celebrates its 20th birthday. The WorldTour opener returns to Port Adelaide where the first stage of the race started from in 1999. On the start line at the inaugural edition of the race was Mitchelton-Scott sports director Matt White.
During his riding career, White won a stage of the race into Yankalilla in 2005 but it's been in the team car that he has enjoyed great success. In 2011, White masterminded Cameron Meyer's overall win, returning the following year with GreenEdge to guide Simon Gerrans to the win. In 2014 and 2016, White was also behind the wheel as Gerrans claimed the overall win. During his time at the race, White has also overseen countless stage wins, including four by Caleb Ewan in 2017.
With his extensive knowledge of the roads that feature in the Tour Down Under and winning record at the race, Cyclingnews spoke with White for a comprehensive stage-by-stage preview of the 2018 edition of the race.
Adelaide usually turns up the heat so for the non-Australians it is an early-season shock to the system.
It is not officially part of the Tour Down Under but it is a chance for the sprinters to get their timing right and it can be the first time for many teams that certain combinations have raced together. It is a good opportunity to get the ball rolling for the start of the season.
I think Caleb Ewan will definitely be the guy to beat in this little race teaser. Obviously, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel will be our main competition but, as we stand, I don't know any other world-class sprinters who are down to race.
You look at the main characteristics of the stage to the Barossa and it is the heat and the wind which affect the tactics, but it usually ends in a bunch sprint. Last year they had to shorten the stage by a lap because the heat was in the mid 40s. It will be the first showcase for the sprinters on an official road stage.
I was there in 1999 when the Tour Down Under was in Port Adelaide for the first Tour Down Under. There are a lot of open and exposed areas around Port Adelaide and on the roads toward the Barossa, so it will be interesting to see how the wind is blowing and how stressful a day it will be.
The only real surprise would come from strong Northerly winds, but I expect the main guys to be there and a sprinter to win the stage. Ewan would definitely be one of the favourites.
Not as straightforward as stage 1 and it is a circuit we have used many, many times before. It is a sprint where you really have to get your timing right because a lot of the pure sprinters don't make it to the final. It is a stage where Greipel, for example, has never got a result. He'll get around there but normally is too fatigued to win. Caleb has raced it once before and he didn't t get around either, so the moral of the story is this ain't a normal sprint stage.
When you have a look at the guys who have won there before you can certainly get some surprises because it does flatten out before kicking up towards the line. It has been won before by guys jumping and catching whoever is left by surprise. Out of any of the sprinters who can make it around the Stirling circuit, we all know one that won't have any issues unleashing his sprint, and it's our triple world champion Mr Peter Sagan, who I see as the clear favourite.
Sagan's teammate Aussie Jay McCarthy won the stage last time we came to Stirling a couple of years ago and he will be one of few genuine GC threats also capable of a stage result here if given the chance.
It is also a stage that suits Simon Gerrans. He has proven that many times in the past and if he is given the opportunity will be another favourite for the stage win.
This stage is a sprinter's paradise, but with the finish in Victor Harbor, the tempo of the day is very much determined by the wind. It can be a very fast day of tailwinds or it can be a messy day as you are exposed to the wind from the south and then for the finish, you are right on the coast.
You don't want to be controlling for the three final laps because it is a tough circuit. You need to keep an eye on breaks going off the front and keeping your leaders out of trouble - we saw a big crash down the back straight last year before we turned into town again. It will be quite a nervous day for all. For us, Lotto Soudal and Bora, we will need to control the day so we can give our sprinters every opportunity to win.
When Richie Porte lost time in 2016 we didn't do the same circuits, but to win at the Tour Down Under every second matters, so you have to be paying attention at all times on every stage. These circuits probably suit the GC guys having more time for things to come back together. In the final kilometre it's quite a technical chicane to get onto the coast and there are usually splits behind the best sprinters. When Simon Gerrans won the race the last time, he won the stage and took ten seconds time bonus, where Richie missed the split and lost eight seconds. It was an 18-second pickup, which in this race was the decider.
This is definitely a GC day. A normal sprinter wouldn't get through the stage, guys like a Caleb and Andre, and it will be quite selective depending on how hard they race up Norton Summit. We have gone over Norton Summit before but only at the start, nowhere near the final, so it will be a crucial day for the GC guys. We will get our first glimpse of who is climbing well and who is here challenging for the overall race lead and victory.
I think a breakaway could get away in the final. There is big danger from the top of the climb to the finish line. We are going to see a selection on Norton Summit and it will be quite hard for the teams to control the final kilometres. I do see an aggressive finale and I think it is more of a dangerous day for the GC teams than Willunga. On Willunga, no one really goes away until the last two kilometres and the gaps aren't that big. If someone goes away with 10k to go, it will be really hard to control. If there are, say only 30 guys left, not many teams will have more than two or three in there and there is the potential for a strong outsider to win. It will be a big day.
The harder it is up Norton Summit the more selective it is, which means fewer guys and Richie and BMC are going into the race as the favourites. If it is very selective, then it is probably only 10 guys at the top. For me, someone like a Peter Sagan is the clear favourite because he is good enough to get up Norton Summit and he is good enough to beat anybody in the sprint. It would have to be very selective for Peter Sagan to be dropped.
It goes without saying that this is Richie's stage. He knows where to go, everybody knows where he goes, but nobody can react. Richie is definitely the favourite for Willunga and depending on where he is sitting on GC going into this stage as to how far out he will have to attack. My bet is the 1km to go banner.
It will play like previous years with the early break looking for bonus seconds or television time and exposure for sponsors, but it will always be caught. You think whoever is leading the race will want to catch them by the start of the second lap. You don't want to be playing around.
It is really hard to name a challenger until you see the official start list. I would think that Sergio Henao would be here again and the race does really suit him. Richie is definitely the favourite due to he talents as a world-class climber and, for me, the best 5-7 day rider for GC in the world.
There are always European surprises or guys who have had a big off-season and come out flying like Mr Tom-Jelte Slagter a couple of years ago, but I think they will struggle to win the stage.
This is our last chance for a stage win and it is harder than the People's Choice Classic, but it goes very quick in under two hours. It is one of the fastest sprints of the season really. When the sprint starts, the guys are already doing about 70 km/h.
The secret to getting into position for the final lap is to not get caught behind the washing machine going up the hill. If you can get a clear run over the top of the KOM, then it is a pretty clear run no matter how far back you are. There is always room to move, but you don't want to get caught behind any crashes. It is very wide, then it goes narrow, then opens up a little bit towards the top of the climb. If you are in the first 20 wheels at the top of the climb with over a km to go, there is time to move up. But if you are too far behind, then you could be in a bit of trouble there. We have seen guys come from quite far behind in the sprint and win but if you get your timing wrong and go too early you are a sitting duck.
I wouldn't expect any riders who didn't feature in the early sprints to feature here. I would expect Caleb, Andre and Peter to be the main guys to feature for the stage win.
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