The Tour Down Under once again is the opening race of the WorldTour calendar with just under three months until the South Australian race gets underway. Since ints 1999 introduction onto the calendar and elevation to the ProTour in 2008, the race has attracted the biggest names in the professional peloton. In 2017, world champion Peter Sagan is the star attraction as he returns for the first time since 2010 to make his Bora-Hansgrohe debut.
Baden Cooke, a four-time stage winner at the race, has exclusively previewed all six stages of the 2017 Tour Down Under and the People's Choice Classic criterium for Cyclingnews. Cooke, who rode for the likes of FDJ, Barloword, Saxo Bank and Orica-GreenEdge during his career, was a regular at the Tour Down Under between 1999 and 2011 accumulating intimate knowledge of the roads in and around Adelaide.
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"As per usual the People's Choice Classic will be a day for the sprinters. Many of the GC guys who can still be a bit jet lagged, may just take is easy or even peel off in the end because it won't go towards the overall. The People's Choice Classic is a really good opportunity for the sprint teams to sharpen up and get their sprint trains ready for the other stages so except them to be in full flight. Marcel Kittel has won this in the past and it's also a good course for the likes of Caleb Ewan.
"I was always coming to the Tour Down Under from Australia and I was ready to go so I didn't need a dress rehearsal for the race. This race is more for the Europeans than the Australian's because they've had to travel 25 hours so and need to blow the cobwebs out."
The peloton lined out for the Down Under Classic 2016 (Bettini Photo)
"This stage will be the first real action of the race. I've started some stages up One Tree Hill before if the break hasn't already gone, than it could become quite hectic going up Humbug Scrub. At about kilometre 38 you could see some European guys in trouble there if the race hasn't split up, it's really tough up through there and for some of those guys it will be rude shock.
"If you get a lot of people feeling frisky at the beginning it could all split apart, but the chances are it will come back for a sprint. That first 40km is going to feature some lung busting action for some guys. It depends on what sprinters come to the race, if guys like Marcel Kittel come or Andre Greipel it won't be so simple for Peter Sagan to win but it will depend on the heat. If it's hot with no wind it could be a go slow, but if it's a bit cooler and there is a side wind or something, the break's going to go very fast."
Caleb Ewan outsprints Mark Renshaw to win stage 1 of the 2016 Tour Down Under in Lyndoch (Getty Images Sport)
"Everyone knows the Stirling loop, it's solid but not crazy hard and will be a lot less hard being at the start of the stage. Those small climbs are somewhat decisive when the stage finishes in Stirling but won't be so important at the start. Usually you see a breakaway of three of four guys and then the peloton will slow down a little bit then obviously, as the stage comes through Norton Summit 50km from the finish you will see the speed ramp up as the main bunch chases the breakaway. The finish up in Paracombe is going to be solid but it's not out of reach for guys like Sagan, Simon Gerrans or Alejandro Valverde.
"I think Norton Summit is a bit too far out to go for a rider to make a move there. You might see someone jump there but I don't think they can hold on to the finish, It would be very difficult to hang on from there. It probably wouldn't be a bad tactic to send someone away but I don't think it would stay away. The WorldTour racing is just too organised and most of the leaders will stay with their teams and wait for the finish.
"UniSA have always had a home ground advantage, they know the roads and they are always willing to have a crack. Sometimes the WorldTour teams fall into riding like a WorldTour event, letting a break go and then chasing them before the finish. UniSA isn't locked into that way of doing things and my recommendation to them would be to keep doing what you're doing, look at the course very closely and keep on having a crack as anything is possible. If something out of the norm happens, it's likely to have that team in it."
The first time the Tour Down Under finished in Paracombe, it was Rohan Dennis taking the win and setting up his GC victory (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
"This is one of my favourite stages of the race. There is usually a lot of crosswind at the start and many times in the past, a large breakaway has gotten away at the start. It's the stage with the most crosswind of the race and depending on the wind, if it hasn't already blown to pieces in the beginning, once you hit the circuits and depending on which way the wind is coming from, that can make it very nervous. It's not the stage you are going to win the Tour Down Under but you certainly can lose it if you get caught out if you're in a group that's been caught behind. On those laps if there is any hint of wind, that's just going to blow it pieces.
"If you concentrate too much on the Saturday or one of the harder stages, you can definitely lose the tour on this stage. You have to be very attentive on this stage for sure."
The seaside town of Glenelg is regular host of stages at the Tour Down Under (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
"This stage is just up and down, up and down all day on dead roads, which is very tough going. There are no really big hills but you're on the pedals the whole time. I don't think this stage will be a game changer but it will be stage to stay out of trouble.
"It's a possible day for the breakaway to stay away but it depends on what the sprinters want to do. They could bring it back for a sprint, but if it's ridiculously hot they might just let it go. The make of the breakaway will be important, if there are guys a long way down on GC this is probably their best chance to stay to away.
"If it comes back, it would certainly be a good day for Peter Sagan but every stage is probably up his alley."
Jack Bobridge (UniSA) holds off the peloton and his breakaway companions to win stage 1 of the 2015 Tour Down Under in Campbelltown (Fotoreporter Sirotti)
"This is the main stage, the queen stage, of the race. Once again, it can be very windy in the first part of this race along the beach there. Depending on which way the wind is coming from, it can really split there and obviously it's a long way to go, but this stage is always extremely tactical. Lead-outs coming up the first time up Willunga from teammates about to peel off are like a bunch sprint. Most leaders will have two or three guys stay with them the first time over Willunga and then keep them in position until the second time.
"Simon Gerrans has had great fortune on this stage, he's not a climber but he knows how to gauge his effort fairly well and it's stage he has done very well on. Depending on the wind, if it's a headwind up Willunga Hill, then expect someone like Gerrans to win. If it's a tailwind up the hill, expect someone like Richie Porte to win because that's when the lesser climbers don't have much of an advantage. It's a very tactical stage, it's very exciting and the heat also plays into the outcome and everyone knows they have to be positioned at the front.
"For the fans, you can go and park yourself down in Willunga and see those guys come past three times on the big lap. Then you can walk up the hill and see them come past the first time, then get to top for the finish and you would have seen them five times. It's the most iconic stage in the race."
"After the Willunga Stage, the city stage is great viewing and an opportunity to see the peloton on numerous occasions. This stage is one I've won in the past and it's one that always attracts large crowds. How the Tour Down Under is set up, you usually get two or three guys pretty close on time coming into the final stage, so a lot of the time the sprints come down to deciding the GC which makes it very exciting. This is a great stage for the spectators.
"If you start the race needing a few seconds to take the overall win, you basically have to put your team on the front and keep it all together, have your fastest guy lead you out and hopefully you can put a gap between yourself and the other guys on GC. It puts a tonne of pressure on your teammates because you all have to ride on the front to keep it together when you have 50 guys trying to get away.
"If Sagan hasn't already won two stages then I'd be surprised and he'd be chomping at the bit to get his stage. I expect that there is not a stage in the race that Sagan can't win, he can win any stage, but if someone like Kittel is there it all depends on his form."