Machado the man to watch at Santos Tour Down Under

Recent history of the Santos Tour Down Under indicates that Portugal’s Tiago Machado is the perfect underdog for the six-day opening race of the WorldTour. Having transferred from NetApp-Endura to Katusha, he has made his way to Adelaide with the idea of repaying his old friends [team manager] Viatcheslav Ekimov and [directeur sportif] José Azevedo back for their faith in him.

“This is the beginning of the season so I don’t know exactly what my condition is at the moment but I’ve worked to be in good shape now”, Machado told Cyclingnews in Adelaide prior to training in the hills. “I’ve been able to have a really nice training in Portugal since we haven’t had any rain or negative temperatures.”

Since he wasn’t riding for a WorldTour team last year, the Portuguese was forced to take a year off in his Santos Tour Down Under campaign. His discovery of the South Australian race with RadioShack in 2012 coincided with the change of course and the introduction of the uphill finish at Willunga Hill, where he place third behind Alejandro Valverde and Simon Gerrans – which would also be his position in the overall classification. In 2013 (9th on GC), he came fifth in that same stage behind Gerrans, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Javier Moreno and Jon Izagirre. For different reasons, notably Gerrans’ broken collarbone, none of the riders who previously beat him up there are part of the start list this time around.

“I haven’t had a look at the start list yet but I’ve seen a few riders at the restaurant who I believe will be the favorites: Richie Porte, Cadel Evans, Ryder Hesjedal, Luis Leon Sanchez, George Bennett,” said Machado. “I’m here to support the leaders of my team. Until we hit the road, I don’t consider myself as the team leader. The road will decide who the leader is. I completely trust José and Eki. The team believes in my potential and my team-mates are strong too. I’ll have to follow the best guys and if I can be one of them, I’ll be happy.”

“I’ve been close to José and Eki since I joined RadioShack in 2010,” he continued. “I had my first chat in the bunch with José the day he won his last race and I came third.” The encounter happened at the 2007 GP CTT Correios de Portugal. Azevedo who finished 6th in the 2002 Tour de France with ONCE and 5th in 2004 with US Postal is the driving force behind his compatriot who made the headlines in July last year for courageously resuming competing in stage 10 after being announced as abandoning on Radio Tour.

“It took me a while to recover from that crash”, he remembered. “Having finished 11th at the world championship for time trial after that wasn’t bad.” It was indeed the perfect way to find the motivation for a flying start with his new team in 2015.

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