Mike Turtur is once again expecting the European peloton to the send their finest to the Tour Down Under in January, with the race set to celebrate its 20th edition. The 2018 running of the event takes place January 16-18, with the January 14 People's Choice Classic criterium acting as the key-warm up for the WorldTour race.
Turtur, who has organised every edition of the race since its inception, has already announced that Peter Sagan will return to the race for a third time and Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans are expected to start their seasons at their home race as part of a strong BMC Racing contingent. Orica-Scott have yet to announce their line-up but in 2017 Caleb Ewan led their sprint charge while Esteban Chaves backed-up their GC hopes.
Drawing three-time world champion Sagan is somewhat of a coup for the Tour Down Under, but Turtur laid the groundwork for the World Champion's return almost as soon as the rider crossed line in the 2017 edition of the race.
"He was here this year and the experience he had, and what we saw, was something great for the race. Having him back in the rainbow jersey for our 20th edition of the race is going to be terrific. We're delighted," Turtur told Cyclingnews.
"When he was here this year, after the race we had a discussion about whether or not he benefited from the experience. He'd been here in 2010 when he was first a pro but he said that the race has improved and if you look at his season, if it wasn't for a bit of bad luck he could have won three or four Monuments this year. We've kept in touch throughout the year.
"He understands, we do too, that we're the first race of the season. The terrain and the length of our stages have been designed because of that factor."
The Tour Down Under's format has remained relatively constant but Turtur has added touches to the parcours over the last few years with Corkscrew and Willunga Hill both featuring. Turtur's annual challenge is to design a route that appeases the riders' needs of working their way into the season while also providing the fans with an exciting race. There is only so much an organisers can do – the riders play their part too – but Turtur believes that he has the formula dialled in.
"I know they're WorldTour riders but form is an unknown, so to have long 200km stages will not really fill the requirements of the teams at that time of the year. It's been proven over time that our stages of around 130-150km make a good race and give everyone an opportunity. The package here, in terms of the teams and the riders are concerned, is a really good way to start the season."
For 2018, Turtur has positioned back-to-back hill finishes for the first time in the race's history. That would have made little difference in 2017 given the dominant form of Richie Porte but the 2018 twist at least provides a novel aspect to the race parcours.
"We've introduced the finish at stage 4, with the climb at the end and the finish at Uraidla, which is just 20km from the hotel. We've had Corkscrew, and Willunga in the past and we've been able to change the route, while having that 150km radius. Way back in the early years we had a stage of around 190km. It was pretty clear back then that the riders would ride that far but they wouldn't race it. My way of thinking is that we have stages of around 150km then we're going to have more action, better stages and more willingness from the riders to really take that on. The race is always fast and furious. I don't think that longer stages would really achieve anything. This year with stage 4 and 5 we've back-to-back uphill finishes. We've not had that before at the Tour Down Under."
Other than news of Sagan's participation few teams have yet to announce their leaders for next year's race. Turtur is hopeful that Porte will return, while Simon Gerrans is also interested in racing. Chris Froome remains an unknown but has raced at the Herald Sun Tour in the past. The Tour de France champion would be a significant signing for Turtur's race but as of yet the rider has not made his plans known.
"We're hopeful that Richie will come back. I know that Simon Gerrans is pretty keen to be on the start line too. Now that Lombardia is finished I know that a lot of teams start to focus on the new year and they're figuring their plans for January. Over the next month or so we'll find out a lot more about rosters. It's a pretty exciting time for us.
"We'd love to have Chris here. He did race here in 2010 when Team Sky made their debut. He had a good experience and I did meet with him a couple of years back when he had a training camp here with Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard. We sat down for coffee and he won't rule anything out or anything in. January is an early start but we would be delighted to have him at the biggest event in the Oceania region. The public would love to see him here. We'll have to wait and see."