Mitchelton-Scott's Daryl Impey goes into next week's Tour Down Under as the defending champion, and admits that he's going to have his work cut out to try to defend his title. This year's tougher course perhaps favours the climbers, he says, "but it still comes down to who has the best legs in January".
While the South African still has a little way to go to equal the now-retired four-time race winner Simon Gerrans – a former teammate – Impey nevertheless has the opportunity to become the first rider to win the race three times in a row, and beat his own record of having become the first rider to even win it twice in a row last season.
"I think my chances are as good as all the other favourites', and it's about making certain stages count to put myself in a position to win it," Impey said in a team press release. "It's harder because you have a target on your back, but, when your form is good enough, it's still down to who has the best legs in January."
The course gives Impey ample opportunity to stake a claim for a third title, but the summit finish at Paracombe on stage 3, with the climb returning to the race for the first time since 2017, and the Willunga Hill finale – which Impey has still managed to ride well enough on in the past two years to claim overall victory – won't make things easy.
"I'm glad Stirling [stage 2 finish] is back," he said. "I've never quite managed to win that stage, but have been close in the past. It's probably one of my favourite stages.
"Paracombe is tough, and it will test me, as well as many other rivals similar to me, so we'll need to wait and see," he continued. "I'll go all-in to save as much time as possible, and then assess afterwards what to do. I'll prepare slightly differently for that type of effort, and hopefully be able to manage it. For me, that day's going to be a huge decider in the overall winner.
"Overall, it is a race that's more suited to climbers, so it'll be tougher for guys like me. You'll need a stage win in the bag to be able to fight for the win. Willunga, on the last day, is always special and I hope to be going for the overall victory," Impey said.
'The hardest course in the last 22 years'
Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matt White believes this year's race to be the most difficult edition of the race since its inception in 1999. However, as well as Impey, this year's squad will also boast 2018 Vuelta a España champion Simon Yates, who's said that he's ready to try to help Impey take a third title, or to take any chances that come his way.
"There's been no harder Tour Down Under course over the last 22 years," said White. "We're definitely going into the race with one of the strongest teams we've assembled, against a world-class field that's looking to take the title away from us.
"It's the third time the organisers have run Paracombe, and, with two hill-top finishes, it definitely makes it the hardest edition for an all-rounder," he said. "But I still think that the Tour Down Under is always won by seconds, boiling down to key intermediate sprints and bonuses on the line. This isn't going to change – a small mistake in this race can always be very costly.
"I think stage 3 is the most crucial stage of the race. The climb is not as long as Willunga, but it's definitely harder. If a pure climber does win on Paracombe, it's going to be very hard for anyone to dislodge them from winning the overall," he said.
Mitchelton-Scott for the 2020 Tour Down Under: Jack Bauer, Luke Durbridge, Lucas Hamilton, Michael Hepburn, Daryl Impey, Cameron Meyer, Simon Yates
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