A day after newly elected UCI president Brian Cookson held a press conference to discuss a myriad of topics from his first 100 days in office, including the new Cycling Independent Reform Commission, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme graced the start of the Tour Down Under's stage four Unley to Victor Harbor on Friday.
Prudhomme was quick to offer support for the Tour Down Under's WorldTour status on the heels of Cookson acknowledging that a review of the event's status on the WorldTour calendar that could involve potential date changes to make to it more amenable with the following WorldTour races starting with Paris-Nice in France from March 9-16.
"[Tour Down Under] is very comparable to stages in the Tour de France," Prudhomme said. "It is comparable to the most important races in Europe."
Cookson, making his first visit to the Tour Down Under, told media that a calendar review would analyse the "whole structure of professional men's road cycling" which would also include a review of the Tour Down Under's role in the UCI WorldTour, a license that ends in 2015.
"It is very important for cycling to have the president here for the first WorldTour race of the season and that means something," said Prudhomme. "I think it's good for him to be here and for cycling."
Prudhomme also shared his thoughts about a potential date move, which has been proposed as late as February to avoid conflict with the increasingly popular lower-ranked (category 2.1) Tour de San Luis in Argentina, and provide a shorter gap between early season WorldTour events.
"There are many, many meetings now and we have to wait to see what happens," he said. "Huge crowds are very, very important. The Tour Down Under will need to keep huge crowds.
The Tour de France figurehead praised the level of competition with the likes of recent stage winners Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), both two-time race winner and national champion, as well as a yellow jersey holder from last year's Tour de France, and former world champion and Australia's only Tour de France victor Cadel Evans.
"It's a great race, with great winners," he said. "Simon Gerrans, Cadel Evans, and even Marcel Kittel during the opening criterium on Sunday is very, very important."
When asked his thoughts on the dominating performance over the notorious Corkscrew Hill on stage three the day before by Evans, who will not race the Tour this year to focus on the Giro d'Italia in May, Prudhomme said: "I was telling myself it was July."
Making his third visit to Australia and second visit to the Tour Down Under, Prudhomme praised South Australia's support and enthusiasm for the event, but sited one main point of difference between Australia's highest profiled professional bike race and the iconic Tour de France.
"One of the differences in the Tour de France is that there are many, many people coming to the race on their bikes and that is very important," said Prudhomme, who was has served as Tour race director since 2007. "Our very important challenge today is to make the link from the all the people who ride their bikes with the champions of the world of cycling."
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