Tour Down Under: UniSA-Australia the likely only wildcard for 2017

For the past three editions of the Tour Down Under, Australian Pro Continental team Drapac have been wild card entrants at the WorldTour race alongside the UniSA-Australia national team. In 2017, the UniSA-Australia team are likely to be the sole wild card team following the Drapac and Cannondale team merger from January 1.

As a WorldTour race, the Tour Down Under cannot invite Continental teams, and as there is currently no Australian Pro Continental teams, the 18 WorldTour teams will be joined by UniSA-Australia for the January 17-22 race.

"It is unlikely at this stage because there are a number of things that will determine a wildcard for our race," Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur told Cyclingnews of the possibility the race would be inviting Pro Continental teams for 2017.

"If you look at our history, we decided as an organisation to support Australian cycling in another way. We do a lot in the way we support and implement the national team sponsored by UniSA and give them the opportunity to many young cyclists to be exposed to this level of racing. Previous to that, we always ran a U23 national team. We have done a lot for the development of Australian cycling with this race."

In recent editions of the race, Will Clarke, Jack Bobridge, Steele von Hoff, Rohan Dennis and Jack Haig have won stages and classifications. In 2004, Patrick Jonker won the race overall for UniSA-Australia.

Prior to Drapac being awarded a wildcard entry to the race, BMC in 2010 was the only other occasion a Pro Continental team has been invited to Adelaide. The exception was made on that occasion as Cadel Evans had become the world champion in 2009 and otherwise would not have been able to race on home soil in the rainbow jersey.

Turtur explained that when Drapac rode under a Pro Continental license between 2014-16, "we felt that it would be in the interest of our race and good for them and also good for Australian cycling if we gave them a wildcard to participate here."

In its three appearances at the race, Drapac enjoyed a final day victory in 2015 via Wouter Wippert, and Will Clarke claimed several combativity prizes.

While he isn't against international Pro Continental teams riding the Tour Down Under, several contributing factors such as availability of rooms at the Hilton Hotel which serves as race HQ in January.

"There are many high quality international Pro Continental teams, but our budget restricts us in the number of teams we can have start and there are also other considerations with the hotel and tour village in terms of logistics and number of teams we can handle," he said. "It is not just a matter of making a decision based on a quality team and giving them a wildcard. There are a lot of other considerations that need to be made, especially when it comes to budgeting and also logistics.

"There is a time and place for us and when it suits us and works for the race then obviously we will do it."  

In 2016, there were four Australian registered Continental teams - Avanti IsoWhey Sports, Data #3 Cisco, St George Merida and State of Matter/MAAP - which was down from six in 2015. As it stands, none of the current Australian Continental teams are planning to move up the Pro Continental level. Should they make the move, Turtur would welcome them as wildcard entrants to the race as he explained.

"Our policy is that if there is a Pro Continental team registered in Australia that we would wildcard them without question," he said. "If we have more than one, the higher ranked team of the two will get the wildcard. That is our policy and that is what we have in place now. That goes without saying if we did have another Australian team they would be wildcarded. No problem."

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