The Tour Down Under has grown over the past 14 years from a small regional race to a steadfast part of the WorldTour calendar, race director Mike Turtur can’t help but be pleased to reflect on the event’s history.
Over the last three editions, an association with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong helped to increase the race's popularity, and even after Armstrong's retirement, Turtur still sees value in the still undisclosed investment in his appearance fees.
"It was the deal of a lifetime," said Turtur to Cyclingnews. "There’s speculation about fees and everything else, but the fees were nowhere near what was being reported.
"The value we got out of having him was amazing. He wasn’t just here for the race; he had a lot of involvement throughout the South Australian community."
And whatever the allegations that have dogged Armstrong – particularly in the last 12 months with respect to his FDA investigation there is no doubt that the American boosted the race’s profile in the community. Last year the estimated economic impact was over $43 million, and record crowds attended the events six stages. The big question was whether without Armstrong the race could retain its current status. Turtur is adamant that it has.
"I think the best early gauge is the registrations for the Bupa Challenge Tour, and though we expected those to fall this year, the numbers have in fact remained steady.”
Turtur puts that down to the race’s new race route which he argues has given a wider range of riders the chance to compete for overall honours. Combine that with the increasing focus on WorldTour points and you have arguably the best field the race has seen it’s now 14 year history.
"I think when the list started to come in it was clear pretty early that there was no shortage of quality. Guys like Freire, Bennati, Petacchi – I think it came as recognition of the balance that the route now gives, favouring more all-round riders. We’re happy with that."
Wearing two hats
While Turtur is the race director of the Tour Down Under, since 2008 he has also acted as the Oceania representative on the UCI board. For some, this has prompted suggestions of a conflict of interests in simultaneous promoting a race within Oceania, and at the same time looking after the broader calendar as a whole.
Turtur however rejects this reasoning.
"It’s no different to what Pat McQuaid previously did with the Tour of Langkawi," said Turtur. “I think I have enough personal integrity to be able to make decisions that are in the interests of the sport, and the region as a whole.
"I would never make a decision that would be of the benefit of this race – I’m always acting my role with the UCI in the interests of Oceania."
Turtur also added that there were serious challenges still ahead for the region as a whole, which he said were on the brink of being tackled, because of a resurgence in the "depth and quality of the Oceania region."
See the full video interview with race director Mike Turtur below.