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2010 Tour Down Under: A dazzling dozen

There are a dozen reasons why the 12th edition of Australia's premier race, the Santos Tour Down Under, could prove to be the greatest in the race's history.

Not least of all is the return of Lance Armstrong to Australian shores - the American made his professional comeback at the event in 2009 and in 2010 brings a new team, RadioShack, intent on delivering results with the hype that surrounds the seven-time Tour de France winner.

Whilst last year the man many believe to be cycling royalty used the event as a launching pad for his global cancer awareness campaign, can we expect his 2010 visit to possess a greater competitive edge? The next fortnight will provide the answer.

There's also the much-anticipated appearance of Australia's own world champion, Cadel Evans, the BMC Racing rider keen to display the rainbow stripes to appreciative Adelaide crowds - tipped to be even bigger than the phenomenal number that witnessed last year's event.

Race director Mike Turtur pulled off what he described as 'a coup' in organising Evans' appearance at the race, although the parcours won't suit the likes of climbers such as Evans. The opening event on the ProTour calendar has favoured the fast men, particularly since gaining ProTour status in 2008.

"It's again lining up to be a big sprinters' race," said Turtur. "I think we've got a good race on paper because that's the style of race it is [a sprinters' event]. If you look at [Tirreno] Adriatico it's the same, Paris-Nice is a different race and so is the Tour de Suisse... each race has certain aspects that make it more attractive to certain riders."

And the two men who have won the past two editions will be returning to the fold as favourites in Adelaide in 2010. André Greipel, the 2008 champion, and Allan Davis, last year's victor, surely enter this year's edition the two men to beat. Whilst the two sprinters are different in style and stature, they both possess the firepower to prevail in the surrounds of the South Australian capital.

Greipel has indicated he and his HTC-Columbia teammates are ready for whatever is thrown at them - and with the likes of Bernhard Eisel, Matt Goss and Leigh Howard supporting him, the German will be hard to beat.

Meanwhile, Davis has experienced a chequered preparation for the event, recently announcing his deal to ride for Astana after leaving Quick Step, with whom he won last year's Tour Down Under. In recent days he has said that while he's riding for a different outfit, his form remains very similar to that with which he began the 2009 edition of the race.

"I've had some good quality base training over the [Australian] summer; I'm pretty much in the same condition as I was last year and what I have been over all the years [I've ridden the Tour Down Under]," Davis explained.

"I've had six [stage] victories, I've been second overall twice and had the [overall] win last year; it's somewhere where I've always started off the season well," he added.

Garmin-Transitions recruit Jack Bobridge is one rider who impressed during last year's edition of the race, the local lad returning as part of the American outfit and keen to get on with the job. While he was given free rein to ride off the front in 2009, this year will be different proposition.

He will have South African sprinter Robbie Hunter and experienced Kiwi fast man Julian Dean in the team as possible dark horses for a stage victory. "There will definitely be some stages we can have a crack at," said Bobridge recently.

"I've learnt to use my head a little bit more - last year I definitely got recognised and I got what I needed - a pro contract. This year I'm a bit smarter and I think I'll use my strengths to jump up the road when it's worthwhile doing.

"This year my role will be slightly different to what it was last year - we've got Robbie Hunter and Julian Dean and they're good sprinters, so we'll have to see how it goes and where everyone's form is on the first stage," he explained.

And while the competition promises to be fierce, Australia's summer sun will again shine on the opening round of the ProTour, with forecasting for the early part of the race delivering days conducive to large crowds and fine times - the conditions are ripe for the nation's biggest race to become even bigger on its 12th birthday.

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