The men's Santos Tour Down Under returns as a major international race next week, kicking-off the 2023 WorldTour with some of the biggest names in the peloton starting their season with some intense in the warmth of Adelaide and South Australia.
The women’s Tour Down Under is also back on after a two-year COVID-19 hiatus, and is part of the WorldTour for the first time, further elevating the quality of the combined week of racing. Cyclingnews will also have a full preview of the women’s Tour Down Under in the coming days.
The week of racing begins with a lung-opening evening criterium on Saturday January 14 for the women and men, which may not be part of the GC competition for the Tour Down Under but are always a show and always end with a fiercely contested sprint.
The men’s Tour Down Under then officially starts with a 5.5km prologue time trial around the parks to the north of Adelaide on Tuesday January 17 and ends with a hilltop finish, not on Willunga Hill where Richie Porte so often triumphed but on Mount Lofty overlooking Adelaide, on Sunday January 23.
The changes to the men’s race should create a more open and thrilling tour, with the prologue time trial making local resident Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) an overall favourite without ruling out other riders during the race before the final showdown on Mount Lofty. Michael Matthews (Jayco-AlUla), Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Caleb Ewan, who leads the Australian national team, will also fly the flag for the nation, while Chris Froome (Israel-Premier Tech), Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Geraint Thomas and Ineos Grenadiers teammate Ethan Hayter have all opted to travel down under to start their season early as part of the 20-team peloton.
The Tour Down Under was last held as an international race in 2020, when Richie Porte won for a second time. Race director Stuart O’Grady and his organising staff bravely kept the event alive as a national-level competition during the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has not disappeared but Australia has opened its doors and will again welcome an international WorldTour peloton for the first major race of 2023.
European-based riders and teams began to arrive last week so they could recover from the 24 hours of flying and the significant time and meteorological differences. Arriving early allows them to acclimatise and complete a final block of training before the racing starts.
Temperatures are currently above 32°C and expected to climb to 37°C for the criterium on Saturday according the official forecasts, though some of the longer range forecasts are pointing toward a chance of some cooler weather in some of the earlier stages but then possibly a return of the fierce Australian summer.
Simone Giuliani and Stephen Farrand will be in Adelaide to cover the race for Cyclingnews, gathering all the important news, rider reaction, race analysis and the new 2023 bike tech.
How the new route could impact the 2023 Tour Down Under
Stage races are about every second won or lost but the opening prologue in the 2023 Tour Down Under will immediately create time gaps that are likely to shape the subsequent five road race stages.
The winner of the time trial won’t automatically go on to win the 2023 Tour Down Under but everyone else will have to go on the attack on the other stages to pull back time. Three, two and one second advantages can be taken at the two intermediate sprints on each stage and then ten, six and four seconds are awarded at stage finishes.
If Stuart O’Grady’s script for the route goes to plan, the overall winner will be decided on the final climb up to Mount Lofty.
The evening prologue time trial on Tuesday January 17 covers a 5.5km course that starts near the Adelaide Oval cricket ground and then twists and climbs around the Adelaide Parks and Torrens River with a sweeping descent testing the riders’ nerve and bike skills.
The riders will have to use their road race bikes rather than time trial bikes to ease logistic and equipment issues. Aero bars are also not permitted but disc wheels and aero helmets are, perhaps offering some a slight marginal gain to the brave and talented time trialists.
It is the first time a prologue time trial has been included in the Tour Down Under and race organisers are clearly hoping Dennis can use his proven time trial skills to win and pull on the first ochre-coloured leader’s jersey.
The first road stage on Wednesday January 18 covers a 149.9km loop around Tanunda and the spectacular Barossa valley wine area, with four smaller circuits and the short climb of Menglers Hill producing a total of 2,050 metres of climbing.
A section of this stage also appeared in the 2021 Santos Festival of Cycling men’s race, where Luke Durbridge took victory with an 80-kilometre solo break on day one, and could inspire other attacks this year in an attempt to catch out the peloton.
The last climb comes just 10km from the finish and so is a launch pad for attacks but the best sprinters will also be determined not to miss out.
Stage 2 from Brighton to Victor Harbor is over 154.8km and the longest stage of this year’s race follows the spectacular coastline for half distance before a hillier finale.
The final 60km includes two categorised climbs and crosses the Myponga dam wall before a fast road to the finish. In 2020 Giacomo Nizzolo won here, beating a 50-rider group and so Ewan and other sprinters should be contenders in 2023.
The finish overlooks the beaches of Victor Harbor and so if it is hot, riders are likely to continue the tradition of taking a cooling dip in the sea in their skin shorts.
Stage 3 is relatively short at 116.8km but includes 2442 metres of climbing and tackles three of Adelaide’s toughest ascents, navigating Norton Summit, Checkers Hill and Corkscrew Road in the Adelaide hills before finishing in Campbelltown. It is a day for the overall contenders to battle.
Corkscrew Road is 3.6km long and climbs at an average of 6.8% with a section at over 9%. It peaks just five kilometres from the finish, with the road all downhill to Campbelltown. Anyone targeting overall victory will have to climb well, descend well and fight for the time bonuses on offer at the finish line.
The stage around Willunga to the south of Adelaide traditionally decides the Tour Down Under but this year things are different. Stage 4 starts in Port Willunga overlooking the beach and ends in the nearby Willunga Township after 133.2km of racing without climbing the now legendary Willunga Hill, where Richie Porte so often secured overall victory.
Rather than heading up Willunga Hill, the riders go deep into the McLaren Vale wine area. There are some rolling roads but this stage is definitely one for the sprinters.
The overall winner of the 2023 Tour Down Under will be crowned on Mount Lofty, in the Adelaide Hills that overlook the host city skyline, with the finish at the top of the 710-metre climb.
The stage is again short at just 112.5km but includes five assaults of Mount Lofty. It should be a tough and intense final stage, deep in the Adelaide Hills.
The riders roll out from the south suburb of Unley with the neutral section cruelly ending at the foot of the Devil’s Elbow climb. Once over Mount Lofty the first time, the stage covers four 25km laps in the hills via Summertown, Uraidla, Carey Gully, Bridgewater, Aldgate, Stirling and Crafers. That will add up to 3131 metres of climbing in just 112.5km of racing.
The Tour Down Under stage route avoids a steeper early back road section and heads up to Mount Lofty via the main road up from the Freeway and Crafers. The whole climb is only 2.6km long at an average of 7.3% but includes two steeper sections with two and then one kilometre to go. One is measured at 13.3% and so a perfect place for the better climbers to attack and open a gap on their GC rivals.
The stage will be a battle right until the finish line, with any time gaps and the time bonuses all likely to play a part in deciding the final overall winner. The 2023 Tour Down Under could be decided by a single second.
"I think it's important to bring some new, fresh places into the Tour Down Under,” O’Grady said when he presented the 2023 race route, clearly hoping for a thrilling race.
"I was brought in to bring in some new innovations, some new exciting parcours and also didn't want just the same old kind of stages where everybody knows exactly what's going to happen. The new final stage brings in a lot of excitement. It's a short stage, it's aggressive, it's more central to Adelaide, so I'm guessing more and more people will get there.”
While the Vuelta a San Juan entices several big-name riders to travel to Argentina for their season debut, the Tour Down Under is a far more serious affair, with all 18 WorldTour teams on the start list and all fighting for the early WorldTour wins and a haul of UCI ranking points.
We are at the very beginning of a new three-year WorldTour cycle but the changes to the UCI points scales make WorldTour stage races like the Tour Down Under more valuable than ever and every team will want to get some points on the board early to avoid an early spell in the relegation zone.
Few riders have travelled all the way to the Tour Down Under for an easy season debut. The race has been on riders' programmes since the end of October and most will have specific goals and roles and will have trained to be on form in mid-January.
The Australian riders will of course be out in force, with many spending the winter training in Europe after two enforced stays through the off season. Of the 140 riders, 28 are Australian, spread across 14 different teams.
New Australian national champion Luke Plapp will stand out in the peloton in his green and gold and could even emerge as Ineos Grenadiers’ team leader if Thomas and Hayter are not on his best form. He can count on the experience of Ben Swift and the youthful support of Magnus Sheffield, neo-pro Leo Hayter and Kim Heiduk.
Everyone in Adelaide will be hoping local rider Rohan Dennis is at his very best after opting to miss the National Championships. The new course suits Dennis much more, with the prologue time trial offering him a chance to earn a haul of seconds on his rivals and so take the first race lead. Defending the ochre-coloured jersey for six days may be a big task for Dennis and Jumbo-Visma but he will surely be up for a fight on the final stage to Mount Lofty.
Of course he is not alone. Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), Jay Vine and (UAE Team Emirates) and Michael Storer (Groupama-FDJ) all have the talents to be overall contenders on this year’s course. So does Kiwi George Bennett (UAE Team Emirates), who has enjoyed the benefits of passing the summer in the southern hemisphere but can race without home nation expectations.
Jayco-AlUla missed out on the intrinsic benefits and points haul of a home WorldTour race for the last two years and will be looking to use home advantage more than ever.
Michael Matthews has travelled to Australia in January for the first time in years and Jayco-AlUla have also sent Simon Yates down under to double-up their overall hopes. His aggressive climbing style seems ideal for an assault on overall victory if the Briton has anticipated the race in his training and worked on peaking in January and February. The Jayco-AlUla team also includes Luke Durbridge, Lucas Hamilton, Michael Hepburn, Chris Harper and Kiwi Campbell Stewart.
Jayco-AlUla face some serious rivals with so much at stake in the first WorldTour race of 2023, with a number of teams sending riders who will be real contenders.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) has the finishing speed and climbing skills to be a factor, as does Italy’s Antonio Tiberi, who will be part of the Trek-Segafredo team hoping to follow on from Richie Porte when he gave the US-registered team victory in 2020 ahead of Diego Ulissi.
Groupama-FDJ will back Storer all the way for an Aussie-French victory, while Chris Hamilton and Kiwi Pat Bevin could be a threat for Team DSM. Veteran Gorka Izagirre and talented young Ivan Romeo lead Movistar, while Mattia Cattaneo, Mauro Schmid and perhaps even James Knox could do well for Soudal-QuickStep in the absence of Remco Evenepoel.
Hindley is now one of Australia’s headline riders after winning the Giro d’Italia in 2022 and leads Bora-Hansgrohe along with former Paris-Nice winner Maximilian Schachmann, while UAE Team Emirates will be counting on new signing Jay Vine and road captain Bennett and perhaps even Giro d’Italia stage winner Alessandro Covi.
EF Education-EasyPost have already shown off their new pink kit and new Cannondale bikes on the roads of Adelaide, Bettiol and new signing Mikkel Honore could both be overall contenders if they have an early peak of form.
Chris Froome is part of the Israel-Premier Tech line-up, with 2018 and 2019 winner Daryl Impey also racing in what he recently announced will be his final season in the pro ranks.
Caleb Ewan will of course be a rider to watch in the sprint stages, with Matthews, Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious), Boy van Poppel (Intermarche-Circus-Wanty) his biggest fast finishing rivals. Kaden Groves will no doubt be out to make a mark on home turf after his surprising but opportunistic move from the comforts of Jayco-AlUla to Alpecin-Deceuninck.
Teams will be looking to score UCI points by placing multiple riders in the expected sprints in Tanunda, Victor Harbor and Willunga township, with the prologue time trial, stage 3 to Campbelltown and the final stage to Mount Lofty deciding the final overall winner.
Each stage should produce some exciting early-season racing in the heat of the Australian summer, with each stage telling a different story, while producing an emphatic start to the new UCI WorldTour season.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.
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