If the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under, the opening race of the WorldTour calendar, is a barometer for the season ahead, cycling fans can look forward to a terrific season.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) issued a tremendous statement of intent by winning three of six stages, a sign, perhaps, that Mark Cavendish will need to be at his world-beating best to see off the challenge of the German sprint star when the two inevitably go wheel-to-wheel in the closing 200 meters of the world’s biggest races this year.
The final podium of the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under: Gerrans, Boasson Hagen, Bakelants, and Dennis
And while we’re on the subject of rivals to Britain’s world road race champion, Tour Down Under stage victories from Spaniards Oscar Freire (who has won the rainbow jersey three times) and a returning Alejandro Valverde showed that strong men who can power up short climbs and still sprint for the line could be a real threat to the Manx Missile in 2012, not to mention the Belgian, Philipe Gilbert.
Stage Two saw Will Clarke win in Stirling after an attack begun 147km earlier just one kilometer after the start in Lobethal
The Tour Down Under’s line-up had boasted many of the world’s best sprinters, with Daniele Bennati (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD), and, of course, Greipel, among the starters, but stage two was a demonstration of determination over pure speed, as Will Clarke (Uni-SA) soloed to victory in Stirling having launched his attack 147km earlier, just one kilometer after crossing the start line in Lobethal.
Simon Gerrans successfully defended the ochre leader’s jersey on the sixth and final stage in Adelaide
Australian fans were given still more reason to celebrate during the Tour’s closing stages, with Simon Gerrans (GreenEDGE) crowned overall winner in Adelaide after losing the fifth stage to Valverde by half-a-wheel at the top of Old Willunga Hill. Gerrans and his Spanish rival went into the final stage tied on time, but Gerrans took the final ochre jersey on countback in a fairy tale finish to his Australian team’s debut race.
Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen won the sprint jersey after strong finishes in several stages
Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen rode a strong race, and leaves Australia with the Jayco Sprint jersey. Rohan Dennis (UniSA-Austrlia) claimed the Skoda King of the Mountains and the Cycle Instead young riders jerseys, while Radioshack-Nissan-Trek topped the categories for best team and Most Aggressive Rider, in the form of Jan Bakelants.
The WorldTour resumes in Paris on March 4 when the “Race to the Sun” will leave for Nice. In the meantime, many of cycling’s biggest stars will begin their seasons at the Volta ao Algarve, and the Tours of Quatar and Oman. We’ll be bringing you coverage of all of them.
So before we bid farewell to the Tour Down Under for another year, here’s a photo gallery to remind us of the drama and excitement of the 2012 race.