The 2013 UCI WorldTour season begins tomorrow in Adelaide, South Australia, with the opening stage of the 2013 Santos Tour Down Under.
Nineteen teams will roll out for the 135km stage from Prospect to Lobethal, of whom 17 are registered to compete in cycling’s top tier.
World road race champion, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), two-time winner, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), and defending champion, Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), another rider to have won the race twice, will feature among a heavyweight line up.
Sprinters have traditionally fared well in Australia, and Greipel opened his 2013 account with victory yesterday in the criterium race that has become the curtain raiser for the Tour Down Under.
Many of the teams have sent sprint-heavy squads, with Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), Yauheni Hutarovich (AG2R-La Mondiale), Lampre-Merida’s Roberto Ferrari, and the Garmin-Sharp duo of Tyler Farrar and Robbie Hunter, likely to challenge the German.
Some of the fast men will come from the home nation. Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mark Renshaw (Blanco Pro Cycling), and CJ Sutton (Team Sky), are all blessed with the speed to score stage wins.
Old Willunga Hill, which last year played host to a thrilling battle between Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), returns on stage five, and will provide a real test for the Classics hardmen.
The Astana duo of Enrico Gasparotto, winner of last year’s Amstel Gold Race, and Maxim Iglinsky, reigning Liege-Bastogne-Liege champion, could show themselves here, and perhaps even Gilbert, who, having devoured the Cauberg en route to the biggest win of his career, will find Old Willunga Hill an enticing prospect if he has any form so early in the season.
Overall victory is likely to be contested by Gerrans, whose Australian sponsors, not to mention fans, will be keen for a repeat of last year’s triumph, and is likely to have prepared specifically for the race.
Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen is another rider with the all-round ability to challenge for overall victory, and with backing from riders with big engines like Bernie Eisel and the British trio of Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, and Luke Rowe, will be ably supported.
And as an outside bet, how about Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM)? The Belgian has shown flashes of brilliance, most notably his victory on the Queen stage of last season’s Giro d’Italia, a race in which he finished third overall. Now 26, he’ll soon be entering his peak years, and victory in a week-long stage race in January should by now be within his grasp if he is to mature into a rider routinely able to contend Grand Tour podiums.
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