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Santos Tour Down Under 2017 preview: can anybody stop the Aussies?

Australia's finest take on the rest of the world in the UCI WorldTour's curtain raiser

The revamped UCI WorldTour gets underway on familiar territory on Tuesday January 13, when the 19th Santos Tour Down Under rolls out in Adelaide.

The first of 37 UCI WorldTour races in 2017, the season’s traditional curtain-opener now has 500 UCI WorldTour points up for grabs for the winner and the Australian summer has enticed plenty of big names for this year’s edition.

– Santos Tour Down Under 2017: TV schedule –

New teams, new sponsors, and big-name winter transfers rolling out in their new employer’s colours for the first time will all be a feature.

Four-time winner Simon Gerrans will roll out for the 2017 Tour Down Under as defending champion (pic: Sirotti)

But with six of the last eight Tour Down Under winners being home riders – with three of defending champion Simon Gerrans’ four triumphs coming in that time period – can anybody stop the Aussies?

We’ve taken a look at the home riders looking to triumph, and the European pros out to stop them. If you want to watch the race, then take a look at the TV schedule here.

The route

Before we look at who’s in contention for the ochre jersey, we need to look at the route which, once again, is centred on the climb of Willunga Hill.

An uphill finish to Paracombe also features, making this a race for the rouleurs and climbers but – as ever – bonus seconds could prove decisive in deciding the final destination of the ochre jersey.

Stage one rolls out of Unley and should be a day for the sprinters, with the Lyndoch finish identical to the one at which Caleb Ewan kicked off last year’s WorldTour with victory.

Willunga Hill is likely to be pivotal again, featuring twice on stage five – the day the race will be all but won or lost (pic: Sirotti)

Stage two is likely to see the ochre jersey change hands, however, with the uphill finish at Paracombe having proved decisive in the past – Rohan Dennis’ victory there in 2015 earned him enough time to go on to win overall.

Though only 1.87km in distance, the climb – which kicks up at is steepest in the middle – has an average gradient of 6.7 per cent to shake off the winter cobwebs.

Stages three and four are likely to be days for the sprinters, though coastal winds could have on impact en route from Glenelg to Victor Harbor on stage three, and a handful of uncategorised lumps between Norwood to Campbelltown will need to be negotiated the following day.

Stage five is where the race could be won or lost, however, with Willunga Hill the centrepiece of the Santos Tour Down Under – just short of three kilometres in length, the climb, with an average gradient of 7.4 per cent, is tackled twice.

Richie Porte won on Willunga Hill for the third consecutive year in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

However, while Richie Porte has owned the Hill in recent years – winning there in the last three years – he has never managed to unseat the race leader and claim overall victory.

Finally, a 90km circuit race through Adelaide concludes the race and offers a final chance for the sprinters to chalk up an early-season win.

The Aussies

Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott)

Leading the home riders is defending champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott), who will bid for a fifth Santos Tour Down Under victory.

Despite Gerrans winning three of the last five editions, however, no rider has ever successfully defended the Tour Down Under title.

Simon Gerrans celebrates his fourth Tour Down Under victory, but no rider has ever won in consecutive years (pic: Sirotti)

The 36-year-old, who could be riding the race for the final time with his contract up in the winter, has already proved he has the form however, finishing second in the national road race.

The former Team Sky man kicked off Orica-GreenEDGE’s life as a WorldTour team with victory in this race, and he certainly has the characteristics to do so once again: Paracombe and Willunga Hill will hold no fear for a two-time Monument winner and Ardennes Classics specialist.

Orica-Scott, as an Aussie team, place great emphasis on getting their riders in shape for the season opener too, so look out for sprinter Caleb Ewan on the flatter stages as well.

Tour Down Under best result: winner (2006, 2012, 2014, 2016)

Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing)

Rohan Dennis won the Santos Tour Down Under in 2015, when Simon Gerrans was absent, doing so on a course similar to this year’s.

Dennis bolted to victory at Paracombe, timing his climb to perfection as he sailed past team-mate Cadel Evans to pull on the ochre jersey – and he did not relinquish it for the rest of the race.

Rohan Dennis won the Tour Down Under in 2015, the last time the Paracombe climb featured (pic: Tour Down Under)

His chances in 2017, however, much as they did when he won in 2015, will be in what capacity he is going to be used.

With team-mate Richie Porte also among the favourites, Dennis worked for the former Team Sky man on Willunga Hill, as Porte went on to finish second overall last year.

But Cadel Evans was expected to be team leader when Dennis won two years ago, and having two big-name home favourites as options will do BMC Racing no harm.

Tour Down Under best result: winner (2015)

Richie Porte (BMC Racing)

BMC Racing only have three Australian riders on their roster, but all three bring star quality to their home race, with Dennis joined once again by Richie Porte and also newly-crowned Australian champion Miles Scotson.

Scotson, 22, is clearly a man in form, having won the green and gold bands on Sunday but it is Porte – who skipped the nationals – who is the bookies’ favourite.

Richie Porte has won on Willunga Hill three years in a row, and was second overall in 2015 and 2016 (pic – Sirotti)

With Paracombe also on the cards, the route suits Porte – he was second overall, behind Dennis, in 2015.

And nobody knows Willunga Hill better than the 31-year-old, who has triumphed on the climb in each of the last three editions of the race.

Bonus seconds have been his undoing in the past, but with BMC Racing boasting a two-pronged attack with Porte and Dennis, it works hugely in Porte’s favour.

Tour Down Under best result: second (2015, 2016)

Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data)

Lachlan Morton is back on the WorldTour, having signed for Dimension Data, and the 25-year-old Australian returns after a great year in 2016.

Riding for Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis in America, Morton won the Tour of the Gila and Tour of Utah and will now look to prove he can be a GC contender on the bigger stage too.

Lachlan Morton returns to the WorldTour after enjoying success in America (pic – Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis)

The climbs in his home country aren’t as big as those he enjoyed Stateside, but his penchant for attacking makes him a rider to watch at the Tour Down Under.

Dimension Data have Aussie options in the sprint stakes too, with Mark Renshaw enjoying a rare shot at the team leadership, backed by Tyler Farrar and Jacques Janse van Rensburg, before he resumes his usual role as Mark Cavendish’s key lieutenant.

Tour Down Under best result: 32nd (2013)

Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe)

While all eyes will be on his world champion team-mate, Bora-hansgrohe’s Jay McCarthy proved himself in his home country 12 months ago with a stage win and fourth place overall.

Jay McCarthy bagged a stage win and a day in the ochre jersey in 2016 (pic: Sirotti)

McCarthy beat Diego Ulissi and Rohan Dennis to win on the uphill finish into Stirling, and while the gradients of Paracombe are more severe it’s a mark of what he can do.

Also a former podium finisher at the Tour of Turkey, McCarthy’s hopes will rest on what he can do on the hilltop finishes, and also what his role is in support of Peter Sagan, but the 24-year-old earned the right to be considered a contender with his performance 12 months ago.

Tour Down Under best result: fourth (2016)

The others

Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe)

World champion Peter Sagan is the star attraction at this year’s Tour Down Under, starting his second stint in the rainbow jersey in Adelaide for his new team, Bora-hansgrohe.

The German team’s ambition has been outlined by the big signings they’ve made for 2017, having stepped up to the UCI WorldTour for the first time, and Sagan will be tasked with delivering a winning start in Adelaide.

World champion Peter Sagan is the star attraction of this year’s Tour Down Under (pic – Sirotti)

Among the leading contenders in the sprints, Sagan will be able to rack up bonus seconds even if he is unable to add to the 14 victories he enjoyed as world champion last season.

As for the hilltop finishes, Sagan was fourth on Willunga in his last Tour Down Under appearance back in 2010.

His career’s been an uphill progression ever since, and victory Down Under would be the perfect way to kick off life with Bora-hansgrohe.

Ben Swift (UAE Abu Dhabi)

Another rider making his debut for a new team in the Tour Down Under is Ben Swift, with the Brit having ended his long association with Team Sky in the winter.

Swift, 29, won two stages of the race on his way to third overall back in 2011, and racing in UAE Abu Dhabi colours for the first time, he’ll be keen to recapture form similar to that.

Looking forward to my first year with @team_uae_abudhabi

A photo posted by Ben Swift (@swiftybswift) on

The Yorkshireman is a contender for the sprints, backed by Marko Kump, but he’s proved before he can handle the lumpy stuff too.

Milan-San Remo will be among Swift’s early-season target, so capturing some good form and returning to winning ways before the spring campaign would be the perfect morale boost.

UAE Abu Dhabi also have Diego Ulissi and Louis Meintjes, who could mix it up for the GC if Swift is targeting stage wins instead.

Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb)

Wilco Kelderman switched from LottoNL-Jumbo to Team Sunweb in the winter, and will kick off life with his new team by leading them in Adelaide.

Still only 25, Kelderman has proved he can be a GC contender but is still looking – despite Grand Tour top-tens to his name already – for his big breakthrough in the week-long races.

Wilco Kelderman has joined Team Sunweb for 2017 (pic – Sirotti)

His last appearance, back in 2013, saw him finish sixth overall, and like the other climbers his hopes of improving on that will be dependent on who snaffles bonus seconds on the sprint stages.

Nevertheless, Kelderman has proved himself as a bright starter in previous campaigns and a top-ten spot is definitely on the cards.

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky)

One of four British riders in the Team Sky line-up, alongside Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, and neo-pro Owain Doull, Geraint Thomas is the one with pedigree down under.

A stage winner, and third place finisher, with his goals moving to later in the season in recent years, Thomas has ridden in the service of others in recent editions, however.

Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao are both options for Team Sky, having both previously finished on the Tour Down Under podium (pic: Sirotti)

But the Giro d’Italia is among his possible targets in 2017, and so – though Sergio Henao, who finished third last year, could well be team leader, Thomas is also in with a shout.

Much will depend on how he is viewing the race – a form-finder, as in previous years, or as a genuine, winnable race, as in 2013.

Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott)

Orica-Scott say they will be riding for Gerrans, while Caleb Ewan is their option for the sprints, but Colombian Johan Esteban Chaves is very much a contender too.

The 26-year-old, after two Grand Tour podium finishes and Il Lombardia success in 2016, can no longer hope to slip under the radar and kicks off what should be a big 2017 season in his team’s home country.

Johan Esteban Chaves can no longer expect to slip under the radar (pic: Sirotti)

It’s a smart move from the Australians, who have proved particularly adept at sheltering their prodigious young talents, as the media attention will be focussed instead on the home favourites.

But Chaves’ climbing ability is undoubted, and his 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour win – in a race featuring just the one meaningful climb – could be an indicator of his chances in Adelaide.

Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Dutchman Robert Gesink starts his season at the Tour Down Under for only the second time in his career, but he finished sixth on that occasion in 2014 and is very much a GC contender this time.

Robert Gesink rides the Tour Down Under for only the second time (pic – Sirotti)

The 30-year-old Dutchman has been a victim of ill-timed injuries and illnesses in the past, but his ability has never been questioned.

His strong showing on his only previous Tour Down Under was built around consistency throughout the week, and he’ll need to show more of the same in 2017.

Santos Tour Down Under – previous winners

2016 – Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)
2015 – Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing)
2014 – Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)
2013 – Tom-Jelte Slagter (Blanco Pro Cycling)
2012 – Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

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