Preview: What you should know about the 2017 Santos Tour Down Under

It’s just a couple days now until the 2017 WorldTour begins with the Santos Tour Down Under. For some riders this six-day Australian race is a big target; for others it’s just a solid hit-out to kickstart the new season. Ahead of the 19th edition of Australia’s biggest race, CyclingTips’…

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It’s just a couple days now until the 2017 WorldTour begins with the Santos Tour Down Under. For some riders this six-day Australian race is a big target; for others it’s just a solid hit-out to kickstart the new season.

Ahead of the 19th edition of Australia’s biggest race, CyclingTips’ Australian editor Matt de Neef takes a look at the course, the riders to watch and what you need to know before settling in to watch the TDU.

The Santos Tour Down Under comprises a curtain-raiser criterium and six stages.

The Tour Down Under begins this Sunday with the People’s Choice Classic, a 50.6km criterium around the streets of Adelaide. Everyone riding the TDU will take part in the People’s Choice Classic but this criterium doesn’t contribute to the TDU’s general classification.

The six stages of the race proper take place in and around the South Australian capital with riders, team staff and others staying in Adelaide for the duration.

The race’s general classification is likely to be decided on two stages.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the six stages of this year’s TDU:

Stage 1: Unley to Lyndoch (145km) – Almost certainly one for the sprinters. The parcours is a little lumpy but the stage finishes with a downhill run to the line in Lyndoch.

Stage 2: Stirling to Paracombe (149km) – The toughest stage of the race. Starts with five laps of the tough and by-now-familiar Stirling circuit. The stage ends with roughly 10km of climbing, including a steep 1.5km ramp to the finish in Paracombe.

Stage 3: Glenelg to Victor Harbor (144km) – Likely to be another sprint stage thanks to a flat finish in Victor Harbor. Wind could be a factor.

Stage 4: Norwood to Campbelltown (150km) – Pretty lumpy and features an uphill drag to the line, but it should still be a bunch kick.

Stage 5: McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill (152km) – The famous Willunga stage. Three laps of a big loop along the beach, then twice up Willunga Hill, finishing at the top.

Stage 6: Adelaide to Adelaide (90k) – A kermesse-style circuit race around the streets of Adelaide. Another one for the sprinters.

It is the two uphill finishes in this year’s Tour Down Under — stages 2 and 5 — that will create the biggest time gaps and help shape the general classification. It’s worth bearing in mind though that the TDU is often decided by a very small margin — since 2011, only one edition has been decided by more than 10 seconds. Two of those six editions have been decided by two seconds, one by a single second, and one by a countback on stage placings after Simon Gerrans and Alejandro Valverde finished with the same time in 2012.

All of this means that the time bonuses on offer at the end of each stage tend to be vital for those contesting the general classification. As a result, every stage could have an impact on the overall classification, and we’re likely to see the GC contenders vying for bonus seconds (and even intermediate sprints if things get tight).

Stage 2 is the wildcard here – it could be that we see significant time gaps at the end of that stage and that intermediate sprints become less important than normal.

This year’s TDU could have the best startlist we’ve seen in a while.

Il Lombardia winner Esteban Chaves, four-time TDU winner Simon Gerrans, gun sprinter Caleb Ewan — these are just three of the big names that will be in action and this year’s Tour Down Under, and they’re all from the same team (Orica-Scott). Tour de France contender Richie Porte (BMC), former TDU winner Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Paris-Nice winner Geraint Thomas (Sky) will also be there.

It’s a strong line-up, and that’s without considering the biggest drawcard of all: two-time reigning world champion Peter Sagan. In his first race for Bora-Hansgrohe it will be Sagan that attracts much of the crowd’s attention, and rightly so. He’s a genuine superstar of the sport and is unlikely to turn up just to roll around. More on that in a moment.

Simon Gerrans is probably the rider to beat, but he’s got no shortage of competition.

Gerrans is gunning for a fifth Tour Down Under title next week and he’s as good a bet as any to take the overall victory. If it wasn’t already clear from his record, it’s a race that suits him down to the ground — he climbs well enough to be there on the decisive climbs, and his powerful sprint means he can be there for bonus seconds in the fast finishes. He’s also in good form, having won the small-bunch sprint for second at the Australian Road Nationals last weekend, despite having felt out of sorts during the race.

Interestingly, Gerrans isn’t the strongest climber on his team — Esteban Chaves is — nor is he the strongest sprinter — that’s Caleb Ewan. So it’s fair to say Orica-Scott have plenty of cards to play and it will be fascinating to see how they use their resources to best effect.

As mentioned above, stage 2 to Paracombe is likely to be instructive — Orica-Scott have said they have “two quality options in Gerrans and Chaves depending on how the stage is raced”. We’ll have a clearer idea of who the team will be supporting for the Willunga stage by the end of stage 2.

Worth noting: no rider has ever won the Tour Down Under in consecutive years so Gerrans will need to make history to win overall. For the even-more-superstitious: Gerrans’ previous wins at the race have all come in even-numbered years — 2006, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Richie Porte (BMC) has won on Willunga Hill for the past three years and he’s a decent bet to do so again in 2017. This year he’s also got ambitions for the race overall and comes in with a decent chance of achieving that.

Last time the TDU featured two uphill finishes was in 2015 when Porte finished second overall, two seconds behind Rohan Dennis. This time around Dennis is a teammate of Porte’s (and will be riding for Porte) and there’s more climbing before the finish of the Paracombe stage this time around.

Granted, Simon Gerrans wasn’t racing in 2015 when Porte finished second, nor was Esteban Chaves, but still — the terrain of this year’s TDU arguably suits Porte better than any previous edition. And if Porte falters for whatever reason, Rohan Dennis will happily step into his shoes to lead the team (as he did in 2015 when Cadel Evans was BMC’s designated leader and Dennis ended up winning).

Team Sky come into the race with several compelling prospects for the overall title as well. Sergio Henao was third overall last year off the back of a strong performance on Willunga and will likely be in the mix again, particularly with the additional climbing.

Geraint Thomas, too, has finished third overall at the Tour Down Under, after winning a stage in 2013. He’ll likely be in good form as he builds towards his title defence at Paris-Nice, so expect Thomas to be there when it counts.

There are several other riders that are worth considering for the general classification.

Perhaps one of the most interesting prospects for the overall is Canadian Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac). The runner-turned-cyclist was one of the stand-out riders in last year’s edition, taking fifth overall after third on the Corkscrew stage and third on the Willunga summit finish. He’s got a massive engine and the shorter climbs of the TDU suit him well. He’s also had another year to get stronger and smarter on the bike which will only put him in good stead.

Woods will need everything to go his way to win the Tour Down Under, but support-wise, he’s got one of the best teams in the race. Former winner Tom-Jelte Slagter, fellow-former-runner-turned-climbing sensation Brendan Canty, Paddy Bevin, Will Clarke — it’s a strong line-up and one that should propel Woods to within sight of the podium.

Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) is another rider that’s aiming high in 2017. He was fifth overall in 2014 as a result of four top-10 finishes and while he’s been some distance off that in the past two years, his form would suggest he’ll perform well again in 2017.

Haas was third in the Aussie Road Nationals road race last Sunday, finishing behind Gerrans in the sprint for second, and should be in the mix in the bunch sprints … assuming the team is riding for him and not Mark Renshaw. Somewhat obviously, Haas’ success in the general classification will depend on how well he climbs on stage 2 and stage 5.

The sprint stages are likely to be a case of Sagan vs Ewan.

Let’s be clear: there are a handful of strong sprinters in the race. Nikias Arndt (Sunweb) won a stage of the Giro d’Italia last year, Paddy Bevin (Cannondale-Drapac) has an impressive kick on his day, the same with Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida), and Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data) took a couple of second places last year. But all things being equal, it should be a battle between Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan in the four bunch sprints we’re likely to see at the TDU (and at the People’s Choice Classic).

Ewan showed last year that he was a level above the other sprinters in the race, winning the People’s Choice Classic and two stages of the TDU. Even though he now has former IAM rider Roger Kluge as a lead-out man (plus Daryl Impey), he’ll likely find the victories a little tougher to come by in 2017 with Sagan in the mix.

It’s worth noting how Ewan and Sagan have gone in previous sprints, when racing against one another. Considering only sprints in which both finished inside the top 10, Ewan actually leads the better-placing race 2-1. Unsurprisingly, Sagan has better results overall in races they’ve both done, due to his impressive ability to get to the finish on hillier courses.

A couple of things to consider about the Ewan vs Sagan match-up: Irish sprinter Sam Bennett is also racing for Bora-Hansgrohe at the TDU and could be a chance of a stage win if he gets team support. It will be interesting to see how Bora-Hansgrohe approach things. Likewise with Orica-Scott. With Gerrans likely to be in the hunt for bonus seconds for the GC, it will be worth keeping an eye on how the team supports its riders and how those tactics change from day to day.

There are a handful of other riders that will be worth keeping an eye on throughout the race.

Beyond the GC contenders and the sprinters, there’s a whole host of riders that will likely help shape the 2017 Tour Down Under. Here are some of the riders you should keep an eye on.

Cameron Meyer opted out of his Dimension Data contract last year, stepped away from the sport, came back and then achieved his goal of a TDU spot via a strong ride at the Nationals. He’ll provide much needed experience for the UniSA-Australia team and, depending on how things play out, might be in the mix for the GC.

Lachlan Morton (Dimension Data) might be on support duties for Nathan Haas throughout the week, but we can only hope he gets a chance to stretch his legs at some point. He’s one of the most exciting Australian riders to watch, he’s in terrific form, and was very strong at the Aussie Road Nationals last weekend. Could he be a chance on the two uphill finishes?

Jay McCarthy (Bora-hansgrohe) was one of the revelations of last year’s TDU, winning the tough stage to Stirling, wearing the leader’s ochre jersey for a day, and eventually finishing fourth overall. He might be hard-pressed to replicate that result this time around, but you can bet he’ll animate the race in some way.

Rohan Dennis (BMC) has made it clear he’ll be riding in support of Richie Porte at the TDU but, as mentioned, if things don’t go Porte’s way, Dennis will be ready to take up the reins. The 26-year-old South Australian is continuing down his path towards being a GC rider and will likely be hoping for a good overall result in addition to Porte.

Dennis’ teammate Miles Scotson took the Australian road race title last weekend in spectacular fashion and will debut in his green and gold jersey at the TDU. Keep an eye out for the 22-year-old in the bunch — he’ll be on support duties throughout the race (and for most of the season) but is an exciting rider with a huge engine. Who knows what could happen if he’s allowed to get in a breakaway at some point.

Brendan Canty’s rise through the cycling ranks continues apace, as seen in his impressive (if slightly ill-timed) move at the Road Nationals last week. As mentioned above, he’ll likely be riding for Michael Woods’ GC ambitions, but it will be fascinating to see how Canty goes in his first WorldTour race when the road tilts upwards.

The race will be broadcast live on TV and streamed online.

The Tour Down Under will again be broadcast by Channel Nine in 2017. There’ll be late-night highlights of the People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, and then every stage of the race will be broadcast live. Stages 1 to 5 will have the last three hours broadcast live, while stage 6 will likely be shown in its entirety.

The race will also be beamed out around the world. For international broadcast details, and for broadcast times in Australia, check out this page on the Tour Down Under website. Livestreaming will also be available via the TDU/Channel Nine website (geoblocking may apply).

Of course, if you can get to the Tour Down Under to watch in person, that’s your best bet. The race is entertaining, the riding is great, and seemingly everyone in Australian cycling descends on Adelaide, turning the week into one giant get-together. CyclingTips is running bunch rides every day throughout the race, as well as a number of other events. We’d love for you to join us!

If you can’t get access to a TV or livestream, you can follow the race on Twitter via the #TDU hashtag.

Who do you think will win the 2017 Santos Tour Down Under? How will they do it? And what other story threads are you expecting to emerge from the week?

[ct_highlight_box_start]Click through for the startlist for the 2017 Santos Tour Down Under. Click through for a preview of the Santos Women’s Tour at Ella CyclingTips. Stay posted to CyclingTips for daily coverage from the TDU.[ct_highlight_box_end]

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