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7th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under - 2.HC
Australia, January 18-23, 2005
Europeans an unknown quantity
By Jeff Jones in Adelaide
Adelaide boy and two-time winner of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), says he's here to try to win the 7th edition of Australia's biggest stage race. After a slightly disappointing seventh place finish at the National Championships last Saturday, O'Grady hopes to bounce back this week and start 2005 on a positive note.
"If I said I wasn't here to win I'd just be lying...and I'd probably get shot," he told a packed press conference in the Adelaide Hilton on Monday afternoon. "So I'm pretty motivated, even if my form isn't 100 percent. I like the challenge and the team has come down with a very supporting role. I've got a teammate, Matt White, who's absolutely flying. So it's not really very mathematical to work out that he and I are going to be the leaders.
"Missing last year's event was pretty difficult. But the team is being good enough to come back for support. Obviously there's a fair bit of pressure, but it's pretty much like every other year I guess," said O'Grady, who will be under a media barrage all week as the home town hero.
O'Grady said that he has stepped up his training compared to last year, but only rated himself as being "80 percent fit...I trained a little bit harder than last year in December and January to try and get good preparation for the National Championships and the Tour Down Under. So I've probably gone a little bit harder than I did last year, but last year was a long season, I had a little bit bigger break than I had before but I just felt I needed it and the form's not too bad."
O'Grady predicted a hard race from the gun when it gets under way on Tuesday evening with the 50 km East End Adelaide Street Race. "I think the new rule that tomorrow's criterium counts for time is going to change things already," he said. "In the previous years I've raced it, we'd see a break go off and lap the field, and the other guys would roll around and save their energy for the next day. It's already going to be a lot more competitive tomorrow night. You just can't afford to lose 10 or 20 seconds so it's going to be extremely fast and a hard race.
"Once the actual road stages begin it's always going to be a similar kind of a program because the European guys will be doing their first proper road stages. When the smack goes down, their heart rates will be going through the roof so the Aussie guys have got a bit of an advantage over them. Once one team has a couple of selected riders in the front group, it's probably going to be out of those few again. And with Checker's Hill not being in the first road stage - it's later on in the week - it will probably be a bit different for the first few days."
The quality of field at the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under is improving each year, a fact that O'Grady acknowledged. "I think the race is just building in importance," he said. "The teams are coming down a little better prepared, they're coming down a bit earlier, and it's attracting some big stars, like Gilberto [Simoni] has come down. There are some big names coming down to the Tour Down Under for a reason. Obviously to get fit but any bike race you win...there's no easy races any more, so the Tour Down Under is an important build up for the European season."
The Simoni experiment
For Lampre-Caffita's team leader Gilberto Simoni, the JCTDU represents a big departure from his usual early season racing program. But the dual Giro d'Italia champion is always willing to try something new. "I'm here because it's a new experience for me and because I would like to start immediately with the season," said Gibo, who looked relaxed and happy to be Down Under. "The reason I'm here is because I saw big riders like Stuart O'Grady, McEwen and others win the Tour Down Under and also be strong during the Tour de France and the World Championships. So I thought that I could do the same and this would be a good opportunity for myself. But I will see tomorrow how it's going and will see what I can do."
Simoni said that he had no idea of how his form would be. "I don't know because I've never started to race so early in the season, but I hope to do as well as I can. Also I know that the Australians are very good. It's one of the first five nations - fourth in fact. So I don't have to teach anything to anybody," he smiled.
Nozal working for Davis
It's also Spanish rider Isidro "Axeman" Nozal's first time in Australia, and the runner up in the 2003 Vuelta a Espaņa said that he'll be focusing his efforts on helping Liberty Seguros teammate Allan Davis. "My goal is to prepare the season as well as I can, and also to try to help my teammates - especially Allan - to try to get some victories," said the 27 year-old truck driver. "Allan's already won one race about a month ago. I saw that he was in quite good shape. Perhaps not 100 percent if you compare it to some of the other riders, but with the help of myself and my teammates I think he might be able to take out some sort of victory."
Although he's only been in Australia less than a week, Nozal said that he has been impressed with things a the JCTDU so far. "As far as I can really comment on, the race organisation is optimal, the hotel, the area for the mechanics to work in, it's fantastic. From what I can see from looking at the race circuit itself, it's a great format of racing. Obviously the Europeans aren't as prepared as they would be later on in the season. The race organiser has thought of that and there are no exceptionally long hills. Even though the conditions aren't optimal, we can still get in there and compete."
No pressure for Cadel
Davitamon-Lotto's new signing Cadel Evans has already proved his worth by helping teammate Robbie McEwen to win the Australian National Championship last Saturday in nearby Echunga. Evans, who finished fourth in the event, helped ensure the final breakaway's success while sacrificing his own chances for McEwen. Evans surprised himself at how well he was riding, given that it is still January.
"Before this season started, I wanted to have a good National's, but above all I wanted to get ready for the European season and the National's were a bit of a test," he explained. "If I am going well then it's a bonus; if not then it's no big deal, because later in the year is what really counts for me. To be out there with Robbie and put Robbie in the right position was great."
"From a results point of view, I'm a bit further ahead of where I need to be for sure, but when you're riding good you never say it's too good - you take good form when it comes. I was happy that on a course like that, which wouldn't normally be a course for me, I was there at the end."
Evans has no particular role this week, even though he is a candidate for the overall victory here. "My request from the team is just to be here so I'm here," he said, adding that the switch from T-Mobile to Lotto has been "Great. It's a lot of fun, a new environment, new people. It's a change for me."
This season's big goal will be the Tour de France for Cadel Evans, who has yet to race the Grand Boucle. "Being the only GC rider on the team is going to put a lot of weight on my shoulders on that side of things," he said. "But with responsibility there's opportunities, or vice versa. But this will be my first Tour so we'll wait and see what happens there. I chose to have a pretty heavy race program leading up to the Tour, more to get back into the swing of things after the last two years, which have been very dry on results. So I'll take the year as it comes, but of course the Tour is the biggest thing for the team."
The first thing that Cadel and all the other riders in the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under will have to negotiate is the 50 km East End Adelaide Street Race, which promises to be a hard fought race down to the wire. The riders then face four 150 km (or so) road stages, each containing one categorised climb - certainly not a severe test at this time of the year. The decisive stage looks to be the fifth, which runs from Willunga through McLaren Vale and includes the tough 3.5 km climb of Willunga Hill towards the end of the stage. The last stage is an 81 km circuit race around the River Torrens in Adelaide's centre.
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