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Dauphiné Libéré
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8th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under - 2.HC

Australia, January 17-22, 2006

All on for young and old in South Australia

By Les Clarke in Adelaide

Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Liberty Seguros)
Photo ©: CN
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Now in its eighth year, the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under continues to evolve as Australia's premier stage race. Cut back to five stages in 2006, the addition of the Jacob's Creek Down Under Classic, a criterium through downtown Adelaide, will showcase the event's riders before they begin the 735-kilometre event that takes in the surrounds of Adelaide.

The 2006 field is crammed with experience and talent, with riders such as Allan Davis, Robbie McEwen and Cadel Evans looking to find some early season form or even a stage win, and the youth brigade, with gun 20-year-old Rabobank pro William Walker hoping to take advantage of some great form after his win in the national open road championships, where he showed he is a superstar of the very near future. "I've got good hopes for this week - I'll see what I can do. I've got good form, obviously, but it's just that I haven't done this race before and it makes it a little bit harder," said Walker, before adding, "I don't really know what to expect, but it'd to great to grab a stage win or be up there overall."

A large crowd
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
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One of the most successful and experienced riders in the field, Robbie McEwen, believes the young riders in this year's race will be hungry for the win and may have what it takes to snare a victory. "As one of the senior members of the peloton I realise it gets harder each year to get into form quickly; these young guys come up really quickly and they ride at a high level. We've got some great young guys coming through and I think they'll try and make themselves famous over the next week or so here in South Australia."

As for his own chances, McEwen says he's not at 100 per cent fitness quite yet, but isn't worried about that at this time of the year. "I'm not at my sharpest at the moment, but your form can turn around pretty quick at this time of year. I'll just try to ride myself into the race and improve as it goes on, and just keep looking further into the season."

McEwen wasn't giving too much away about his own chances, and doesn't think a sedate showing at the national open road championships will have much bearing on his performance at the Tour Down Under, saying, "The fact that I didn't ride a fantastic nationals doesn't change my attitude to this race or the rest of the season." Like Liberty Seguros-Wurth's Allan Davis, McEwen is looking towards the beginning of the classics as a focus for this early part of the year - the Tour Down Under is both an indicator and preparation for the end of March, when Milan-San Remo will be number one priority.

Photo ©: Mark Gunter
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Credit Agricole's Thor Hushovd is another high-profile rider using the Tour Down Under as both preparation and a form guide for late March; but that doesn't mean he's going to take it easy in the sprinter's stakes. He's keen to have a crack at a stage win, and he's got plenty of firepower in his team to achieve that. With the withdrawal of Patrice Halgand to a training accident late last week, Hushovd believes Credit Agricole's chances at an overall win may have been dented. "It's bad, because he's one rider in our team who was in form and could have done something overall," said the big Norwegian, before adding, "We'll try for the sprints, and then see what's happening overall."

Hushovd's teammate, New Zealander Julian Dean, is a rider most Australians won't be familiar with, but one who brings a great deal of potential to the race. Following the teams presentation ahead of Tuesday's Jacob's Creek Down Under Classic, Dean said he's feeling good after a solid off season. "I've worked hard in the off season and it's a little bit unknown how I'm going; but I think everyone's in the same boat, so you always hope you're going to be a little bit better than you think you'll be."

The teams were presented
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Feeling fit, and with a strong team around him, Dean knows they have the chance to achieve big things together. "I feel good - I've trained well, and I've done all I could during the off-season, and I don't think I could be in any better shape. The other aspect of this situation is that we have to see what's going on in the team; obviously we've got a very strong team here, and we have to play our cards right."

There's obviously a big focus on the sprints, and it appears as though the French high-fliers will be looking to their fast men for strong results. "I think Thor [Hushovd] obviously wants to have a go, and even Mark Renshaw, who has quite a few races under his belt now could be quite an unknown capacity if we can make a good lead out and deliver him to the line," said Dean, before continuing, "We have a huge amount of horsepower to deliver any of us to the line first, and we could easily crack a victory with any of the team." So with young guns, experience and plenty of horsepower, the Tour Down Under is set to fire in edition number eight - look out for some fireworks and a few surprises.


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Images by Mark Gunter/www.pbase.com/gunterphotograph