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10th Tour Down Under - ProT
Australia, January 20-27, 2008
ProTour is go!
By Paul Verkuylen
For the first time ever, the ProTour will kick off outside of its usual borders of Europe. South Australian city, Adelaide will once again play host to some of the biggest names in professional cycling, as the Tour Down Under celebrates its tenth year.
Organisers of Australia's biggest race are hoping that the tenth anniversary celebrations coupled with it new UCI ProTour status will see the previous record number of spectators smashed as they aim for half a million cheering fans to line the streets of Adelaide.
"Never before in the 10-year history of the Tour Down Under have we broken the half-a-million spectators mark. I'd love to see it happen this year," Premier Michael Rann said.
"It would be the best possible tenth birthday present and just reward for an event that has grown in stature every year to now become the first stop in world cycling."
Riders from all corners of the globe have been converging on Adelaide over the past few weeks as they prepare to do battle with the local Australians, who will be keen to put on a class performance in front of a home crowd, one of the only times they are able to do so as they spend the remainder of the season racing on the roads of Europe.
"We are joining the world stage of cycling and this is our chance to show the world that our own Tour Down Under is up there with the best races in the world," Premier Rann said.
"I want us to give the Belgians, French, Germans and Italians a lesson in cycling and show that South Australia is an emerging force in the cycling world.
Due to the Tour's position on the calendar as well as the fact that most of the Europeans have travelled to Australia from the harsh winter, it is hard to go past the local Australian contingent, headed up by previous winners, Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Simon Gerrans (Credit Agricole) and recent Australian road champion Matt Lloyd (Silence Lotto) as potential candidates for the overall win.
With temperatures often soaring into the 40's, the Aussies have an advantage over their European colleagues having been training at home since late last year. But that's not to say that the European based riders will be out of contention. Last year winner Martin Elmiger (AG2R La Mondiale) has returned and will be keen to re-produce his performance from last year before returning back to Europe to capitalize on the form earned in Australia.
For the first time ever, due to the ProTour status, Rabobank are fielding a strong team that will be keen to grab some early season victories. With three Australians on the roster, they will have plenty of local knowledge to help them to that goal. Among them is previous Australian champion and runner up in the under 23 world championships, Will Walker, who is hoping to put some of the form that he has built in the off season to good use as he chases a victory.
"It is looking like a bit of a sprinter's race," Walker explained to Cyclingnews.
"The stages are a bit shorter, so I will be looking at getting in a break away that decided the GC like every other year, if that doesn't happen then to get in a break away another day.
"You never know how it might pan out. Now that it is ProTour it might just be sprints every day. If not then I would like to take the opportunity when it presents itself."
Gerrans is another local who will be looking to impress. Joining his new team, Credit Agricole, for the first time in Adelaide, they will be surely looking to the explosive Victorian to put some runs on the board in an event that he knows well after his 2006 victory.
"I started training at the start of November, so I have a few months now," Gerrans said, going on to explain that the hit out at the Bay Series as well as the nationals should hopefully see him in good shape for the early season. "All the training has been done now, it's just a matter of freshening up now," he said before the Nationals just a week ago.
With shorter than normal stages and the majority of the riders having not raced this season yet, break-aways and big gaps may be expected by some, but sprinter's, Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), Graeme Brown (Rabobank), Mark Renshaw (Credit Agricole) and Alan Davis (UniSA) will be willing their team-mates along in the hope that each stage comes down to a mass finish.
With the best quality field ever assembled in Adelaide, this year's edition is set to sizzle as a win here will earn the rider the very first ProTour leader's jersey for 2008.
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Images by Shane Goss/www.licoricegallery.com