Tuesday sees the start of the Santos Tour Down Under and with it the 2012 UCI WorldTour season and, of course, our Fantasy Cycling game, back for its second full season. Here’s our guide to this week’s race, which with its first ever hilltop finish on Stage 5 promises to be an intriguing 14th edition of the event.
If you haven’t already signed up for the Fantasy Cycling game, head over here to get started. As last season we’ll be getting expert tips throughout the season from Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas and we hope to give you his thoughts on the Tour Down Under before the race gets under way on Tuesday.
Played out in the beautiful countryside around Adelaide, home to Australia’s main wine-growing region, the race features the WorldTour debut of the country’s first top-flight team, GreenEdge, which boasts an exclusively homegrown line-up for the coming week.
Despite being a brand new team, GreenEdge has three past winners of the event – defending champion Cameron Meyer, 2006 victor Simon Gerrans, and Stuart O’Grady, twice Tour Down Under winner, including the inaugural edition back in 1999.
Another of its riders, Matt Goss, finished just two seconds behind Meyer last year when the pair rode for, respectively, HTC-Highroad and Garmin-Cervelo, showing just how crucial time bonuses can be; Team Sky’s Ben Swift, absent this time round, was only six seconds back in third place.
The start list features our other former winners of the race – Team Sky’s Michael Rogers, AG2R’s Martin Elmiger, Luis Leon Sanchez of Rabobank and a two-time winner in the imposing shape of André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol, who has signalled his intentions with victory in this weekend’s Down Under Classic criterium that acts as a warm-up for the main event.
The race features plenty of other big names, including a brace of former world champions in BMC’s Alessandro Ballan and Oscar Freire, making his debut for Katusha, while other stars include Lampre-ISD’s Alessandro Petacchi, Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas, Garmin-Barracuda’s Heirich Haussler and Rabobank’s new signing, Mark Renshaw.
It also sees the return to the sport, following his two-year ban for his implication in Operacion Puerto, of former world number-one Alejandro Valverde, riding for Movistar, the current incarnation of the Caisse d’Epargne team with which he rode the 2010 event.
While Valverde could be one of the riders best-suited to that uphill finish on Stage 5, Jose Joaquin Rojas, who pushed Mark Cavendish all the way to Paris for the Tour de France points jersey last July, may be a better prospect to take the overall title for Movistar.
However, it’s former team mates Boasson Hagen and Gerrans, who last weekend won the Australian national championship, that the bookies see as most likely to fit it out for the ochre jersey, with Goss, Rojas and Haussler also expected to figure alongside past winners Sanchez, Rogers and Greipel.
The University of South Australia, sponsors of the Uni SA team, has produced a stage-by-stage overview of the 2012 Santos Tour Down Under with race director Mike Turtur – the interviewer, by the way, is Pat Jonker, winner of the 2004 edition, who also gives detailed video introductions to each stage below.
Tuesday 17 January
Prospect to Clare, 149km (map and profile)
Wednesday 18 January
Lobethal to Stirling 148km (map and profile)
Thursday 19 January
Unley to Victor Harbor 134.5km (map and profile)
Stage map and profile
Friday 20 January
Norwood to Tanunda 130km (map and profile)
Stage map and profile
Saturday 21 January
McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill 151.5km (map and profile)
Stage map and profile
Sunday 22 January
Adelaide Street Circuit 90km (map and profile)
UK Coverage on Sky Sports
Tuesday 17 January - Stage one: Prospect to Clare
30-minute highlights on January 17 at 1830 (SS4), 2130 (SS2), January 18 at 0000 (SS4), 0900 (SS2) and 1430 (SS3).
Wednesday 18 January – Stage two: Lobethal to Stirling
30-minute highlights on January 18 at 1830 (SS2), January 19 at 0200, 0900 and 1430 (all SS3).
Thursday 19 January – Stage three: Unley to Victor Harbor
30-minute highlights on January 19 at 1830 (SS2), January 20 at 0130 (SS4), 0600 (SS3), 1000 (SS2), and 1500 (SS3).
Friday 20 January – Stage four: Norwood to Tanunda
30-minute highlights on January 20 at 1830 and 2030 (both SS4).
Saturday 21 January - Stage five: McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill
Live coverage on January 20 from 0000-0400 (SS4) and highlights on January 21 from 1300-1500 and 1700-1900 (both SS4).
Sunday 22 January – Stage six: Adelaide Street Circuit
Live coverage on January 22 from 0200-0500 (SS4) and highlights at 0900-1100 (SS3), 1500-1700 (SS3), 1730-1930 (SS2), 2100-2300 (SS4), January 23 at 0230-0530 (SS4), 0900-1100 (SS3), and 1500-1700 (SS3).
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.