Adelaide. A city that’s allegedly so boring, even the jokes about how boring it is are pretty dull.
I last visited Adelaide in my student days, to compete in the Australian University Games (the greatest pretence for a piss-up yet invented) and found to my delight that the local night life narrowly shaded the previous year’s host city, Ballarat.
That is to say that at least we didn’t see any fights.
Of course, this being the week of the Tour Down Under, the city can wear its ‘Radelaide’ tag with pride, and without irony. The carnival is in town: the best bike racers and their entourages, the World Tour’s sponsors and hangers-on, and fans from all over Australia have descended on the city of churches for a week of bikes, sunshine and probably a few bottles of the local red.
And what a week of racing it promises to be.
This is really a sprinters’ race, with most of the stages being relatively short and flat to mildly lumpy. The race has only two really challenging climbs, being the Corkscrew in stage two and Adelaide’s version of Alpe d’Huez, Old Willunga Hill in stage five (well, the course climbs Old Willunga Hill twice, but you know).
The majority of the stages should be decided by bunch sprints. As you might expect, most of the teams have opted to balance their squads towards the fast men.
Lotto-Belisol’s Andre Greipel, consistently January’s fastest man, has already shown he and his extraordinarily professional leadout train are ready to rumble, taking out Sunday’s criterium prelude in style.
This squad has been together for a few seasons now, and I think the battle between them and Omega Pharma-Quickstep for sprint supremacy this season will be a highlight. For this race, I think Lotto-Belisol will take the honours, in the absence of Mark Cavendish.
Other sprinters I’ll be watching closely are of course Orica-GreenEDGE’s Matt Goss, who showed his first signs of good form on Sunday after a flat Jayco Herald-Sun Tour and nationals; Tyler Farrar and Aussie neo-pro Steele Von Hoff (Garmin-Sharp); Mark Renshaw (Blanco); Andrea Guardini (Astana) in his first season in the World Tour; JJ Rojas (Movistar); Yauheni Hutarovich (AG2R); and Marcel Kittel (Argos Shimano).
Having said that, I reckon the Willunga Hill summit finish of stage five will be enough to drag the overall victory away from the pure sprinters and into the hands of a puncheur like Simon Gerrans (OGE), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), or Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
Or perhaps a climber like Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil), Matthew Lloyd (Lampre-Merida) or Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) could steal a win?
And then of course there’s Andy Schleck (Radioshack Leopard Trek) who is returning from an absolutely horrid 2012 and will be eager to show that he’s back in the picture for the Grand Tours. The Tour Down Under is probably not hard enough for Andy to prosper, but it will be interesting to see how he approaches his return to top-flight racing and a new season.
It will be also interesting to see how he copes without his suspended brother Frank, who is still waiting to hear what his punishment will be for testing positive to a banned diuretic during the Tour de France.
Andy’s public comments relating to Oprah Winfrey’s recent guest (‘he who must not be named’ or ‘HWMNBN’ for short) were less convincing than many fans might have hoped. Let’s hope his lukewarm responses to the HWMNBN scandal do not reflect a sense of ‘there but for the Grace of God go I’.
Nevertheless, cycling does move on, and the Tour Down Under will showcase the talents of many of the new generation of stars. Adelaide will be awesome this week. It’s not often I say that.