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A year after its first appearance at the Santos Tour Down Under, Australian ProContinental team Drapac Pro Cycling goes into this year’s race with a focus on sprint finishes, rather than breakaway opportunities.
While the team had a big-name sprinter in Jonathan Cantwell in last year’s race, much of the team’s strategy in 2014 was about being visible, to show race organisers that the team’s wildcard invitation was justified, and to create exposure for the team’s sponsors.
Indeed, Drapac featured in a breakaway in all but one of the six stages, with Will Clarke getting up the road on no less than three occasions.
But in 2015, there’s a renewed focus on the team’s chances in the fast finishes, thanks largely to the form of the team’s Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert. Wippert was Drapac’s most successful rider in 2014, taking eight of the team’s 11 UCI-classified victories for the season. He’s started 2015 in similarly promising fashion.
In Sunday night’s People’s Choice Classic — a warm-up criterium before the Santos Tour Down Under proper — Drapac’s Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert took third place behind Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) and Movistar’s Juan Jose Lobato. The result gave the 24-year-old confidence coming into the new season and his first berth in the Santos Tour Down Under.
“After this [third place] it gave me some faith for the rest of the week”, Wippert told CyclingTips after the People’s Choice Classic. “The boys worked really hard and they were all there when they had to be. We’re going to give it another try on Tuesday.”
Wippert didn’t hesitate when asked what he would like to get out of the six-stage Tour.
“A stage win. That’s the goal”, Wippert said. “I [would have been] really happy with a podium before I came here so today we had that and the next step is hopefully a stage win this week.”
That focus was reflected by Drapac’s General Manager Jonathan Breekveldt.
“We want a strong result in one of the stages, whether that be a stage win or another podium”, Breekveldt told CyclingTips at the Drapac team launch in Adelaide today.
“We’re pretty excited and pretty happy with what happened last night. It’s a new lead-out train. We’re still ironing out some of the creases and if it was working a little bit better maybe it could have run second but we’ll work on the train.”
A number of personnel changes for 2015 have seen Drapac’s lead-out train strengthened across the board, and the team selected for the Santos Tour Down Under reflects a focus on the fast-finishes. Supporting Wippert in the sprints will be veteran sprinter and three-time stage winner at this race, Graeme Brown, former Australian U23 time trial champion Jordan Kerby, former Swiss national champion Martin Kohler and Will Clarke.
Tim Roe and Travis Meyer also line up for the team, the latter saying at today’s team launch that he’ll be saving himself for the overall classification.
“I’m feeling pretty good so I might have a crack at GC here”, Meyer said. “There’s a lot of good GC guys here but I think I’m in really good shape so I might have a crack at that.”
But even with a focus on the sprints and, to a lesser extent, the general classification, we might still see the red colours of Drapac up the road as the race unfolds over the next six days. But, as Jonathan Breekveldt told CyclingTips, it’s a case of finding the right mix.
“A guy like Will Clarke can go up the road every day but he’s invaluable in a lead-out train with what he can do,” Breekveldt said. “That’s a difficult balance because we want to give guys like Will their freedom because he’s proven he can win a stage from the break.”
“We’ll pick some days where it’s all for the sprint and I think there’ll be other days where the opportunists can go up the road or can try to save themselves for the GC.”
The six-stage Santos Tour Down Under begins in Tanunda tomorrow with a 132.6km stage through to Campbelltown. It’s a stage that’s likely to go to a sprint finish, despite the Checker Hill climb roughly 30km from the finish.
Stage 4, into Mount Barker, and stage 6, a circuit race in Adelaide, are both expected to go to a sprint finish as well, with the remaining stages suiting the climbers or the fast-finishers that can negotiate the uphill grades.