Preview: Your guide to the 2019 men’s Santos Tour Down Under

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The Santos Tour Down Under is the biggest bike race in Australia and the first race on the 2019 men’s WorldTour calendar. It’s had a bit of a shake-up this year with the queen stage moving to the final day which should make for exciting racing until the very end.

Read on for our preview of the 2019 men’s Tour Down Under, including a look at the course, the stages that matter, and the riders you should keep an eye on.

The course

The men’s racing at the Tour Down Under starts on Sunday with the Down Under Classic, a one-hour criterium in East Adelaide. This race isn’t part of the TDU proper — it doesn’t count towards the general classification — but it is raced by the same riders that will ride in the main event. The Classic is a great chance to see which riders are in form for the real thing, particularly the sprinters.

There’s a ‘rest day’ on the Monday, and then the six-stage TDU begins on Tuesday.

Stage 1: North Adelaide to Port Adelaide (132.4km) – A lumpy stage out through the Adelaide Hills but one that should end in a bunch sprint.

Stage 2: Norwood to Angaston (149km) – A reasonably straightforward day that ends in the Barossa Valley. There’s a slight rise to the line over the last kilometre but it should still be a bunch sprint.

Stage 3: Lobethal to Uraidla (146.2km) – Another lumpy day in the Adelaide Hills that mainly comprises six-and-a-half laps of a tricky circuit around Uraidla. More than 3,300m of climbing for the day!

Stage 4: Unley to Campbelltown (129.2km) – Includes a few climbs here and there but this stage is all about the pinchy Corkscrew Road (2.5km at 9%) which peaks 5.7km from the finish. It’s all downhill to the line.

Stage 5: Glenelg to Strathalbyn (149.5km) – Features the early climb of Sellicks Hill but should end in a bunch sprint.

Stage 6: McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill (151.5km) – The traditional queen stage of the TDU, moved from stage 5 to the last day of racing. The stage includes two ascents of the now-famous climb (3km at 7%) and finishes at the top of the second.

Deciding the GC

When it comes to stages that will affect the GC, there are two clear standouts: stage 4 (thanks to Corkscrew Road) and stage 6 (Willunga). The climbs are a similar length, but the finishes are very different.

The finish to Stage 4 is up and over the top of Corkscrew Road, meaning you can’t just be good uphill — you need to descend well, and likely have a fast finish. A solo winner on this stage is a possibility (see Cadel Evans’ win in 2014), so too is a small group coming to the line (see Simon Gerrans’ win in 2016, below).

Stage 6, by contrast, is all about the climb of Willunga. As we saw with Daryl Impey’s overall win last year, you don’t need to be a pure climber to do well on Willunga — it’s short enough that the lighter all-rounders can get up there in very good time.

The winner of the 2019 TDU will need to perform well on both Corkscrew and Willunga. And if recent editions are anything to go by, they’ll probably need to pick up some time bonuses along the way too.

With the TDU’s decisive climbs being quite short, it’s not uncommon for a handful of riders to be within close proximity on the GC. As a result, time bonuses at the finish of each stage (10, 6 and 4 seconds) and at intermediate sprints (3,2 and 1 second) can become vital.

This tilts the advantage in the direction of the all-rounders with a fast-finish (think Daryl Impey) — riders who can pick up time on a handful of stages, as opposed to the pure climbers who have only two stages where they can realistically take time (think Richie Porte). As a result, it makes it all the more important for climbers to take as much time on the climbs as they can.

Moving the Willunga stage to the end of the race likely won’t create a different outcome than if it was the penultimate stage. But it’s a good move — that final stage around Adelaide tended to be a bit of an anti-climax with the GC having been decided the day before. Now it’s likely we won’t know until the final metres of the TDU who will win the race overall.

GC contenders

Looking at the startlist, there are a handful of riders that stand out as potential overall winners:

Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) – The defending champion and one of the most versatile riders in the peloton. He can sprint, he can climb, and he can be in the mix on virtually any terrain. The short climbs of TDU suit him perfectly, so too does the fact time bonuses often prove so crucial. He can feature high up on just about every stage this year, and with a strong team behind him this will likely be the strategy.

The South African always brings good form into the early season and he’ll be motivated to win TDU for a second year running.

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) – Porte has won the last five times the race has gone up Willunga and he’ll be the favourite to take number six. The question will likely be whether he can add to his overall title in 2017, or whether he’ll be consigned to yet another podium finish (Porte’s been second on three occasions).

Porte hasn’t raced yet this year so it will be interesting to see what sort of form he brings to TDU, and how he manages to gel with teammates from his new Trek-Segafredo squad. We’ll see on Corkscrew Road how Porte’s faring but it will be Willunga where Porte needs to take the most time — he won’t be able to rely on picking up time bonuses on other stages like Impey.

For the past five years Porte has been unbeatable on Willunga Hill.

Michael Woods (EF Education First) – Woods didn’t do TDU last year, but he was fifth overall back in 2016. He’s one of the best in the world uphill, particularly on short, steep climbs. Expect him to be right up front on the race’s two main ascents. A podium finish wouldn’t be a shock.

Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) – Always one of the most consistent performers throughout the Aussie summer of racing and, like Impey, a very strong all-rounder. McCarthy can take bonus seconds on the flatter stages (depending on how the team balances his and Peter Sagan’s goals), he should be near the front on Corkscrew Road, and he should be thereabouts on Willunga. A podium is certainly a possibility (he was third overall in 2017).

Nathan Haas (Katusha-Alpecin) – A very similar rider to Jay McCarthy, Haas is good uphill and has a strong sprint. He peaked at TDU in 2017 with second on Willunga but slipped to fourth overall on the final day. How Haas goes at TDU will depend, as with most riders, on how he performs on stages 4 and 6.

Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) – The time trial world champion has a new team in 2019 and, as with Porte, it will be interesting to see how he fares in the new environment. It’s not entirely clear he’ll race for GC but if he does, and he’s in good form (his ride in the Aussie Nationals time trial suggests he is), he’s a shot at the podium, if not a repeat of his 2015 victory.

Rohan Dennis winning stage 3 of the 2015 Tour Down Under en route to overall victory.

Wout Poels (Sky) – It’s far too early in the year for Poels to be at his best, but he’s a strong enough climber that he can match it with the best on Corkscrew and Willunga. The question will be how seriously he’s taking this race and whether he’s motivated to race for GC. Hopefully he gives it a red-hot go.

George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) – Bennett has been pretty good at Tour Down Under in the past (a best of 10th overall in 2015) but for a guy that’s finished top 10 at the Giro and won the Tour of California, he’s probably never shown South Australia crowds what he’s really capable of. Like many others, the Kiwi climber will be looking to peak later in the season but he showed some good form at the New Zealand nationals last week. Well worth keeping an eye on.

Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data) – For a former winner, Slagter certainly flies under the radar. The Dutchman was third overall last year after finishing in the same spot on Willunga. With another decent climb on the menu this time around, the 2019 course probably suits Slagter even better than last year.

Tom-Jelte Slagter wins stage 3 of the 2013 Tour Down Under on his way to winning the overall title.

The sprinters

While two stages will suit the GC contenders, four should suit a bunch sprint of some kind. And with a handful of world-class sprinters on the startlist, we’re set for some great battles. Here are the men to watch:

Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-QuickStep) – Viviani’s stage win into Victor Harbor last year was his first win in QuickStep colours and really kickstarted what was the best season of his career. He wasn’t just the best sprinter in the world last year, his 18 wins put him well clear of his rivals as the most successful rider of 2018. There’s no reason to suggest he won’t continue in the same fashion in 2019.

He’s got a strong lead-out train with him and he’ll likely be disappointed not to come away with at least one stage win.

Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) – After a frustrating final season with Mitchelton-Scott last year, Caleb Ewan is motivated for a big 2019. It might take a little while for his lead-out train to get up to speed, but with Roger Kluge coming across too, Ewan’s got a headstart on where he would otherwise be.

Winning at TDU won’t be as important for Lotto-Soudal as it was for Mitchelton-Scott, but you can bet that team and rider will benefit greatly from some early success, particularly given the big year Ewan has coming up. A stage win is likely.

Ewan is no stranger to success at the TDU having won seven stages over the past three years.

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – It’s going to be odd seeing Peter Sagan in anything other than the rainbow jersey but that won’t mean he’s any less visible. TDU is only a minor stop on Sagan’s 2019 WorldTour so don’t expect to see him at his freakish best, but as he showed on stage 4 last year, even a slightly underdone Peter Sagan is a force to be reckoned with.

Sagan can challenge for all of the sprint stages and it would be a surprise if he didn’t win at least one.

Danny van Poppel (Lotto-Visma) – The Dutchman was thereabouts when he last visited TDU in 2017 and the same is likely to be true in 2019. He’ll do well to mix it with the likes of Viviani, Sagan and Ewan, but a win isn’t out of the question.

Jakub Mareczko (CCC Team) – The 24-year-old Italian dominated the sprints at lower-level Asian races early in his career and while he hasn’t shown the same dominance at WorldTour level, he’s still got a strong sprint. He’s back on the WorldTour this year and would love to take his first win at that level.

Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) – The German sprinter is with a new team and while he doesn’t have the same profile as the likes of Sagan and Viviani, he is a genuine contender. His biggest wins include a stage at last year’s Abu Dhabi Tour and at the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine.

Bauhaus after winning a stage of the 2017 Dauphine.

Max Walscheid (Sunweb) – Speaking of German sprinters that shouldn’t be discounted, keep an eye on Max Walscheid. He’s been making progress in recent years and has taken wins at races like Tour of Yorkshire and the Tour of Denmark. At nearly two metres tall and more than 90kg, Walscheid won’t love the lumpy stages, but if he can get to the finish he should be a contender.

Others to watch

As ever, there are many riders in the race that are worthy of your attention, beyond the out-and-out favourites. Dark horses, promising youngsters, breakaway specialists, underdogs — these are the riders that help liven up bike races and, often, the most exciting riders to watch. Here’s a selection of such riders that are racing the 2019 TDU:

Paddy Bevin (CCC) – Bevin’s spent much of the past few years riding in support of his teammates but he looks set to get his own opportunity at this year’s TDU. He’s got a fast finish and climbs well — he won on Arthurs Seat at the Sun Tour in 2015 and was top 10 at the TDU in 2016, the last time the race featured both Corkscrew and Willunga.

Pierre Latour (Ag2r-La Mondiale) – Like most of the European pros, Latour won’t be at his best this early in the year, but the Vuelta a España stage winner is a good climber and can be very dangerous from a break.

Cameron Meyer (Mitchelton-Scott) – Hopefully for our sake Meyer isn’t just riding for Impey all week. If he can get away in a late move at some point he’ll be super dangerous, and with the disappointment of last weekend’s Nationals road race still fresh in mind, he’ll be racing with fire in his belly.

A shattered Meyer had to settle for third in Buninyong last Sunday.

Miles Scotson (FDJ) – Don’t be shocked to see Scotson get in a dangerous move up the road at some point. He was very strong at the Bay Crits and looks motivated for a big year with his new team.

Diego Ulissi (UAE-Team Emirates) – Ulissi is a former stage winner at the Tour Down Under and has finished third, fourth and fifth overall.

Michael Valgren (Dimension Data) – Valgren hasn’t been amazing at the TDU in the past but that might change in 2019. He had a stellar 2018 — wins at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Amstel Gold Race plus a bunch of other strong results — and only seems to be getting stronger each year. Good uphill, likes getting away late — keep an eye on the 26-year-old Dane.

Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck-Quickstep) – Just keep an eye on the Belgian veteran. While QuickStep will be mostly focused on Viviani in the sprints, Devenyns might be given free reign on the climbs again and as he showed last year (fourth on Willunga, fifth overall), he can be surprisingly good at this time of year.

James Whelan (EF Education First) – Whelan is one of the most exciting prospects in Australian cycling and very strong uphill. The 22-year-old former runner will likely be put to work in his first WorldTour race, but look for him near or on the front on Corkscrew Road and Willunga.

James Whelan made a splash last year by winning his first race in Europe, the U23 Tour of Flanders.

Chris Harper (UniSA-Australia) – Speaking of up-and-coming Aussie talents, Chris Harper will be a rider to watch. Harper comes to TDU off the back of two podium finishes at the Aussie road nationals and he’ll likely be the focal point of UniSA’s efforts uphill.

Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) – Slovenian neo-pro Pogacar enters his first WorldTour race as the reigning Tour de l’Avenir champion. He’s clearly a strong climber and while he’ll likely have little expectation on his shoulders, it will be fascinating to see how he gets on.

Max Kanter (Sunweb) – German neo-pro Max Kanter had success at last year’s Tour de L’Avenir as well, winning a stage to go with his U23 national title. Walscheid will likely be Sunweb’s main man for the sprints, but keep an eye on 21-year-old Kanter on the days Walscheid isn’t in contention. A promising sprinter.

Max Kanter was second at last year’s U23 Tour of Flanders, behind James Whelan.

Following the race

In 2019, the TDU will be shown on Australia’s Seven Network for the first time. Broadcast times differ from day to day, as does the channel the race is on (Channel 7 or 7mate), but you can find all the details you need at the TDU website.

The bottom of that same page has details about the various international broadcasters, but for reference, NBC Sports Gold/NBCSN have broadcast rights in the US while British Eurosport and ITV 4 have highlights in the UK. A livestream will also be available on 7plus, the Seven Network’s online streaming platform.

The official Twitter account of the TDU is @tourdownunder and the official hashtag is #tourdownunder.

Of course, if you’re in Adelaide and you can get out to the race, you absolutely should. Adelaide has some of the best riding in Australia and there’s no shortage of group rides every day that will allow you to explore the region while watching the pros race past.

Who’s your pick for the 2019 men’s Santos Tour Down Under? And what are you most looking forward to about the race?

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