No time trial bikes allowed for new Tour Down Under prologue

Logistics and the early season timeslot mean road bikes make more sense.

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When the men’s Santos Tour Down Under returns in January 2023 – three years after its last edition – it will do so with a first for the 24-year-old event: a prologue time trial.

While the technical 5.5 km effort is a race against the clock, riders won’t be allowed to compete on time trial bikes: they’ll all be on road bikes. As race director Stuart O’Grady told CyclingTips, there were a couple reasons for that decision – not least to do with the race’s mid-January timeslot.

“Being an ex-rider and knowing how the teams work … and talking to a lot of the teams, most of the WorldTour teams wouldn’t have that kind of [time trial] equipment ready,” O’Grady said. “The ones which are just maintaining current bike deals will obviously have all the equipment but with the new WorldTour teams coming in and the UCI not announcing who’s exactly going to be in the WorldTour until late December, it’s just too unfair, I think, to put that pressure and stress on the WorldTour teams to have all the time trial bikes ready.

“So after talking a lot to the teams, it just made a lot of common sense to put them on road bikes and just kind of alleviate all that stress.”

There’s another reason too. With the race being in Australia, far from cycling’s European heartland, bringing time trial bikes would have added considerably to the logistical challenge of coming to the race. That’s particularly true when you consider it’s such a short time trial – O’ Grady estimates around six and a half minutes for the best riders.

“As it is, we already give the teams 450 kilos of excess [baggage], which is a huge cost,” O’Grady said. “For them to bring down another 140 time trial bikes plus all the equipment would have been pretty crazy to be honest.”

Teams won’t have the option to bring their own TT bikes if they feel the expense and hassle are worth it – a point particularly relevant for the Australian national team which could get TT bikes to the race with comparable ease. Instead, all riders must be on regular road frames. And no: aero bars won’t be allowed.

“After discussions with the UCI and the teams, they were quite reluctant to have aerobars because again … with the monocoque handlebars and all those kind of built-in bar systems now, that just complicates everything,” O’Grady said. “And then they would have had to bring down another bucket load of bike bags full of equipment.

“So we’ve just gone standard road bikes, no TT bars, but disc wheels and aero helmets are OK.”

O’Grady quite likes the fact the prologue will be raced on regular road bikes.

“Of course we all love the time trial bikes, they’re the Formula One of our sport, but at the same time I really want this to be about … it’s man and machine versus the clock,” he said. “I don’t mind a bit of that old school every now and again. It’s man and bike against the clock. The best man wins.”

While the prologue will be an interesting new addition to the men’s Tour Down Under, it will also play a role in keeping race logistics manageable now that the women’s Tour Down Under is also a WorldTour event. The final stage of the three-stage women’s event and the men’s prologue both occur on the same day (Tuesday January 17).

“The format meant that we had to have the women’s stage in the morning and then a men’s stage on the same day, and our friends at the South Australian Police (SAPOL) were … it was a very big stress on them,” O’Grady said. “No one really was too keen on doing two WorldTour road stages in the same day. It would have just caused … from a resourcing issue, it would have put too much pressure on the safety and security of the event, including SAPOL.”

More generally, O’Grady is excited to be able to “freshen up” the Tour Down Under in what will be his first stint as race director of the WorldTour event. He’s had two years as director of the Santos Festival of Cycling, the domestic-level event that replaced TDU when the main race was scuppered due to COVID-related travel challenges, but the TDU is a different beast entirely.

“From my point of view, it’s nice to have a little TT,” he said. “It’s also not going to be that decisive. The person that wins the time trial isn’t then going to go on and win the Tour Down Under. I’ve designed the course so there’s plenty of attacking points and especially with the final stage to Mount Lofty which … I’m really looking forward to seeing how that plays out because it’s super tough.

“Instead of just finishing up Willunga Hill where we all know how many seconds a rider can lose pretty much [we’ve] just really thrown down a blank canvas and [can] have a bit of fun with it and reimagine the race. I’ve had three years to have been sitting on this. I think it will play out pretty well.”

And it will all kick off with that new prologue, on the banks of the River Torrens, in the heart of the South Australian capital.

“The first stage being right along the riverbank, it’s going to look spectacular,” O’Grady said. “The fans will literally be able to stand near the finish area, watch the riders take off over the bridge, past Adelaide Oval, and then come back down and finish in front of them. So the fan engagement: they’re going to get maximum bang for their buck.”

2023 Tour Down Under schedule

Saturday January 14 – Schwalbe Classic (men and women)
Sunday January 15 – Women’s Stage 1
Monday January 16 – Women’s Stage 2
Tuesday January 17 – Women’s Stage 3 & Men’s Prologue
Wednesday January 18 – Men’s Stage 1 (Tanunda to Tanunda)
Thursday January 19 – Men’s Stage 2 (Brighton to Victor Harbor)
Friday January 20 – Men’s Stage 3 (Norwood to Campbelltown)
Saturday January 21 – Men’s Stage 4 (Port Willunga to Willunga Township)
Sunday January 22 – Men’s Stage 5 (Unley to Mount Lofty)

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