Spokenforks emerges from the comfort of Christmas and the off-season, somewhat heavier around the waist, but eager to dive right back into the blazing sunshine which drew last year to a close for us in Abu Dhabi. Australia’s premier stage race has now become the curtain raiser for the cycling season, with many of the major stars lining up at the Tour Down Under to stretch their legs competitively for the first time since 2016. A six stage affair around the Adelaide area, the contest produces unpredictable racing as riders look to find their feet during the early shifting sands of 2017; sharp climbs, scything winds, fast finishes and testing conditions will keep everyone guessing during the week. Stage 1 is a 145km stretch from Unley to Lyndoch, offering those in pursuit of the mountains jersey the first set of points, before later settling down into three laps of a finishing circuit around Lyndoch which should guarantee a rapid finale to close Stage 1.
Caleb Ewan has risen to the top table of sprinters in a short period of time, and having won the People’s Choice Classic ahead of the Tour Down Under a few days ago, now enters the race as the favourite to win this opening affair. ORICA-Scott have the required firepower and organisational skills to smoothly deliver Ewan into race winning territory during the final 200m, after which he will be expected to finish clinically from. Given his impressive win only a few days ago, it is a tough challenge to realistically look beyond the young Australian as the winner after Stage 1.
Niccolo Bonifazio performs well at this early season competition, so should be a rider worth watching for on a day like this. It did not seem like he truly committed to the sprint during the People’s Choice Classic, making it tough to gauge his form precisely, but being one of the first to finish behind the podium placed riders certainly suggests he has the fitness to challenge.
Sam Bennett appeared strong in the same race as Ewan and Bonifazio, finishing second through some very clever riding which allowed him to burst to the fore despite missing an ideal leadout. Stage 1 will require Bora-Hansgrohe to execute a more successful leadout for Irishman Bennett and he will stand a great chance of winning if they achieve precisely that.
Peter Sagan appears here in the rainbow bands for the first time since winning the World Championship Road Race, looking eager to open his account as soon as possible having finished third during the People’s Choice Classic. Today’s finale should prove somewhat too fast for Sagan to win from, but it always remains a risk ruling anything beyond his skills or capabilities.
Others who should all feature include Danny Van Poppel, Nikias Arndt, Mark Renshaw, Ben Swift and Edward Theuns.
1st Caleb Ewan 2nd Sam Bennett 3rd Niccolo Bonifazio