The Tour Down Under begins Saturday January 16th and ends on January 23rd. This marks the beginning of the cycling season. The Tour Down Under is a small tour represented by many of the professional UCI teams, with seven members per team.
The Tour Down Under, in comparison to the major grand tours that most people think of when it comes to professional cycling, such as the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, and Giro d'Italia, is a relatively flat tour. A few of the stages are completely flat. Some of the stages have some hills and are largely rolling. One stage has a few substantial hills, actually the same hill twice, but these hills will be nothing like the mountains seen in France, Italy or Spain.
So who is favored to win? This tour leans more towards riders with sprinting legs, but an all-around rider also has a fair shot at winning this tour as well. Cycling is a team sport deep down, and even the best sprinter cannot win this tour if they cannot keep pace before the last three kilometers of the stage. HTC-High Road for this tour is composed mostly of sprinters. That is why I do not think that Mark Cavendish will win this race. I think that Cavendish can get dropped in the hills, and we may see an all-arounder as the winner of the Tour Down Under. I think that there are five riders more likely to win in Australia next week than Mark Cavendish.
Richie Porte, an Australian, is the team leader of Saxo Bank SunGard for the Tour Down Under. Porte is GC rider and time trial specialist. His 2010 year includes a fourth overall finish in both the Tour of Britain, the Eneco Tour, and the UCI Road World Championships Time Trial. He also finished seventh in the Giro d'Italia overall and was the best young rider overall.
Porte is supported by a strong cast of teammates, including:
Nicki Sørensen - A solid all-arounder and the 2010 Danish Road Racing Champion
Baden Cooke - Sprinter
Juan José Haedo - Sprinter
Lucas Sebastián Haedo - Sprinter
Robbie McEwen is now joined up with Lance Armstrong's Team RadioShack. This race could be Lance Armstrong's last professional race, again. He is technically listed as the team leader, but I find it more likely that the team's aim is to help launch Robbie McEwen to win the Tour Down Under overall. McEwen has been a long-time established sprinter and finished fourth in this race last year. Plus, he's Australian.
He is supported by a strong team personally selected by Lance, including:
Lance Armstrong - an established all-arounder with seven Tour De France wins and a decent sprinter
Robert Hunter - Sprinter
Ben Hermans - Classics specialist
Greipel was the winner of the 2010 Tour Down Under, so he obviously knows what it takes to win the race overall. However, last year he was helped by who was then probably the best known sprint lead-out team in cycling, HTC-Columbia. This year he is on a new team, but this team is still strong, as is Greipel. Greipel is a strong sprinter who had many accomplishments in 2010, including 20 stage wins.
On his new team, Greipel is supported by:
Adam Hansen - Super Domestique
Jurgen Van de Walle
Tyler Farrar is an American cyclist who is a stronger sprinter but also has the ability to time trial and handle hills well. In 2010, Farrar finished fifth in the Tour of Flanders, first in the Vattenfall Cyclassics, first in the Grote Scheldeprijs, and first overall in the Delta Tour Zeeland in 2009 and 2010. Farrar is very capable of winning the Tour Down Under, and he is supported by one of the best sprinting teams that currently exists.
Tyler Farrar is supported by:
Julien Dean - Sprinter and leadout specialist
Travis Meyer - Time trialist
Cameron Meyer -Time trialist
Michael Rogers is coming off of a great season from 2010. He finished first overall in both the Tour of California and the Vuelta a Andalucía, third in the Tour de Romandie, and second in the Critérium International. Rogers is an all-arounder and is very capable of winning this tour overall to start the 2011 season in a strong way, especially since he is an Australian and could do so on home soil.
Team Sky is one of the best team out there right now, and Rogers is getting support from them through:
Greg Henderson - Sprinter
Geraint Thomas - Pursuitist
Ben Swift - All-arounder
Chris Sutton - Sprinter