As usual the new cycling season kicks off Down Under in Australia and even though it looks like a sprinter's delight the winner will be found among those who can climb.
Last year Alejandro Valverde handed the victory to Simon Gerrans when he stopped pedaling on the final meters in Stirling. Valverde later won the uphill finish on Willunga Hill in front of Gerrans, but because of the lost bonus seconds in Stirling, the comeback Spaniard had to see home soil favorite Gerrans take the overall win.
This year Simon Gerrans is back to defend the title, but Alejandro Valverde is missing and to be honest I doubt Gerrans will be able to make a double. Last year GreenEDGE had to win overall as an Australian team on home soil in their first season, but this time around they have other goals during the season. Of course Simon Gerrans will be eager to repeat what he did last year, but I see at least a handful of other riders ready to challenge Gerrans on Corkscrew Road and Willunga Hill.
First up is Phillipe Gilbert. Showing off his rainbow jersey for the first time this season I expect him to win at least one stage during the week. Gilbert says he’s very motivated and eager to get going and according the World Champion himself, the steep climb on Corkscrew Road shouldn’t be enough to drop him. As always the bonus seconds will be very important for the overall classification and if Gilbert can take a stage win (probably in Stirling) and stay in the front on Willunga Hill and Corkscrew Road, I think he will be very tough to beat.
My other personal favorite for the final podium is Eros Capecchi. I’ve had a good eye for Capecchi for many years now, so far without him showing his full potential, but I have a feeling 2013 will be his year. This is his first season with Movistar and according to Capecchi he aims to start out this year in a strong way. It’s true that Movistar have many cards to play in this race (Visconti, Moreno, Amador, Rojas & Herrada all capable of taking a stage win) but being fast on the line, strong uphill and great on the descents I think Capecchi will be one to watch for the overall classification.
Among the other GC contenders I would like to point out Tom-Jelte Slagter, Matt Lloyd, Peter Velits and of course Edvald Boasson Hagen. While the three first riders all have their strength in the uphill sections, Eddy has the advantage of being in the mix in the three predicted sprint finishes and thereby take some valuable bonus seconds. Last year he wasn’t really on top of his game in Tour Down Under, but having trained very hard towards the Classic season, I think he’ll be able to stay near the front when the more explosive riders make their moves.
For the mass sprints I think it’s clear to everybody that Andre Greipel is the man to beat. Lotto-Belisol did everything right in the People’s Choice Classic race and unless Argos-Shimano manage to take the front and lead out Marcel Kittel the same way, it won’t be a problem for the German Gorilla to take a couple of stage wins.
Personally I’m looking forward to seeing how youngster Andrew Fenn will do against the big sprinters. Same goes for Steele Von Hoff and Jonathan Cantwell. I have a feeling Cantwell will surprise you in this race with some good sprints. Team Saxo-Tinkoff sure seem eager to put him in the right position.
I will be posting previews for all the stages the evening (CET) before the stage starts so instead of talking much more about the route, I will leave you with my Top10 for the overall classification.
1. Phillipe Gilbert
2. Eros Capecchi
3. Simon Gerrans
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen
5. Tom-Jelte Slagter
6. Matt Lloyd
7. Peter Velits
8. Javier Moreno
9. Chris-Anker Sørensen
10. Gorka Izagirre