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Preview: Gerrans aims to become first three-time Tour Down Under winner

The route

Given that the race comes at the beginning of a long season that runs from mid-January to late October — and given that most riders are just coming out of the offseason with little or no racing in their legs — this tour is designed to be challenging but not overly taxing.

Historically the course has been generally flat to rolling, but more recently organizers have attempted to mix it up with more undulating stages and strategically placed, short but steep climbs.

There are valuable time bonuses that in past editions have decided the race. Each stage winner is awarded a 10-second bonus, with second place getting six seconds and third place getting four. At intermediate sprints, the top three riders earn three seconds, two seconds, and one second, respectively.

Opening Criterium: January 20, Adelaide (51km)
The weeklong event kicked off with the People’s Choice Classic criterium Sunday evening. Riders’ results don’t count toward the general classification as the one-hour high-speed contest is meant to get the local crowds in Adelaide excited for six stages of WorldTour racing to follow— and to give the riders a chance to warm up the legs. Last year’s winner André Greipel repeated on Sunday after a long-shot attack by the veteran Jens Voigt (RadioShack) opened the racing.

Stage 1: January 22, Prospect — Lobethal (135km)
The first stage takes the peloton over a lumpy course profile, up the steep Checker Hill, and finally to the finish on a 10km circuit. While it may well end in a field sprint, the profile looks challenging enough that a group could get away, but don’t look for much of a GC shake-up. Last year’s winner: André Greipel

Stage 2: January 23, Mount Barker — Rostrevor (116.5km)
This new stage promises exciting racing as it’s another undulating route that serves up a bang in the last 7km with the climb of Corkscrew Road. At 2.4km long and with an average gradient of 9.4 percent, it’s a short but hard climb that’s perfect for an on-form Schleck or Gerrans — or the rainbow-striped Gilbert — to launch an attack. Things stay interesting on the tricky descent, down which a few escapees could eke out enough time to contest the finish among themselves in Rostrevor.

Stage 3: January 24, Unley — Stirling (139km)
The third stage puts riders into the red zone from the gun as they go straight up the long, steady climb of Mount Barker. After spending the next few hours racing over rolling hills, the day winds up with yet another tough circuit finish. The last few kilometers are mostly flat, however, so a field sprint is likely. Last year’s winner: André Greipel

Stage 4: January 25, Modbury — Tanunda (126.5km)
The fourth stage presents the riders with the tough Kersbrook climb in the first 30 kilometers of racing, but the rest of the profile doesn’t appear to be all that selective. Of course a breakaway could change that and force teams to chase; a very hot day could make it a difficult go as well. Look for a bunch kick in Tanunda. Last year’s winner: Oscar Freire (retired)

Stage 5: January 26, McLaren Vale — Old Willunga Hill (151.5 km)
With the hilltop finish on Old Willunga Hill, which riders will climb twice, the fifth stage should prove the most decisive for the overall contenders and will likely dictate the final general classification. Willunga is a 3km ascent with an average gradient of nearly eight percent, and crosswinds are often a factor. If it’s raced as hard as it was last year — when Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) edged Gerrans in a photo finish for the stage win — the fireworks should make for a last thrilling battle for the race lead. Watch for positioning at the head of the race at the base of Old Willunga on the final climb; if any of the favorites are boxed back in the bunch, it will be nearly impossible to make up for it on the explosive climb. Last year’s winner: Alejandro Valverde (not racing)

Stage 6: January 27, Adelaide (90km)
The short stage is flat and all but guaranteed to wind up with a field sprint. For the race leader this should be more of a victory lap, albeit a fast one, unless the general classification is still tight. In that case, time bonuses along the route could make this a true nail-biter down to the final sprint. Last year’s winner: André Greipel

As there is no time trial and most stages have traditionally ended with big groups or field sprints, the winner has often been the most consistent daily finisher who capitalizes on time bonuses at intermediate sprints and finishes. For the most part, the list of winners bears that out, but with the new course changes, this year’s edition could very well see a nontraditional winner — like Gerrans a year ago.

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