By Justin Davis, Copyright Agence France Presse 2005
Recently-crowned Olympic track champion Stuart O’Grady is among the contenders who will find the going tough when the first stage race of the season begins at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia, on Tuesday.
O’Grady, the 31-year-old local rider who had blistering form with his French Cofidis team last season, has been tipped for overall success in the race which takes the peloton through the wine-growing regions of southern Australia.
The Adelaider, the winner in 1999 and 2001, came a close third when he last took part in 2003. But during six days of racing, O’Grady’s ambitions will have to match those of at least two of his most promising compatriots, Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans.
While Australian Robbie McEwen goes on the hunt for more stage wins to add to his record tally of seven, Evans – McEwen’s newly-acquired teammate at the Belgian Davitamon-Lotto team – is waiting to pounce.
The 27-year-old from Victoria recently left Jan Ullrich’s T-Mobile outfit after an unhappy two years in which he suffered three broken collarbone injuries, and he was left on the sidelines for the 2004 Tour de France despite having just won the Tour of Austria.
For someone who, like 25-year-old Rogers, has been tipped as a future Tour de France winner – having come close to winning the Giro d’Italia in 2002 before cruelly crashing out on the last mountain climb – it could be time to make amends.
Evans played a crucial part in helping McEwen hold off O’Grady in the men’s national road race on Saturday – an effort the two-time winner of the Tour de France green jersey for the points classification recognized as a sign of things to come.
“Cadel’s one of the world’s top riders, and I think this year he’s going to burst out into the limelight and have a similar year to the one he had when he led the Giro, and probably get even better than that,” said McEwen. “He’s riding really well, he showed that in the (national) road race. His form will just keep improving now and I think he will really be a contender for overall on the Tour Down Under.”
Rogers, the 2002 winner, will spearhead a Quick Step team which includes a host of young talent, including Italian sprinter Filippo Pozzato, a stage winner at last year’s Tour de France.
The challenge from Europe comes in the shape of two-time Giro d’Italia champion Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita), while Spaniard Mikel Astarloza, the overall winner in 2003, will lead AG2R’s bid.
After Saturday’s 182km road race went off at a fast 43 kph, O’Grady – who last season won the HEW Classics World Cup and came third in the Milan-SanRemo – knows his season-opener will be no walk in the park.
“It’s the first race of the year, so you can’t always expect to be going 100 percent. I think there’s a couple of guys going a bit better,” he admitted. “Form-wise I’m just about where I assumed I would be. But I’ll just be taking it day-by-day.”
50km East End Adelaide criterium (evening- 7:00 p.m. local time)
139km Glenelg-Victor Harbour
Adelaide City center circuit raceTEAMS
Quick Step (B)
Michael Rogers (AUS), Bram Tankink (NED), Jurgen Van Goolen (BEL),Filippo Pozzato (ITA), Dimitri De Fauw (BEL), Kevin De Weert (BEL), SebastianRosseler (BEL), Wouter Weylandt (BEL)
Manager: Rik Van Slycke (BEL)
Stuart OGrady (AUS), Jimmy Engoulvent (FRA), Matthew White (AUS), PeterFarazijn (BEL), Janek Tombak (EST), Jans Koerts (NED), Arnaud Coyot (FRA),Staf Scheirlinckx (BEL)
Manager: Bernard Quilfen (FRA)
Robbie McEwen (AUS), Wim Vansevenant (BEL), Cadel Evans (AUS), JohanVansummeren (BEL), Nick Gates (AUS), Jan Kuyckx (BEL), Henk Vogels (AUS),Mario Aerts (BEL)
Manager: Hendrik Redant (BEL)
Credit Agricole (FRA)
Bradley Wiggins (GBR), Jaan Kirsipuu (EST), Sebastien Hinalut (FRA),Partrice Halgand (FRA), Lazlo Bodrogi (HUN), Benoit Poilvet (FRA), CyrilLemoine (FRA), Sebastien Joly (FRA)
Manager: Roger Legeay (FRA)
Gilberto Simoni (ITA), Daniele Righi (ITA), Giosue Bonomi (ITA), PaoloFornaciari (ITA), Juan Angullo (SPA), David Loosli (SWI), Samuele Marzoli(ITA), Dario Pieri (ITA)
Manager: Guido Bontempi (ITA)
Allan Davis (AUS), Isidro Nozal (SPA), Aaron Kemps (AUS), Carlos Barredo(SPA), Alberto Contador (SPA), Javier Ramirez (SPA), Sergio Paulinho (POR),Luis Leon Sanchez (SPA)
Manager: Marino Lejarreta (SPA)
Baden Cooke (AUS), Mickael Delage (FRA), Matthew Wilson (AUS), FredericFinot (FRA), Mark Renshaw (AUS), Arnaud Gerard (FRA), Ian McLeod (RSA),Cyrille Monnerais (FRA)
Manager: Martial Gayant (FRA)AG2R (FRA)
Mikel Astarloza (SPA), Inigo Chaurreau (SPA), Samuel Dumoulin (FRA),Christophe Oriol (FRA), Nicolas Portal (FRA), Erki Putsep (EST), LudovicTurpin (FRA), Simon Gerrans (AUS)
Manager: Laurent Biondi (FRA)
Nathan O’Neill (AUS), Chris Baldwin (USA), Hilton Clarke (AUS),Kirk Obee (USA), David OLoughlin (IRL), Siro Camponogara (ITA),Ciaran Power (IRL), Phillip Zajicek (USA)
Manager: Edward Beamon (USA)
Graeme Brown (AUS), Sergey Matveyev (UKR), Brett Lancaster (AUS), RubenBongiorno (ARG), Mirko Allegrini (ITA), Julio Perez Cuapio (MEX), FortunatoBaliani (ITA), Paride Grillo (ITA) Manager: Roberto Reverberi (ITA)
United Water (AUS)
David McKenzie (AUS), Chris Sutton (AUS), Ashley Humbert (AUS), ScottDavis (AUS), David McPartland (AUS), David Betts (AUS), Rob Mclachlan (AUS),Jonathon Clarke (AUS)
Manager: Brian Stephens (ACT)
UNI SA (AUS)
Gene Bates (AUS), Corey Sweet (AUS), Russell Van Hout (AUS), SteveCunningham (AUS), Adrian Laidler (AUS), Matthew Rex (AUS), James Hannam(AUS), Chris Jongerwaard (AUS)
Manager: Michele Primaro