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Prudhomme, Tour Down Under boss want to keep January date for Aussie tour

UCI President Brian Cookson is in the process of reviewing the race calendar, which could result in moving the Aussie tour to February

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Santos Tour Down Under boss Mike Turtur is hoping the Australian race remains the UCI WorldTour season opener in January.

UCI president Brian Cookson confirmed there is an ongoing review of the elite men’s calendar, and that everything is on the table, including a possible change of date for the Tour Down Under, perhaps slotting it into February.

Turtur, however, said that the Tour Down Under is just fine where it is in mid-to-late-January, which coincides with school holidays and Australia Day.

“January is an ideal period for the race,” Turtur told journalists Monday. “Being the No. 1 race on the calendar is something that’s worked out well for us, and I think January is a good month to start for the riders.”

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme echoed those sentiments. Prudhomme visited the race during the closing days, and agreed that January is a good place for the Tour Down Under.

“For the Tour Down Under, it is important to organize it during the school holidays. I support the date as it is,” Prudhomme told VeloNews. “When people are on holidays, they can do what they want, and go see a cycling race. I hope the race will stay during the school holidays.”

What Prudhomme didn’t say is that moving the Tour Down Under from January to February would put the Australian race in direct conflict with the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman, two races that the Tour de France helps run and organize for the oil-rich Middle Eastern nations.

One complaint is that the WorldTour clicks into gear in January, and then goes dormant until Paris-Nice, nearly six weeks later, while there are other racing events around the globe, with some suggesting that this gap “confuses” fans.

Prudhomme said he supported ongoing discussions about restructuring the WorldTour calendar, which now runs from the Tour Down Under in January to the Tour of Beijing in October.

The Frenchman’s main concern is scheduling conflicts that overlap WorldTour events.

“What is important for me is that it is impossible to have two races of the same category at the same time, for example, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico,” Prudhomme continued. “It’s important to have the best riders in the best races, like it was 40 years ago. When I was a kid, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, they were there, in both Paris-Nice and then Tirreno.”

Cookson, who also visited the Tour Down Under as he goes into his first full season at the helm of cycling’s governing body, confirmed that that the structure of the WorldTour is under evaluation.

“Nothing’s ruled out and nothing’s ruled in at this point in time,” Cookson said before the start of the second stage in Prospect. “There is a chance that every event’s role will change a little bit, but we are taking a detailed look at everything.”

One of Cookson’s agenda items since winning the UCI presidency in September is to review the structure of the elite men’s calendar.

It’s part of an already ongoing examination of professional cycling that could result in fewer race days and smaller professional rosters.

“The calendar is not a coherent narrative at the moment, and that is something I need to try and do something about,” Cookson said. “It’s right and proper when you have a new administration that you look at everything.

“We have lost teams, we have lost some events around the world, [while] other events like this one [Tour Down Under] are doing very, very well,” he continued. “So our aim is that we develop the calendar, develop the sport in a structured strategic way, and not just in an ad-hoc way.”

Turtur, who founded the Tour Down Under in 1999, said he is pleased with how the race has evolved over 16 years.

“We’ve done it 16 years now. The UCI’s acknowledged the race is of high quality. We’ve maintained a high standard, I cannot see any reasons to make any reconsiderations,” Turtur said.

“In the early days, we were a sprinter’s race. We couldn’t go after the bigger riders, because the race wasn’t established yet,” he continued. “It got to a point to when we had to decide if we would remain a pure sprinter’s race, or we would open it up. I think it’s been well-received, not only by the riders, but by the fans, too, to have those situations where you can have some hilltop finishes at Willunga, and the Corkscrew climb, adds an element to the race that adds a lot of interest to a lot of people.”

The Tour Down Under has a WorldTour license through 2015. Cookson said any changes considered for the future would be likely introduced for the 2016 season.