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Tour Down Under 2008 - Preview
By Nick Bull
Date: 1/21/2008
Tour Down Under 2008 - Preview

Tour Down Under 2008 - Preview
Race Preview, Course, Favorites, Down Under Crit report and results.

While some riders are braving the European wind and rain, many well-known faces are in Southern Australia for the 2008 Tour Down Under, which begins on Sunday. Adelaide, Australia’s driest city, is the starting point for the race that has been the curtain raiser for the European season in the past. This year, owing to a ever-strengthening field and impressive spectator turnouts, the race is the opening event in the much maligned Pro-Tour series.

The Field
Australia’s Cadel Evans, who won the Pro Tour in 2007, does not race, but his Silence - Lotto have three natives in their team of seven riders. Unsurprisingly, Brisbane’s Robbie McEwen leads the team, and will be looking to add to his tally of eleven stage wins so far in this race. The team might have another ace up their sleeve, as recently crowned Australian National Champion Matt Lloyd is also competing. He finished fourth overall last year, and is certainly one for getting into breakaways, something that is often salient in placing high up the GC.

Riding with number one his back, Ag2r-La Mondiale rider Martin Elmiger will line up in Adelaide on Sunday afternoon as defending Champion. Stuart O’Grady aside, - in 1999 and 2001 - no rider has ever taken the TdU title twice. The race route suggests it will be a tall order to win again, yet dismissing him early on will be dangerous as the 2007 Course was rather similar.

Competing against McEwen in the sprints will be Bernhard Eisel, who lines up for the first time in the Team High Road colours. His form normally picks up throughout the spring, though a Stage win in the 2006 Tour of Qatar shows he can perform early on in the year.

Rabobank’s Graeme Brown is another rider on home turf; it will be interesting to see if he and his long term adversary McEwen lock horns right at the start of the season. Brown has won just two stages in the past in the race, and no-doubt will want to add to that. His best days may be behind him, but Fabio Baldato (Lampre) will still be sprinting hard, as will Allan Davis, who lines in for Australia - UniSA. The latter has won a stage before in the race, and also finished second three years ago.

The Race for the G.C.
The list of race winners shows the race’s unpredictable nature and therefore it is difficult to suggest candidates for the GC. Interestingly, four winners in previous years have ridden for Ag2R; along with Elmiger they also have Sylvain Calzati riding in Australia. As well as having a Tour de France stage win to his name, he has also won the Tour de l’Avenir and placed highly in National Road and Time Trial Championships.

2006 Winner Simon Gerrans begins life at Credit Agricole on Sunday, and leads his new French team in the race. Whilst not the fastest in a sprint, he could certainly surprise some with his finishing speed. Another rider to watch could be Bouygues - Telecom’s Xavier Florencio, who won the San Sebastian classic in 2006. With no major wins since then, 2008 could be a big year in the twenty-eight year old’s career.

The Route
The race opens on Sunday with a 50km ‘Prologue’ criterium around Adelaide City Centre. The course is completely flat with just five corners per lap. One tight hairpin comes half way around the circuit; the distance away from the finish means that it shouldn’t affect the Sprint finish. There are also four intermediate sprints during the stage. (report and results below)

Stage One from Mawson Lakes to Angaston does not possess any of huge difficulty. Aside from a short, and relatively easy climb at Black Top Road, the stage will be ideal for an early breakaway attempt. The double circuit around Nuriootpa into Angaston will probably end up in the bunch finishing in one group, and a 100 metre rise in the last 1.5km is hardly going to trouble the Sprinters.

The almost - traditional convention of finishing circuits and loops around towns is again present on the run in to Hahndorf on Stage Two. The finishing route takes us around the finishing town five times, though shouldn’t cause any problems.

Stage 3 to the picturesque Victoria Harbour is remarkably flat too; an early climb at Sellicks Hill won’t trouble the peloton. This could be the day to get into a breakaway after the Sprinter’s have had initial glory on the proceeding days. The following day -Stage 4 from Mannum to Strathalbyn - is very similar in profile and ‘layout’ to the stage into Victoria.

The circuit around Willunga on Stage 5 provides an interesting map display, with one circuit being used three times, before the race moves South East towards Mount Compass before looping round to the stage finish.

Adelaide is also the finish of the 2008 Tour Down Under; the riders will complete 16 laps of a 5.5km circuit. The city is the same, but the roads are different than those used in used in the Prologue. The Ceremonial stage, along with Sprint finish seems likely.

The Stages
Prologue - Sunday, January 20
Down Under Classic (Adelaide City Council Circuit)
50 km

Stage One - Tuesday, January 22
Mawson Lakes - Angaston
129 km
Stage Two - Wednesday, January 23
Stirling - Hahndorf   148 km

Stage Three - Thursday, January 24
Unley - Victor Harbor   139 km

Stage 4 - Friday, January 25
Mannum - Strathalbyn   134 km

Stage 5 - Saturday, January 26
Willunga - Willunga   147 km

Stage 6 - Sunday, January 27
Adelaide East End Circuit   88 km

Andre Greipel put a troublesome Winter for the remains of T-Mobile team behind him with a win in the Prologue of the 2008 Tour Down Under. The German sprinter beat three Australians in the race to the line; Credit-Agricole’s Mark Renshaw was the best placed of the home riders, with Robbie McEwen trailing close behind.

Whilst labelled as the Prologue of the Tour, the Criterium is not part of the Pro-Tour series, and nor does not count as part of the race. As a result of that, this victory is not Greipel’s first success in the Pro-Tour series. Nonetheless, as the rider crossed the line the contentment was visible to all, especially considering the uncertainty him and his colleagues have faced as their squad were forced into re-branding as Team High Road.

It was a mistake by the Rabobank lead out in the final corner that enabled Greipel’s success. They had been the dominant team throughout the 25 laps of the circuit around Adelaide; Bram de Groot was on the attack just a few kilometres into the event, but only managed to open a gap of a matter of seconds. Reeled in on lap two, the pace never relented as the pack were determined to keep the race under control. All told five riders failed to finish, an indicator of how quick the tempo was in this season opener.

Still the attacks continued, the most interesting was between Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Bernhard Eisel (Team High Road). While sustaining such an impressive pace alone for several laps seemed unlikely, the two sprinters caused a reaction behind, particularly from the UniSA - Australia team, who managed to bridge the gap. Bouygues Telecom rider Xavier Florencio and Nicolas Portal (Caisse d’Eparnge) were the final riders who gained ground on the Peloton and, despite being joined by de Groot, all three were reeled in as the race approached the closing twenty kilometres.

Rabobank remained at the head of the peloton, clearly trying to set up a victory for Brown. It was only on the closing laps that their efforts became joint, as Bouygues Telecom starting pulling. The Australian sprinters began to move to the head of the pack, marking closing the wheel of Rabobank sprinter Brown. The Dutch team made an error taking the final corner, thus jeopardizing their lead out. Greipel saw and took his chance, crossing the line after a strong sprint.

Afterwards he commented that ‘Rabobank had a bit of bad luck on the last corner so I tried to start my sprint, I thought “OK now it's a head wind', but you have to be strong until the finish line“.’ He went onto say that his training programme has focused on sprinting, and the way he resisted the three Australians in his wheel at the finish showed that the hard work may well pay off in 2008.

Behind the winner, eighteen others crossed the line in the same time, with many smaller groups finishing a few seconds apart from each other. Over thirty riders finished a minute behind Greipel; perhaps this will be replicated throughout the Tour Down Under itself which has at least two stage finishes similar to the circuit used here.

Down Under Classic - Glenelg Circuit, Adelaide
50km - 1.09.20 (43.269 km/h)
1 Andre Greipel (Ger) Team High Road
2 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Credit Agricole
3 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Silence-Lotto

4 Allan Davis (Aus) Unisa - Australia
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne
6 Davide Vigano (Ita) Quick Step
7 Denis Flahaut (Fra) Saunier Duval-Scott
8 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Rabobank
9 Mirco Lorenzetto (Ita) Lampre
10 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner
11 Aurelien Clerc (Swi) Bouygues Telecom
12 Erki Putsep (Est) Bouygues Telecom
13 Rene Haselbacher (Aut) Astana
14 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Bouygues Telecom
15 Adam Hansen (Aus) Team High Road
16 Aitor Galdos Alonso (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
17 Graeme Brown (Aus) Rabobank
18 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) Ag2R-La Mondiale
19 Mario Aerts (Bel) Silence-Lotto

20 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Credit Agricole @0.04
21 Pieter Jacobs (Bel) Silence-Lotto
22 Jan Robert Forster (Ger) Gerolsteiner
23 Marcus Burghardt (Ger) Team High Road
24 Igor Astarloa Ascasibar (Spa) Team Milram @0.07
25 Heinrich Friederich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner
26 William Walker (Aus) Rabobank @0.12
27 Koen De Kort (Ned) Astana @0.13
28 Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Credit Agricole @0.16
29 Sebastien Portal (Fra) Cofidis Le Credit Par Telephone
30 Christophe Kern (Fra) Credit Agricole @0.23
31 Joan Horrach Rippoll (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne
32 Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) Credit Agricole
33 Josep Jufre Pou (Spa) Saunier Duval-Scott
34 Mickael Buffaz (Fra) Cofidis Le Credit Par Telephone
35 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Francaise Des Jeux
36 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team Csc
37 Sylvain Calzati (Fra) Ag2R-La Mondiale
38 Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team Csc
39 Kjell Carlstrom (Fin) Liquigas
40 Mauro Da Dalto (Ita) Liquigas
41 Amets Txurruka (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
42 Jose Alberto Benitez Roman (Spa) Saunier Duval-Scott
43 Paolo Fornaciari (Ita) Lampre
44 Michael Albasini (Swi) Liquigas
45 Jean-Eudes Demaret (Fra) Cofidis Le Credit Par Telephone @0.27
46 Christophe Mengin (Fra) Francaise Des Jeux
47 Dimitri Champion (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
48 Thomas Fothen (Ger) Gerolsteiner @0.29
49 Dmytro Grabovskyy (Ukr) Quick Step
50 Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Unisa - Australia

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