Cycling: Tour Down Under 2010 Preview

It seems like the World Championships were just a short time ago, but the first ProTour event of the year is almost upon us. The Tour Down Under has traditionally been a Tour De Sprinters, and this year should be no exception.

The Key Contenders:

Allan Davis (Astana): Defending champion and the only rider to have participated in every TDU so far, Davis is a very good sprinter who has the climbing capacity to survive Willunga hill. He
has strong support in the likes of Pereiro and Grivko to shepherd him up the climbs. Will be right up there for the win.

Andre Greipel (Columbia-HTC): Probably the 2nd fastest sprinter in the world at the moment (behind his Columbia team mate Cavendish) but also capable of climbing. Dominated the sprints at the Vuelta Espana last year. Probably not quite as accomplished a climber as Davis, but also a better sprinter. Has a traditionally powerful Columbia lead out train featuring Grabsch and Eisel as well as Rogers for climbing support. Should win the sprinter's jersey and may be able to
fight his way up Willunga Hill to win the overall.

Robbie McEwen (Katusha): A real wild card for the sprinter's jersey, McEwen has struggled with injuries since joining the Russian team Katusha. Is getting on in years, but still packs a punch and has the nous to disrupt the Columbia sprint train. Has no shot of getting up Willunga Hill with the peloton so will not contend for overall.

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D'Epagne): Valverde will be racing every race as if it is his last with an impending doping hearing threatening to suspend him for 2 years for his role in Operation Puerto. He has a strong climbing team to support him featuring Luis Leon Sanchez and Ivan Gutierrez. Won't contend in the sprints, but may make a move to split from the bunch up Willunga Hill.

Stage 1:

Stage 1 will decide who is here for real and who is using it as preseason training. Not tough enough that it will be decided outside the usual TDU sprint finish, but the hills n
ear the end, including Mengler's Hill should be enough to shed those who aren't prepared for this race.

Stage 3:

Stage 3, like Stage 1, will not be serious enough to avoid a sprinter's victory. However, the hilly terrain around the Stirling circuit will cause another cull of the pack, and the uphill finish will favour a climbing sprinter like Davis more than a McEwen.

Stage 5:
The traditional Queen Stage of the TDU will climb Willunga Hill twice, giving the best opportunity for a non-sprinter to breakaway for victory. Willunga Hill is 3kms at around 8% gradient, providing enough of a challenge that non-climbers will fall back. A decent climber, with a strong team around him may be able to hang onto the back and catch up on the descent, much as Davis did last year. However, expect a non-sprinter to win the stage from an elite bunch. This is the stage where Alberto Contador got what he deemed the most important win of his career coming back from cerebral cavernoma in 2005.

After all that, I will tip an Allan Davis win again, with Greipel winning the sprinter's jersey but being dropped up Willunga Hill.

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