Big guns line up for first sprint showdown
TENS of thousands will line the streets of Adelaide’s East End today as world cycling’s best sprinters lay it all on the line for their opening battle of the 2019 World Tour season.
The Down Under Classic – for the women at 2.40pm as the end to their Santos Tour Down Under and the men from 4.45pm as the prelude to their week-long battle – is a stunning feast of high-speed action around Rymill Park. Last year 103,000 spectators watched the circuit event.
As the cheering crowds focus on the one-hour circuit races, team directors, riders and race organisers will be anxiously watching the predictions of soaring temperatures later in the week that are likely to force route changes.
But despite the scorching forecast, TDU race director Mike Turtur is confident today’s circuit will be another feather in the cap of the race he has developed over 20 years.
The men’s and the women’s races will be run earlier this year to allow for the spectacle to be broadcast live across the nation. The start/finish line has also switched from Rundle Rd to Bartels Rd.
“We will have live television coverage all over the country today,” Mr Turtur said. “That is important for the state as far as promotion and tourism.
“The circuit race classic in the East End goes through the beautiful parklands and really does show off the city. Then when they get out on the open road, it is just a moving billboard for South Australia.
“The race takes in the towns and Adelaide Hills, the Barossa and the Fleurieu and everything in between. One of the beauties of road cycling is that it covers so much territory.”
The Classic has international significance. Despite not being a stage of the men’s TDU, it is an opportunity for the world’s best sprinters to flex their legs.
The circuit also serves as an unveiling as the local and international teams emerge from pre-season camps.
“Making the Tour Down Under the first race of the season has been part of the strategy for years,” Mr Turtur said.
“Traditionally, these early races were held at the end of the European season but the reality is that these riders were tired. They had been racing all season and weren’t in the best condition to make the race a good event.
“To deal with that, we decided to have the race at the start of the season. That way, they are fresh, they have had their first training camps and there are new contracts, teams, names, sponsors and bikes.
“The teams get the chance to unveil new bikes, helmets, jerseys and shoe design, so it is a great coup for us because Adelaide is the first place these things are seen.”
The end of this year’s race has also been tweaked, with the final stage now finishing on a Willunga Hill climb. “The change has been very well received by riders and public because they know the Willunga climb has really deter-mined who’ll win the race,” Mr Turtur said. “Now it’s even more important because the race can go down to the wire and to the last kilometre on Sunday.” CHAMPION cyclist Amanda Spratt has lavished praise on the quality of competition and crowd support during the gruelling Women’s Tour Down Under, as she all but secured her third consecutive tour victory yesterday.
Spratt, whose 49-second overall lead means she only has to sit upright in today’s criterium to win the title, said the level of competition was “getting better and better” every year.
“I am really proud of the way it is growing so quickly,” she said. “We’re attracting more and more top teams… and you’re really seeing top, world-class riders come.
“For the race, it is really boosting it and looking at the crowd today, so many people are coming out and supporting it, as well, which is great to see.”
Wild cheers and ringing cowbells welcomed Spratt’s Mitchelton-Scott teammate, Grace Brown, as she crossed the Stage 3 finish line first in Stirling yesterday.
But the 104.5km stage, which started in Nairne, was not without drama as riders took a wrong turn at the 93km mark. Organisers then redirected them to the correct course where racing resumed.
Race director Kimberley Conte said while the error was “disappointing”, it had “no impact” on the outcome of the race.
Overall, she said the women’s race – celebrating its fourth year as a multistage tour event on the international calendar – had been “really, really good”.
“I think once again we have seen that the women are so exciting to watch and and relax to watch the hour-long Down Under Classic, which starts on Bartels Rd at 4.45pm.