• Richie Porte at the Tour de France teams presentation ceremony in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Australians have long punched above their weight at the Tour de France, delivering results well beyond what is expected from the limited numbers that are present compared to the bigger nations.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Source:
Cycling Central
1 Jul 2016 - 2:22 PM  UPDATED 1 Jul 2016 - 2:24 PM

Eight Australians will be there for the Grand Depart from La Manche to compete in the highest profile event of the season and will again be looking to upset the odds.

Not everyone can be a general classifcation (GC) contender like Richie Porte (BMC), but there will be plenty of other Aussies driving the action in France. Porte's preparations for his tilt at yellow have been well documented in other articles, so we'll focus on the other Australians here.

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Rohan Dennis (BMC)

It has been a interrupted preparation for Rohan Dennis as he builds towards his main goal of the season, an Olympic gold medal in the time trial. His maiden win at the Australian nationals time trial got Dennis off to a good start bfore illness took him out of a lot of early season racing in Europe.

He returned to form with a strong win in the Tour of California time trial enroute to 2nd overall and after a hit out at the Dauphine he will have some of the best condition of this season.

He will be tasked to work for the GC leaders of the team, Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen in the moutains, but he will have personal ambitions to back up his time trial victory of last season on the hilly Stage 13 test against the clock. That will likely be a good predictor of the Olympics result, with a similar hilly course in store in Rio, so Dennis will want to gain some confidence by showing that his form is good and heading towards a medal.

Leigh Howard (IAM)

The Geelong-native got a late call up to the Tour de France after Dries Devenyns pulled out with a fever. Making the switch to IAM after a season of few opportunities with then Orica-GreenEDGE, he made an immediate impression with second in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, then winning next start at the Clasica Almeria.

A sprinter that is suited to tougher races, there may be some opportunities to have a go for individual honours, but he will likely be on leadout duties for Norwegian youngster Sondre Holst Enger. It will be his first Tour de France, but there will be little chance for Howard to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

IAM is set to fold at the end of the season and Howard will have to join the rest of the riders in the squad as they search for new contracts. A good showing at the Tour will all but guarantee him a home for next year.

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Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal)

Adam Hansen just keeps on grinding away at the three-week races and his consecutive run of consecutive completed Grand Tours currently stretches to 14, ahead of the previous record of 12 held by Bernando Ruiz back in the 50's. It will be 15 if Hansen can reach Paris. Short of the tough Queenslander breaking his leg or coughing up a lung, you would think that he will be there, riding down the Champs Elysees.

A very reliable team-mate for Greipel at the start of the sprint train, Hansen will also get the chance to have a go from the breakaways, where he is renowned for being an expert at judging the right place and time to launch his big effort to go for the win. He has a stage win from smart moves at the Giro and the Vuelta, he might be due for a Tour win this time around.

Mark Renshaw (Dimension Data)

Renshaw has been one of the premier leadout men in the world for a long-time and his partnership with Mark Cavendish across a number of different teams is nothing short of prolific. With Cavendish focused on the track for the Rio Olympics, will the famed partnership be at their top level against the other sprinters in peak form?

Where will Renshaw fit into the leadout with the Norwegian champion Edvald Boasson Hagen firing on all cylinders currently. It would surely be sacreligous for 'Cav' to come off any wheel but Renshaw's, but if the wins aren't coming that may change. Also, with the early retirement of Cavendish from the race on the cards as he prepares for the boards in Rio on the cards, will Renshaw inherit leadership for the flat finishes?

At his best, one of the quickest and canniest bike riders in the world and everyone will be hoping to see that here as he will have his work cut out for him against the train of Lotto Soudal.

Simon Gerrans (Orica-BikeExchange)

Gerrans has broken a lot of ground in Australian cycling, he has won stages in all the Grand Tours, won Monuments in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan San Remo and taken a silver medal at the World Championships. His place in the pantheon of Australian stars on the road is unquestioned, but can add to his formidable palmares in the twilight of his career?

After a nightmare 2015, where a series of crashes ruled him out of competing in almost all of his objectives, Gerrans looked his old self at the Tour Down Under, looking almost unbeatable as he won two stages enroute to taking the overall. Subsequent solid form in the early European races had hopes high for the classics campaign, but it wasn't the best return for Gerrans at races where he often excels.

Coming into the Tour de France, he will likely have to share team leadership on stages that suit with young star and team-mate Michael Matthews. The two have a history of not seeming to cooperate together well when racing and although both toe the line publicly, it is clear that they are rivals in opportunities to go for victories. How that dynamic plays out will be a consistent narrative throughout the Tour with the first major test on Stage 2, where Orica-BikeExchange will look to take the yellow jersey.

Luke Durbridge (Orica-BikeExchange)

Durbridge has been in solid form this season and looks to have become more of a climbing domestique than a time-time specialist. Other riders will have the main job of sheperding the team's climber Adam Yates around on the final climbs, but look for Durbridge to be present a lot later into the stages than he used to manage.

Mat Hayman (Orica-BikeExchange)

Mat Hayman could have rightly hung up his cleats after his Paris-Roubaix win, but he got straight back into his normal role as a domestique. It will surprisingly be only his second participation at the Tour de France and if he can make it to Paris, it will be the first time in his otherwise full career that he has made it to the finish on the Champs Elysees.

The 38 year-old will be on support duty at the Tour, captaining the team at key points during the race and deciding when the sprint train goes to the front of the peloton.

Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange)

Arguably the Australian with the best chance of taking the yellow jersey in the first week is Michael Matthews. The sprinter-come-puncheur is recognised as one of the most formidable talents and his big goal of the season is the Tour de France.

After crashing on Stage 3 last year, a battered Matthews rode through the pain to give himself a chance at returning to a level where he could again challenge for a stage win. He never quite made it back to full condition and the best he could manage was 8th. 

He'll return this year with the ambition of setting the record straight and showing that he has the ability to win on the biggest stage. There will be a lot of chances for him to win early, with the short climb to finish Stage 2 right up his alley. Even if he misses out there or the team decides to support Gerrans, Stages 3 and 4 have slight uphill rises to finish on, which will bring him right into contention in a bunch sprint finish.

Matthews will have lofty ambitions heading into the Tour, particularly if he is looking to maximise any contract offers coming in as his current deal ends at the end of the year.

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