Australia's premier stage race may become a victim of its own success, writes Anthony Tan from Adelaide.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

For once, I agree with my Cycling Central colleague Mike Tomalaris: an Australian may well win this year's Tour Down Under.

But is that a good thing?

Unsurprisingly for a WorldTour event, you have the 17 best teams - but how many have brought their best riders?

Undoubtedly, it is the die-hard cycling fan that makes events what they are - imagine the Spring Classics, Giro d'Italia or Tour de France without a single soul on the road. As far as the Tour Down Under is concerned, those same fans come to see not just the spectacle that is the bike race, but the same big-name riders they see in Belgium, Italy or in France, here in Australia, competing with the best from Australia.

With respect to the non-Antipodean names that have graced our shores for the 2015 Santos Tour Down Under, aside from a handful of star attractions like Marcel Kittel, Ryder Hesjedal, Tom Dumoulin, Lars Boom and Domenico Pozzovivo, the start list is a little light on heavy hitters.

So, where are they?

Well, running concurrently with the TDU is a little ol' UCI 2.1 get-together in Argentina, the Tour de San Luis (January 19-25).

Mark Cavendish, Nairo Quintana, Michal Kwiatkowski, Carlos Betancur, Tom Danielson and Daniel Moreno decided South America suits them better than a journey to the Land of Oz.

"It's more relaxed than a UCI WorldTour race. I think the (San Luis) organiser did a good job to give an alternative to a great WorldTour race in Australia," Cavendish - who has only once come to the TDU, in 2011 - said on Saturday, on the eve of the seven-day event.

"Santos Tour Down Under is part of the WorldTour, and you have to be in top form immediately. It's a bit long to keep that kind of condition until July," he said.

It's a consequence of going ProTour in 2008, renamed WorldTour in 2009, that the TDU finds itself in the predicament Cavendish outlined: the TDU is much harder than it was 16 years ago, when Stuart O'Grady won the inaugural event in 1999, and since the decision was made to become a WorldTour event, it's become harder still.

Gone are the days when we saw big backsides being dropped on the first roller on the opening road stage, with a certain section of Euro-dogs treating the TDU like a 'holiday with benefits', if you know what I mean. (If you don't, um, well, er...)

Since the inception of a summit finish at Old Willunga Hill in 2012, overall honours now go to a puncheur-style rider, as opposed to a sprinter, as happened between 2008-10.
And, unless the race introduces a longer climb, a Grand Tour rider won't prevail, either.

With valuable WorldTour points - which in large part determine a team's qualification to compete in next year's series - up for grabs, virtually everyone arrives in race-ready form.

The Antipodean contingent, of which there are 35 this year, come off the back of a solid block of training and racing in near-perfect summer conditions, with the Australian and New Zealand national road champs contested just on a week ago.

I don't see an Australian or Kiwi winning the TDU as an issue per se; it's those that they're up against.

It's great to see our premier stage race grow and evolve. Yet if we miss out on seeing some of the world's best because the event has become too hard and affects riders' performances later in the season, one must ask the question: At what cost?