There was room for a twentieth but for some reason organisers of the Santos Tour Down Under decided against it. The non-invitation of one team in particular was an opportunity that went begging, writes Anthony Tan from Stirling, South Australia.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

Since the Tour Down Under became a WorldTour event in 2009, organisers duly invited the 18 teams obligated to race the first event on the calendar, and UniSA, the de facto Australian national team.

19 teams of seven riders each made for a 133-strong peloton; 65 down on what you might see at the Giro d'Italia or Tour de France (22 teams of nine riders), and 67 less than you'd get at Milano-Sanremo or Paris-Roubaix (25 teams of eight riders).

It stayed that way in SA till last year, when, race director Mike Turtur - who previously said that in 2008, when Drapac was first awarded a Pro Continental licence, "We chose not to invite them that year because simply, in my eyes, they weren't good enough" - did an about-face and invited Drapac to the 2014 edition, making for a 20-team, 140-rider roster.

Last year, across seven day's racing, Drapac finished only once in the top five, when Jonathan Cantwell, who's now retired, ran fifth on the final stage in Adelaide, won by André Greipel. William Clarke finished fourth in the mountains' classification, and collectively, Drapac ended third in the teams' competition.

One could infer, then, that the Drapac of 2014 was good enough to be at the TDU, but not good enough to win a stage.

Still, I liked seeing a larger-sized peloton, albeit seven riders more, because having covered bike races in Europe for almost a decade, combined with watching from afar since 1990, to see a bunch over 30 percent less than what one would see at the Classics, Giro or Tour felt a little strange.

It looked a little strange.

A 200-strong peloton, hurtling full-throttle through the sinuous roads of SA... Dancing up Corkscrew, Menglers, Checkers, Willunga - before pelting down the other side... How cool would that be?

It's not like our roads are smaller or, when the roads are cleared of traffic as they are for the TDU, any more dangerous - so why not have a few more teams?

Why not extend a hand to other Pro Conti teams, as WorldTour races are permitted to do, who, between them, often stuggle to obtain invites due to the partisan nature of race organisers like RCS and ASO - so demonstrated by the recently announced list of invitees to this year's Giro, where four of the five wildcards were Italian mobs and the fifth Polish, thus denying us the opportunity to see the perenially animated team from Colombia, or a boosted UnitedHealthCare outfit.

Yes, it's a question of budget, but in the grand scheme of things, the cost of another team or two is incremental. And, before Europcar was denied a WorldTour licence in early December last year, reportedly due to financial difficulties, TDU organisers had planned on hosting 18 WorldTour teams, Drapac and UniSA; that is, Events South Australia, the race owners, had budgeted on having 20 teams for the 2015 edition.

For me, the team that really should be here but isn't is MTN-Qhubeka.

In part due to idealogy; in part because they're the first African Pro Continental team; and, as of a week ago, because they'll be the first African team to ride the Tour de France, this motley crew has quickly become a crowd favourite.

In many ways, they are the antithesis of Team Sky.

Furthermore, MTN-Qhubeka, due to several high-profile-acquisitions-done-cheaply last season, now boast a formidable sprint line-up: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Theo Bos, Gerald Ciolek, Matthew Goss, and Tyler Farrar.

Let's face facts: aside from one, at most two, stages, the Tour Down Under, ever since its inception in 1999, has always been a race for sprinters. The TDU would have been a perfect race for the team; the team a perfect fit for the race.

Just as Orica-GreenEDGE has done and is still doing, am I the only one who would have loved to see a team that continues to create history, make their debut at the TDU?

I don't think so. A lost opportunity, if you ask me.