January 15 to 22 is the date for your diary as the Santos Tour Down Under 2012, the traditional Australian kick-off event of the UCI WorldTour, draws near. First held in January 1999, the event has grown exponentially ever since and is now, by far, the biggest cycling race in the southern hemisphere – it became the opener for the WorldTour in 2008 making it the first non-European country to be included in the gruelling calendar and now attracts in excess of 780,000 spectators. Adding to the event’s prestige was the fact that cycling legend Lance Armstrong chose it in 2009 for his much-publicised return to pro racing.
Although at its heart the TDU is a week long WorldTour event, in a wider context it is an all-round festival of cycling with numerous associated activities (and more than a hint of party atmosphere) that also offers a unique opportunity for amateur riders to take to the pro route via the Skoda Breakaway Series.
When it comes to the main event the action gets underway with the Down Under Classic, a closed circuit road race through Adelaide which allows spectators an unparalleled opportunity to get up close to some of the biggest cycling stars in the world. After a day’s break the six subsequent stages traditionally break out of the city for a true tour of the regions highlights with the 2012 stages breaking down as:
Stage 1 (Tuesday January 17) – Prospect to Clare, 149km
Stage 2 (Wednesday January 18) – Lobethal to Stirling, 148km
Stage 3 (Thursday January 19) – Unley to Victor Harbor, 134.5km
Stage 4 (Friday January 20) – Norwood to Tanunda, 130km
Stage 5 (Saturday January 21) – McLaren Vale to Old Willunga Hill, 151.5km
Stage 6 (Sunday January 22) – Adelaide City Circuit – 90km, comprising 20laps.
As you would expect from a WorldTour event there are a number of highly fought over jerseys awarded at the Santos Tour Down Under – whilst the Tour de France’s leaders jersey is yellow and the Giro d’Italia’s is pink (the maglia rosa), the TDU’s is ochre; in addition the Skoda king of the Mountain and Jayco Spirit jersey (awarded to the rider who leads the sprint points tally after each stage) are also up for grabs along with the Cycle Instead Young Rider Jersey goes to the U25 with the fastest cumulative time at the end of each stage. Finally there is the Hindmarsh Most Aggressive Rider Jersey (taken by local hero Stuart O’Grady of Team Leopard-Trek in 2011) and the South Australia Brilliant Blend Winning Team Jersey which, this year, went to Movistar.
Only two riders have ever won the Santos Tour Down Under twice: Australia’s Stuart O’Grady (1999 and 2001) and Germany’s André Greipel (2008 and 10).