Missing drawcard: Mark Cavendish. Photo: Bryn LennonThe Tour Down Under will be no less competitive because of an absence in the field of foreign marquee riders like British super stars Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish who will race in lower-ranked rival events, says Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director Matt White.
Some believe that by the Tour Down Under, a World Tour race which runs from January 19-24, not having riders like Froome, the dual Tour de France champion, or Cavendish, one of the world’s great sprinters, indicates the event is losing its allure.
Tour stars like Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Slovakian world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) will race the Tour de San Luis in Argentina from January 18-24.
They are attracted by the calmer atmosphere, and hefty appearance fees the Tour Down Under can’t match – or doesn’t want to after being criticised for paying an estimated $1 million to Lance Armstrong to race in 2009, 2010 and 2011 before he was banned for life on doping offences.
But organisers of the Tour Down Under would have been stung by Froome (Sky) opting to race the Herald-Sun Tour of Victoria from February 3-7 – and after being in South near the end of the Tour Down Under for training.
Cavendish (Dimension Data), who will race on the track at the Hong Kong World Cup on January 16-17 in his bid to make the Great Britain Olympic Games track team, will then race in the second edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong on January 31.
White concedes what the Tour Down Under “hasn’t got this year is probably the big names,” but he believes the depth is “great”.
“The sprints are going to be more open than ever because we haven’t got [German Andre Greipel] there. We haven’t got a big superstar there who dominates [the race]. It’s going to make it more open for guys like Caleb [Ewan of Orica-GreeneDGE]. There are other good sprinters there but it’s not guys that the general public know.
“For general classification, they are not the biggest of names in world cycling; but they are bloody good bike riders. They have won a lot of big events between them.””
White believes Froome and Cavendish have chosen to race in smaller n events to have a less intense season start to what the Tour Down Under would offer. “If they came to [the] Tour Down under they would probably get beaten,” White said. “Cav is not at Down Under because he is doing Hong Kong World Cup on the track, so that’s a logical reason for him not doing the race. Froome doesn’t want to come out to Down Under because it’s a really quality field.
“And choosing the Sun Tour he is obviously looking for an easier entrance into the season; whereas if he came to Down Under it’s a more competitive and deeper field. Your Nibalis, Quintanas are going to San Luis because they want a relaxed start to the season and Down Under is too competitive for what they want to do in January. There is a difference between a quality field and names.
“This year’s is probably as good a field as we have ever had, but they don’t have the marquee guys. Does that change the bike race? No. In a sprinters stage, having a Greipel there means we know we have one of the fastest top two guys in the world who we know are going to control those flat stages. But the sprints are just as competitive with or without him – it just opens it up to a lot more guys.”
Orica-GreenEDGE announced their team on Monday for the Tour Down Under that is preceded by the People’s Choice criterium in Adelaide on Sunday: Michael Albasini, Luke Durbridge, Caleb Ewan, Simon Gerrans, Mathew Hayman, Michael Hepburn, Daryl Impey.