Cycling: New season off & running in Adelaide
The 2010 UCI road racing season kicked off in Adelaide with the Santos Tour Down Under.
It was the 12th staging of the event and its popularity seems to be growing by the year. New teams with new riders took to the start line on Sunday the 17th of January for the Cancer Council Helpline Classic. The 51km circuit around the stunning Rymill Park acts as a pre-cursor to the main event itself and over 100,000 fans lined the roads to catch a glimpse of some of the fastest men on earth.
Most interest was firmly focused on the newly formed British Team Sky, and of course Lance Armstrong and his new project Team Radioshack from the USA.
Armstrong has raided last season’s peloton to bring in some of the cream of professional cycling. His trusted lieutenant from Astana Yaroslav Popovych and Levi Leipheimer are the team’s two big acquisitions, but the main development has been the signing of Johan Bruyneel as Sporting Director also plucked from Team Astana. “The Shacks” season will almost certainly be focused towards the Tour De France and Armstrong’s head to head battle with Spanish superstar and defending Tour champion, Alberto Contador.
First blood of the new campaign went to Team Sky however with Kiwi Greg Henderson taking the spoils closely followed by his Australian teammate Chris Sutton – a dream start for Dave Brailsford and the team.
When the main race got under way two days later, HTC-Columbia, the team of Mark Cavendish, were hot favourites to take the event by storm. With Cav still preparing for his debut in early spring, Andreas Greipel was the man everyone in the peloton feared, and their fears were completely justified when he sprinted home to an opening stage victory in Tanunda to claim the Ocra jersey of race leader.
Radioshack could be completely satisfied with their opening day’s work as Gert Steegmans came home in second spot. HTC-Columbia has an impressive array of talent and is by far the best team unit in the peloton. Mark Renshaw, Michael Rogers, Bert Grabsch and outstanding young German rider Tony Martin can all add superb support to the team’s two main protagonists, Cavendish and Greipel. .
On stage two, Greipel confirmed his blistering early season form with another sprint victory into Hahndorf, arriving ahead of Team Sky’s Greg Henderson.
Day three saw the big German consolidate his leaders jersey and on day four he again took the stage this time outsprinting Aussie favourite Robbie McEwen who was back in the peloton after last season’s horrific knee injury which decimated his season.
The stage that everyone was looking forward to was stage five from the coastal resort of Snapper Point to the town of Willunga which involved two treacherous ascents of the famous Willunga Hill. The stage will be remembered for years to come as current World Road Race Champion Cadel Evans went toe to toe with two of Spain’s biggest cycling stars Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez. With 20km to go Australian Evans made a break for it backed by a fanatical home support, but Sanchez and Valverde responded in what was turning into one of the greatest days racing in the country’s history.
Another Aussie Luke Roberts then gate crashed the party to set up a frantic finish into Willunga. Evans wilted in the heat as Sanchez and Valverde helped each other to the finishing line, Sanchez claiming victory with Roberts nicking second spot from Valverde. Evans received a hero’s welcome in fourth spot. Greipel kept his grip on the leaders jersey by just 11 seconds from Sanchez thanks to the help of domestique supreme Michael Rogers, who helped his teammate home. It had been a truly magnificent day’s racing.
The final stage was a formality for Greipel as the peloton coasted around Adelaide city centre and there was more joy for Team Sky as Chris Sutton took the victory. Greipel took the overall victory by 11 seconds from Luis Leon Sanchez, Greg Henderson gave Team Sky a podium placing as he finished in third place just 15 seconds off the lead. Next up is the Tour of Qatar, where Bradley Wiggins will make his eagerly anticipated debut for Team Sky.
Away from the Pro Tour, former Giro D’Italia winner Danilo Di Luca is facing a three year suspension from the sport for testing positive for EPO at last year’s event where the LPR rider had finished runner up to Denis Menchov.
Di Luca’s former teammate Alessandro Pettachi made a great start to his season with his new employers at Team Lampre at the Giro Di Reggio Calabria in Southern Italy. The big sprinter took two stages in the four day event but had to settle for 10th place overall, one and a half minutes behind race winner Matteo Montaguti. Pettachi versus Cavendish at this years Giro D’Italia looks set to be one of the highlights of the year.