The Santos Tour Down Under is a perfect early-season kickstarter for the World Tour peloton. Six relatively short stages (plus a criterium prologue) at a maximum distance of 151km. Three sprint stages, two hilly stages (let's not pretend they're mountains!), and a criterium to finish things off on the last day. Nothing too stressful (unless the weather gets hot!).
So - who is going to win???
Normally, the Australian Road Nationals, held a week earlier, are a great predictor of which of the Australians will do well. In fact last year, the same riders filled the podium in both races in 2014. However, this year's Nationals were a very different affair. The strongest team had no real leader, and the favourites didn't have much of a support team! So for the overall at the TDU, we'll ignore those results this time around...
The Favourites for the Overall
Ritchie Porte (Team Sky)
The Tasmanian comes to the TDU in fantastic form. Healthy, riding well, and with a terrific team in support, Ritchie Porte has a terrific chance to finish the week on top! I reckon he'll take the leader's ochre jersey this week.
Cadel Evans (BMC)
The sentimental favourite - this will be the plucky Australian champion's final World Tour race before retirement. No-one can question his motivation, and unlike Nationals he will have a very good team riding in support. While I think Ritchie Porte will win, I'm hoping Cadel will come up with the win!!
Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin)
Worst. Sunglasses. Ever.
Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo)
'Dodger' also comes to the TDU in good form. The Australian is a multiple World Time Trial Champion is coming towards the end of his career, so won't have many more chances to win this race.
Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale)
A young Italian rider who is emerging as a genuine Grand Tour rider (& contender), hopefully he'll be bringing some early-season form to Australia and will be racing for the win.
The Tour Down Under is an early season feast for the sprinters. Four of the six stages are for them, not including the People's Classic criterium prologue. Andre 'The Gorilla' Greipel (LottoNL-Jumbo) has taken a huge number of wins here in the past, but won't be lining up this year...
Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin)
Heinrich Haussler (IAM)
The newly-crowned Australian national champion, Heino will be looking to show off his new champions jersey with some stage wins. His experience will help him here.
Other names to watch out for will be Greg Henderson (LottoNL-Jumbo), Steele Von Hoff (UniSA-Australia), and the brilliantly named Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida)
So that's it! Should be a terrific week of racing! Australian fans can watch it live on Channel Nine (& their digital channel GEM) - the details can be found here.