It’s time. As the frozen hellscape that is winter tightens, relaxes, then renews its grip on the northern hemisphere, we need the Tour Down Under right now. Badly.
The Tour Down Under isn’t the first chance to see the biggest WorldTour teams back in action, with a number of criterium, time trial, and road race national championships taking place this week. Also in Australia, the Bay Crits have a half-dozen chances to glimpse riders in their fancy new kits and on new bikes. So far, Caleb Ewan has shown himself, and his new Lotto-Soudal livery, the most forcefully, continuing his annual dominance of January by pocketing a few crit victories.
But the TdU is the real show, and while the Tour de San Luis offers some exciting racing, its coverage is either bad or non-existent; most of the race’s highlights appear to be some dude filming the final 1km on his iPhone, though at least this person has the good graces to film horizontally.
Get excited, but as sure as the sky is dark right now, spring will come, and for plenty of us, that march of the calendar turns on the comings and goings of events like TDU, Kuurne-Brussells-Kuurne, and the other winter-to-spring races that bring light to our darkness. Here’s what we’re pumped to see Down Under.
New Kits. As pretty and preening as the riders look in galleries and press releases, the real test of a redesigned or totally new team kit is how they look in the bunch. A great example of that is is AG2R. In a vacuum, with a skeletal Romain Bardet standing arms-crossed like a lone Backstreet Boy, they look hideous. But in action, they’re really one of the most effective kits in the peloton. The best kits balance visibility for sponsors, some level of uniqueness, and the sort of cool that would make it somehow still look okay at a coffee shop. Lay-oh-pard-TREK in the Schleck days were probably the perfect kits, and it would be great to see a version of that come back to the pro peloton.
Right now, our favorites are Dimension Data and Trek-Segafredo on the men’s side, while Canyon-SRAM are the best kit in the women’s peloton, and frankly, only Trek’s new women’s team is even close. But, as noted, final judgement is up to you…and on the road. Check out all the looks here. NOTE: The gradient’/fade fad has spread from Astana and Movistar onto CCC Team and Team Sky.
Peter Sagan Is Not The World Champion. For the first time in three seasons, we won’t see Peter Sagan in the World Champion’s rainbow jersey, although you’d be forgiven for saying it looks pretty damn close. He’s taken back his Slovakian national champion title which, we think, he essentially put on loan to his brother Juraj Sagan, and there’s something about this season that makes Sagan seem just slightly under the radar, if that’s possible. No one expects him to be firing on more than two cylinders this early, but it will be exciting to see how Sagan fares against sprint rivals new and old, especially those like Caleb Ewan, who will have a new sprint train to break in. Will Sagan win a stage? Looking at the profile this year, it would be a safe bet to say he bags one.
Ritchie Porte on Willunga. It’s like clockwork. For the overall win, for the stage, for the sheer pride of hit, everyone knows Porte is going to attack on Willunga. He’s won that stage for five straight years, and in recent editions, has had hardly any competition in the process. This is a special one for Porte who, nearing the twillight of his career, moves on from the BMC set-up after seasons of disappointment and injury. Outside of his Willunga and Tour Down Under performances, it’s hard to think of a stage race that went right for Porte, crashing out of two Tours and spending last year’s Vuelta simply racking up miles and sneaking into a few fruitless breakaways. A new season and a new team might be exactly what Porte needs, and he’s got the perfect launch pad to get things started.