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Big names heading Down Under

There’s no shortage of firepower for the 2012 Tour Down Under, which opens the WorldTour calendar with an impressive start list.

Defending champion Cameron Meyer headlines an all-Aussie GreenEdge squad that will have huge pressure to win its debut stage race on home roads.

Joining Meyer are veterans Robbie McEwen and Stuart O’Grady as well as recently crowned Aussie champion Simon Gerrans, all-rounder Jack Bobridge and sprinters Leigh Howard and Matt Goss.

Two-time champion André Greipel will headline Lotto-Belisol that includes the debut of Greg Henderson in the team kit.

Ryder Hesjedal returns to Australia for the first time since 2009, leading Garmin-Cervélo that also includes Heinrich Haussler, Robbie Hunter and new Kiwi rider Jack Bauer. Ex-HTC-Highroad sport director Allan Peiper makes his debut behind the wheel.

Danny Pate will make his debut with Team Sky with a strong squad that includes former winner Michael Rogers and Edvald Boasson Hagen.

There are plenty of sprinters in the mix, with Oscar Freire debuting in Katusha colors, Alessandro Petacchi with Lampre-ISD and Greg Van Avermaet for BMC. Daniele Bennati headlines RadioShack-Nissan-Trek’s first stage race while Romain Feillu will lead the sprints for Vacansoleil-DCM.

Mark Renshaw will make his debut in Rabobank colors with a strong lineup that also includes Michael Matthews, Graeme Brown and Luis Leon Sanchez.

All eyes will be on Alejandro Valverde, who is back from his controversial two-year racing ban with the Movistar team. Valverde promises to be back in fighting shape right from the gun, with his early season goals set on getting in condition for the Ardennes classics.

The Santos Tour Down Under begins January 15 and runs through January 22. View start list