Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) ★★★★★ A two-time winner in 2006 and 2012, the Australian puncheur is looking to become the first rider to defend his title in Tour Down Under history. He will be well supported by a strong team that includes two-time winner O’Grady, 2011 runner-up Goss, and the new Australian road and time trial champion Luke Durbridge. Unlike with most of the other riders toeing the start line, we know that Gerrans is on good form at the start of the season, as he recently finished top 10 in the Australian road championship and is targeting a run at the hilly spring classics.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) ★★★★★ The new road race world champion is a former stage winner at the Tour Down Under, but hasn’t raced in Australia since 2008 when he won the King of Mountains classification. Quite a lot has changed since then, and today, at least when he has good form, Gilbert is one of the most feared riders in the peloton. His violent accelerations — like the one he used to win worlds in September on a Cauberg climb similar to Old Willunga Hill — often leave others gasping in his wake, and he has a knack for knowing exactly when to strike. This year’s edition of the Tour Down Under will give him some good opportunities to go for stage wins and time bonuses. Old Willunga is custom made for Gilbert, who is hoping to arrive to the spring classics in position to erase the bad memories of 2012.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) ★★★ The 25-year-old Norwegian has long been considered the most talented up-and-comer in professional cycling, and while he has scored a number of impressive victories — including Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Britain, and stages in the Tour de France — he has yet to fully confirm that talent with a major stage-race or classics win. In last year’s Tour Down Under, he finished seventh overall and won the points competition, and as a pure all-rounder Boasson Hagen, who can sprint and climb, this race suits him perfectly. With Bernhard Eisel and a strong team supporting him, this could be Boasson Hagen’s best opportunity yet to win Down Under.
André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) ★ The big German sprinter has won the race twice (2008, 2010) and collected a staggering 11 stage victories along the way. Over the past few seasons he’s gotten faster, too, beating Mark Cavendish in Tour de France sprint finishes. The improved Lotto team has been built around Greipel to get the him to the line first, so it’s likely to be the dominant leadout train that other sprinters will have to deal with. But to win the ocher jersey the Gorilla needs to stay vigilant and rack up enough time bonuses each day to counter the losses he’s sure to suffer on climbs such as Old Willunga.
Others to watch
Thomas De Gendt, Vacansoleil-DCM ★★
Maxim Iglinsky, Astana ★★
Tiago Machado, RadioShack-Leopard ★
Geraint Thomas, Sky ★
Rohan Dennis, Garmin-Sharp ★
Chris Sørensen, Saxo-Tinkoff ★
Wilco Kelderman, Blanco ★
Andrey Kashechkin, Astana ★
Giovanni Visconti, Movistar ★