For WorldTour pros the time has come to pin a number on once again. Weeks and months of base miles and gym work have given way to racing once more.
While the opening races are only a real target for a few, they are an important step into the season. A gauge of fitness, a time to focus on new goals, and a lift to the spirits as teams get together to do what they do best: compete.
The Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia, is becoming an ever-more important first stop – and many teams use the trip to the southern summer to fit in some good-weather training.
“Lots of the Europeans love to start their season there, because for one it gives them a couple of weeks out of their winter, the race is generally pretty safe,” said Nathan Haas of Team Dimension Data. Nathan had been training at home in Canberra, Australia’s capital city for weeks before the race, and had placed fourth in the Australian national championships.
It’s fast, it’s a great way to find form, and it’s such an easy event. You don’t have to move hotels. You’re in the same bed for two weeks, which feels more like a spectacular version of a training camp.
He was right: many riders had joined him Down Under, to take advantage of the summer. One was Yoann Offredo of French team La Française des Jeux. Six of its riders had come to train in Australia for 10 days before the race.
The atmosphere is totally different to European races.
“You really feel a passion around the bike here – when you go for a training spin you can pass 5,000 cyclists. Whereas I live in the Paris region and it’s atauite rare to see cyclists on the road. What’s more, they’re all well dressed, with great bikes and nice carbon wheels. It’s always a pleasure to meet people who are passionate about cycling.”
Nathan shared the sentiment: “I love training here, it’s the easiest place in the world for me to get fitness, it’s just so enjoyable.” He continued: “I think Australia has this really unique bunch riding group ethos. It’s just so much more fun than anywhere else I’ve trained. The groups that go out to ride, they’re stoked about the riding aspect… and you’ve got all these guys who, if I’m not in actually good fitness, absolutely take me to town. The fact that these guys are all trying to learn from the professionals but at the same time school us, it’s just awesome…”
I love training here… The fact that these guys are all trying to learn from the professionals but at the same time school us, it’s just awesome.
Steve Morabito, Yoann’s team-mate, also said he liked the early start Down Under: “I like the contrast of starting the season in Australia, where it’s the middle of summer. I’m a rider who really likes the heat, so in a few days I can acclimatise and build a good level of form in optimum conditions,” he said. “I arrived on the 27th December with my wife and we had a week in Perth on holiday, but I made the most of it for training too –
I used Strava to see where cyclists were riding and find good segments to climb, it helped me find good training roads.
Marcus Burghardt of BMC Racing was in Australia to support his team leaders Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte. The Tour Down Under takes place over six stages around Adelaide, with most stages ending in a sprint – apart from the famous summit finish on Willunga Hill, which Porte won. “I was feeling quite good,” Marcus told Strava. “There was one day that was hard, the stage to Stirling, there I had to ride in the front a little bit but I finished in the first group, which is a good sign. I didn’t race so much in the second part of last season so it was important to start racing again.”
At around 140km, the Tour Down Under’s stages are short, which is perfect for finding form. But the domestic Aussie pros are all at peak summer fitness, and acclimatised to the heat, so getting a win is easier said than done. “Tyler Farrar was saying he actually thinks it’s a little bit unfair to come over, when you’ve been training in the cold, and the Aussie’s have been in the heat the whole time,” Nathan said.
You very rarely see less than six Australians in the top 10.
Steve was one of the lucky riders that joined them there, finishing 9th on the GC. “I’ve always felt good at this race, but I’ve always been there to work for the leader – last time for Cadel Evans,” he said. “I knew it was a race that suited me, so when I changed teams [to FDJ] I asked if I could train for it, and I did everything I could to arrive there with good form.”
I did everything I could to arrive there with good form.
Unfortunately for Marcus the first race also brought the first crash, and he broke his elbow during stage four: “It’s always not nice if you must stop a race and fly home – it’s not good for the head, also – but the season is so long,” he said. “When I started racing, we started in end of February or March, and now we start in January. But now the season is even longer, there are so many races in the season where you can perform, I’m not getting nervous.”
But now the season is even longer, there are so many races in the season where you can perform, I’m not getting nervous.
Nathan and Yoann too, are looking ahead to the Classics. “I think like any year I just want to win Amstel Gold!” Nathan said. If that could be all I win in cycling, I’d walk away on the day and be pretty stoked!” He continued to train in Australia before flying to the Middle East for the Tour of Oman.
Steve, meanwhile, returned to Europe, where the temperature change was a bit of a shock. “I try to make the best of the contrasts,” he said. “Today I did my first bit of cross-country ski training!“
So guys, remember those temperatures: it’ll be a while until the pro peloton gets back to racing in that sort of heat!
Make sure you give the Strava Pros featured here a follow and support them throughout the grueling season ahead: