The first race of the season when it comes to stage-racing at the highest level features only short stages. The riders come in for the heat, UCI points and reputable victories. The route doesn't change much from it's traditional format with the Willunga Hill and Mount Lofty to decide the overall classification. Furthermore, there will be two stages which should all end in sprints - providing plenty opportunities for the fast men.
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The race begins in Tanunda with a 144-kilometer day. This one features three laps of a large circuit which includes the slight ascent to Mengler's Hill, however as the riders come down back into town they will organize to a bunch sprint.
With 45-kilometer laps, the first stage is not all easy but it's not tough business either. Most of the riders will be on their first competitive day in months and won't be looking to take many risks or tests themselves too much. As usually is the case, this should be a calm day on Australian roads. Menglers Hill is not too hard, a slight rise into 5% which summits with 13.5 kilometers to go. There will be some fight for positioning however as a steep descent follows, but the final kilometers are flat.
Flat and not too technical. There will be a 90-degree turn around the 1-kilometer mark however that, alongside a slight turn right after will be just about it. The finishing straight is still long so it won't be tackled with urgency by some. The finishing straight has a slight gradient but a bunch sprint is hard to avoid.
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Stage 2 into Lobethal is a relatively open day. Short on the bike and with another circuit, however the final three-lap circuit features some hilltops where attacks can come. Here the racing will be open, the GC can be played for, but a sprint is also possible. It is a day with a 10-kilometer climb right from the start, although not many are likely to risk it all at this point in the race. However it's an interesting and explosive start for a 141-kilometer day.
Then we have a three-lap circuit around Lobethal, not too different than the previous day. three small ascents to note. 1Km at 5.7% with 20 kilometers to go, 1.6Km at 7.5% with 8.5 kilometers to go, and 600 meters at 5.6% with only 4.5 kilometers to go. Then, a small descent and a slight drag to the line.
All in all, a very open finale. It could well finish in a reduced bunch sprint, however the small climbs offer plenty opportunities for puncheurs, rouleurs and classics specialists to launch attacks. In a race that is often decided by just a few seconds, it can be a key day and specially because it will be the first real climbing test and riders will be unaware of who has the best legs.
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Stage 3 starts uphill however it should be a relatively easy day to control. The race rides into Campbelltown but will not tackle the Corkscrew climb. Instead, a flat day where a bunch sprint will be hard to prevent. However, with such a tricky start and mostly downhill finale, a breakaway could certainly take advantage.
Again, it is a day that immediately starts with a climb. The first 35 kilometers of the 145-kilometer day are very explosive, they feature several climbs. If there are enough riders willing to take the risks, this could lead to a very interesting day. The day is quite rolling, and then the final 25 kilometers have a downhill trend. Speeds will be very high and it is difficult to cut much of a gap in such terrain.
However, a bunch sprint remains the most likely scenario. Campbelltown, in the outskirts of the Adelaide city center, hosts a finale that has a technical approach, but a pan-flat finale.
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Stage 4 to Port Elliot will also be short and just as suited to the sprinters. There will be very little obstacles to tackle en route to the finish line. A day that can be exposed to the wind as it takes place quite close to the coast and does not feature this time around the rolling terrain of the previous days.
Instead, the first half is pan-flat. We've got Gemmel Hill that summits with 48 kilometers to go however it doesn't pose much of a challenge, and the final third of the day isn't much of an issue profile wise. In the final few hundred meters there will be a fast approach to Port Eliott, a sharp final corner with just a few hundred meters to go means a race up to that point, and then an all-out sprint in the day that suits the fast men the best.
Stage 5 sees the return of the Willunga Hill. It's the traditional Tour Down Under finale, and a stage that can be decisive. This is the comeback of the race's (and region's) most famous climb. It is a day that is very short and should be very calm all throughout, with the exception of the end. Like Milano-Sanremo, it is a slow buildup towards what should be a very explosive finale.
The riders will climb twice the 3-kilometer ascent at 7.5%, the first of which summits with 22.5 kilometers to go. However here there's rarely action, just positioning towards the base but then the race calms down. It's a non-technical and consistent climb so the riders will likely remain in a calm zone. Then in the run-up to the final climb the fight is serious.
Then, it's a 10-minute effort approximately - including the run-up to the ascent. High speed and big chainring, it's a climb where attacks have to be very powerful to make the difference as it will be raced at high speed. Still, the few seconds, and bonifications at the finish line, often prove vital for the decision of the ochre jersey.
The race ultimately ends in Mount Lofty. After it's success of 2023 the race organizers decided to repeat the formula. On the menu is an interesting finale, with an explosive start to the stage and then a three-lap circuit which ends atop the ascent each time. It's one with slight gradients, but the hilltop finish provides opportunities for attacks and for the ochre jersey to change hands right in the race's end.
Two 3-kilometer climbs provide space for attacks early in the day. A rolling day in the hills, it's not too difficult to image a big breakaway trying to establish itself and threatening the overall classification. A three-lap circuit around Mount Lofty will take place. In total, it's around 14 kilometers of false-flat climbing with a couple of small downhill sections. However as we've been able to observe last year, everything is in preparation for the final 1.6 kilometers.
The gradients here average 6.5%, but at the base of it the grades do go higher. A finale for puncheurs and climbers simultaneously, it's an explosive one. Not a climb to make big differences, but every second matters in such a race.