The 2018 edition of the Tour Down Under is the 20th time Australia's premier UCI professional event has been held. With the race's major sponsor Santini releasing a special edition jersey and matching bib shorts to celebrate the race, Andy discusses how the race has grown and matured into a genuine success.
When the Tour Down Under (TDU) first appeared on the calendar back in 1999, it seemed to many traditional fans based in Europe that event was unlikely to succeed on the world stage even though it did provide a great way to showcase local Australian talent to the world's professional teams.
The Tour Down Under only appeared on the calendar due to the loss of the final round of the F1 championship which moved to Melbourne. After losing such a prestigious international event, the South Australian government looked to identify a replacement that could effectively offset the loss of the Australian Grand Prix.
With strong competition in the form the French trio of Tour Méditerranéen, Tour du Haut Var and the Étoile de Bessèges along with my own personal favourite the quirky Challenge Vuelta Ciclista a Mallorca, the TDU's warm weather was an obvious draw for pro riders trying to avoid the wind, rain and often snow of these early season buildup races.
With proud Aussie Stuart O'Grady taking the first edition in 1999, the race has often favoured home riders with 12 home winners listed on procyclingstats.com with O'Grady with two victories in 1999 & 2001. It's fellow Aussie Simon Gerrans who claims the top spot with 4 overall victories to his name in 2006, 2012, 2014 & 2016, much to the delight of the crowd when Australia's first professional WorldTour cycling team ORICA-GreenEDGE debuts in 2012.
Since 2008, the race has been the season-opener the UCI's WorldTour and the TDU continues to find favour with many riders no doubt helped by the race using the Adelaide Hilton as it's base with zero transfers between stages.
Whilst the likes of Lance Armstrong (making his return to professional cycling at the 2009 edition) and more recently Peter Sagan have grabbed the headlines for foreign riders making the TDU the start of their season, it's Germany's André Greipel who has made a huge impression on the race with two overall wins in 2008 & 2010 and an astounding sixteen stage wins. With time on his side, Caleb Ewan is going to have to go some to beat that, plus who's to say Greipel won't keep on winning!?
It's fair to say that over the years, the organisers have followed the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" option with the race route with a formulaic approach resulting in a number of bunch sprint stages with the overall often decided on the now legendary Old Willunga Hill.
For 2018, the event organisers have made some changes to spice up the overall competition by tweaking the route to include back-to-back climbing stages that will have a significant effect on the battle for the Ochre jersey. In case you didn't know - the race uniquely uses the colour Ochre for its overall leader as it's strongly associated with Australian culture and history.
In 2017, we had our own little bit of TDU fever hit Prendas Towers, with the Drops team taking part in the Women's edition of the race wearing our team clothing before and during the race.
Thankfully race director Mike Turtur and his team show commitment and have more vision than Christian Prudhomme and ASO when it comes to supporting the women's side of the sport. The four-day Women's Tour Down Under has been recently upgraded to UCI 2.1 status for 2018 with the race starting on 11th January and concluding on Sunday night, preceding the People's Choice Classic criterium in Adelaide.
Time differences aside, an obvious problem for UK fans is the restricted and also very limited TV coverage of the race limited to Sky Sports. Whilst football fans are used to paying the extra subscription for live football, the race would hugely benefit from being on Eurosport UK or ITV4 for a much broader audience.
In 2007, Santini first sponsored the leader's jerseys for the Tour Down Under, which was won my Ag2r's Martin Elmiger in what was an unusually wet edition of the TDU. Despite the classic Ochre overall leaders jersey and polka dot king of the mountains jersey being available for resale, you won't find them for sale on the Prendas website.
With sales of pro team kit - in particular race leaders jerseys - falling every year, we now focus on clothing that people want to wear all year round without falling foul of cycling's various unwritten rules.
However, we adore the design of these two celebratory garments, using bold colours and symbols that tastefully illustrate the race's Australian origin. Both the jersey and bib shorts will only be available for a very limited timeas Santini will only produce this kit once.