The New Zealand contingent for the Santos Tour Down Under has been confirmed with four New Zealanders in the start list for the 18th edition of the World Tour race starting in Prospect this year before finishing with the Adelaide city centre circuit.
The 2016 Santos Tour Down Under will see an awesome field lining up for the first World Tour event of the season, with defending champion Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing lining up with a squad that looks to be one of the strongest of the race, with last year’s runner up Richie Porte also in the running. But beyond there just everywhere you look there are potential champions, including three-time champion Simon Gerrans of Orica GreenEDGE, Australian national champion Jack Bobridge of Trek-Segafredo and former teammate of Gerrans in Simon Clarke of Cannondale Pro Cycling. And that’s just the Australians.
Simon Geschke of GIANT-Alpecin is here along with Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas. Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Christophe Riblon of AG2R La Mondiale and Louis Meintjes of Lampre-Merida will all present strong threats in regards to potential GC glory when the race finishes after six stages from the 19th-24th January.
New Zealand’s strongest GC hope lies with LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett, who last year achieved his best ever GC finish at a World Tour event at the Santos Tour Down Under when he finished 10th overall. Bennett will arrive in Australia in good condition after a great start to his year was not reflected in his result at the national road race championships in Napier. Bennett finished 12th behind eventual winner Jason Christie, but rode out of his skin in the breakaway; and was unfortunate to have his efforts brought to a halt by a mechanical issue.
AG2R La Mondiale’s first ever Kiwi signing is time trial talent Jesse Sergent, and he will look to impress in Adelaide. Like Bennett, Sergent also was at the elite road nationals last weekend in Napier, where he animated the race in the breakaway. After his disappointing – by his own standards – 6th place in the individual time trial two days prior, Sergent was one of several World Tour riders who tried to illuminate the race from the pack, only to find himself marked by the Continental and domestic trade teams in the field. It will be interesting to see what the team decide to do in the race with potential GC challenging riders present. Sergent himself could be particularly handy in a breakaway attempt should the opportunity arise.
Greg Henderson needs little introduction to anyone familiar with the Santos Tour Down Under. He has quite firmly stamped his legacy on the race already as a lead out man for German teammate Andre Greipel – who in his career has amassed an astonishing 16 Tour Down Under stage wins. Look out for Henderson to potentially be at the sharp end of sprint finishes during the week with Greipel absent for the second year in succession. This could also potentially be Henderson’s last year at the Santos Tour Down Under.
While Henderson has experience in abundance when it comes to the Australian World Tour race, one rider who will be making his World Tour debut and Santos Tour Down Under debut is reigning national time trial champion Patrick Bevin. The Cannondale Pro Cycling rider surprised a few when he stormed the time trial course in Napier to be crowned national champion; head and shoulders above the rest. He will make up part of a strong team that includes Simon Clarke; the former Vuelta a Espana king of the mountains.
Orica GreenEDGE’s Sam Bewley will not be in attendance in Adelaide for the race, with the Kiwi enjoying a little break before hitting his 2016 season abroad in earnest. Also not present in the start list is Drapac Pro Cycling’s new signing Tom Scully who finished second behind Patrick Bevin in the elite men’s time trial at the road nationals in Napier.
Stay tuned for more in the run up to the Santos Tour Down Under 2016.