Cannondale-Drapac is sending a motivated squad Down Under. Tom-Jelte Slagter, winner of TDU general classification in 2013, and Michael Woods will lead the team in the six-stage race.
Joining Slagter and Woods are Patrick Bevin, Brendan Canty, Will Clarke, Alex Howes, and Tom Van Asbroeck. The same lineup will also race the People’s Choice Classic on Jan. 15 in Adelaide and again on Jan. 29 at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, now a WorldTour event.
“Last year I knew I was in really good form and Jonathan Vaughters told me, ‘we’re going to make you the guy for Down Under.’”, says Woods. “I was super-stoked about that. In retrospect, that was crazy that JV just was like, “Dude I’m going to give this rookie a shot at a WorldTour race’ with no experience whatsoever, but it panned out awesome,” Woods said. “I think when the guys saw my name as one of the leaders in the pre-race e-mail they were probably thinking, ‘Um, this is a really bad idea.’”
It wasn’t. Then unknown, the neopro finished fifth overall and third on two stages.
“I want to replicate that if not improve on that performance this year,” Woods added. “We also have a good guy in Tom-Jelte Slagter, who’s won the race before, so we’re coming in with a very strong roster. I feel good having TJ there —it takes a bit of pressure off me. We have a few ways to do well.”
When Slagter last lined up in Australia to race, he won the overall and the queen stage, then riding for Belkin Pro Cycling. That victory sticks out as one of his most memorable.
“The one I recall the most was the Tour Down Under win in 2013. It was a great team effort” Slagter said. “I’m happy to be going back to the TDU — I’ve got good memories there. It’s an early race but an important one. We’ve got a good team going, and I think we’re all motivated. Between myself and Mike Woods I think the overall is something we can look at.”
The TDU parcours is one for an all-rounder, with two decisive days for general classification. The climb up Willunga Hill always shapes the race, and another, that up to Paracombe via Torrens Hill Road, should also prove decisive. The race’s winning margins are narrow and time bonuses often come into play, putting a tall order on sport directors to keep things under control.