It’s been two long seasons since the men’s professional peloton blew off the cobwebs and opened the season on sunny Australian shores. In both 2021 and 2022, the Tour Down Under was cancelled due to restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning the WorldTour calendar was without its flagship race in the southern hemisphere. However, in 2023, the Tour Down Under is finally back from January 17 to 22 and it boasts an exciting route as well as a stellar line-up.
After its two year hiatus, the organisers of the Tour Down Under have restarted proceedings with an event first: a city prologue around Adelaide’s central business district. A day later, road racing kicks off in stage one which looks like it should be an opportunity for the sprinters with almost 150 kilometres of racing on the flatlands of South Australia’s Barossa region. Stage two is a hillier affair to the coastal town of Victor Harbor, while stage three will see the riders take on an even more undulating 116 kilometres from Norwood to Campbelltown.
Although the race then passes through Willunga, there will be no inclusion of the race's famed Willunga Hill in 2023, with stage four looking like another chance for the sprinters. To close proceedings, we can expect fireworks on the fifth and final day as the riders skirt through the Adelaide Hills, including four ascents of the famous Mount Lofty climb. This could be where the general classification winner is decided.
Heading up a star-studded field so far are a couple of big name riders including the 2022 Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), as well as local legend and former time trial world champion Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma). Newly-crowned Australian national road race champion Luke Plapp (Ineos-Grenadiers) will want to do the green and gold bands proud on home roads, and we can also expect to see his teammate, Geraint Thomas, in the fight for the overall general classification. Sprinters such as Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) will hope to be at the pointy end of the flatter stages.
As we buckle up and get ready for the first showing of the men’s WorldTour in 2023, here is a full preview of the 2023 men’s Santos Tour Down Under.
While many of the WorldTour peloton will have been clocking up the miles this winter, the opening prologue of the 2023 Tour Down Under will expose who has been keeping an eye on their technical abilities, too. The 5.5 kilometre time trial around the centre of Adelaide features numerous tight turns and what the organisers describe as a ‘dive bomb descent’, making it a challenging and explosive effort for the riders. Home favourite Rohan Dennis will want to perform well here, but there’s a chance that such a short and technical circuit won’t be suited to the Aussie rider’s strengths. It’s unlikely that we’ll see any definitive signs about who is in contention for the overall race win in the prologue, but it will be clear which riders are ready to be at the sharp end of races early in the 2023 season.
Once the jersey wearers have been decided by their positions in the opening prologue, the peloton will face a 149 kilometre road stage on day two. Despite being touted as a stage for the fast men, stage one isn’t pan flat, with over 2053m of elevation gain throughout the route. It features two ascents of Menglers Hill: a climb of just under four kilometres in length with some biting gradients (a maximum of 13.3%.) The second and final ascent of Menglers comes just over 40 kilometres before the race finish, though, which should give the sprinters enough time to regain contact with the peloton if they need to. The finish itself looks to be tricky and technical, so it will be imperative that teams who want a shot at victory have their lead out trains dialled for this stage, and those in the running for the overall GC will need to keep themselves focused and out of danger near the front of the peloton.
The hills begin to make more of an appearance in stage two of the Tour Down Under in a 154.8km stage – the longest of the race. The route kicks off in Brighton and skirts along the coast, with the first sprint point of the day coming after 33.6km. These early flat roads could give the chance for a breakaway to establish itself before a second sprint point after 71.7 kilometres of racing. Parawa Hill is the first climb of the day which is 2.9km long with an average gradient of 7% and a maximum of 16.7%. Just over 40 kilometres later comes the second key climb of the day, Nettle Hill. This climb has an average gradient of 6.8% and spans 2.5km. Front then, the peloton will descend into Victor Harbor for the finish. This stage could be a good opportunity for a breakaway: it may be too difficult for the pure sprinters but not hard enough for the GC riders to try and create time gaps.
Stage three is the first day of the race where we can really expect contenders for the overall victory at the 2023 Tour Down Under to emerge. The peloton will set off in Norwood and begin the first of three tough ascents early in the stage with the first King of the Mountains sprint coming after just nine kilometres – we can expect an aggressive opening to the day’s racing. Riders then have some respite with rolling roads towards the second climb of the stage: the category one Checker Hill. This climb is short but hits gradients of nearly 20% which is sure to cause splits in the bunch. Corkscrew Road is the final ascent of the day and it comes just five kilometres before the race finish. Spanning 2.3km with a maximum gradient of 24.4% and average gradient of 9.2%, it’s an extremely tough climb which means we almost certainly won’t see a bunch finish on this punchy, Ardennes classic-style stage.
This stage heads to Willunga, but not as we know it, missing out the Tour Down Under’s usual famous Willunga Hill climb. Instead, stage four of the 2023 Tour Down Under will give another well-deserved opportunity to the sprinters as it features just 1436m of climbing across the 133.2 kilometre route. The peloton do pass through Willunga Hill’s lower slopes, but this is unlikely to be enough to put any of the fast men under pressure and we can expect a hard-fought sprint finish on stage four, which is also likely to be technically demanding. Caleb Ewan could have his eyes set on victory in his home country on this stage.
With 112.5km of racing, this stage is one of the shortest of the race. However, we should not be deceived by that distance, stage five has 3131m of elevation gain which could well decide the final general classification winner of the 2023 Tour Down Under. The organiser’s main showpieces on this final day of racing are four ascents of the famous Mount Lofty climb. Lasting for 1.3km with a maximum gradient of 13.3% and an average gradient of 7.3%, these will cause some real splits in the peloton. The first climb of Mount Lofty comes after 33.6km and they then come at approximately 25km intervals, with the stage finishing at the summit of Mount Lofty on the final ascent. The riders will have very little respite throughout this day and it’s likely that the strongest rider on Mount Lofty will win the race overall.
There are some big names who will be kicking off their season in Australia this year. Two former winners of the race have been confirmed to take part: Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) and Daryl Impey (Israel-Premier Tech).
Dennis may struggle on some of the steeper inclines, but he’s been known to perform well in shorter stage races, leading Paris-Nice for four stages last year. Impey will be supported by a strong line-up for Israel-Premier Tech who have a number of options for this race, including Tour de France stage winner Simon Clarke. However, they are a team with sprint ambitions too, bringing former-European champion Giacomo Nizzolo and up-and-coming talent Corbin Strong, so it will be interesting to see how they balance their ambitions for both the overall classification and stage wins.
One team we can expect to focus on the general classification is the Ineos Grenadiers. They boast a strong squad for this race including former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas, Tour of Poland 2022 winner Ethan Hayter (who could also feature heavily in bunch sprints) and young talents like Australian national champion Luke Plapp and the American prodigy, Magnus Sheffield. With this line-up, it looks like the British squad will be one of the main protagonists in this year’s Tour Down Under and a key team to keep an eye on.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Australian WorldTour team Jayco Alula (formerly Team BikeExchange-Jayco) will also want to have a strong showing in their home country. Michael Matthews is suited to a number of the stages in the Tour Down Under as a versatile rider who can sprint and get over short climbs, so we can expect him to go for stage wins. Simon Yates will likely be this team’s protected rider for the overall GC.
Last year’s Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley will lead the Bora-Hansgrohe squad Down Under. He is a strong contender for victory overall and will be supported by seasoned puncheur Max Schachmann. Pello Bilbao of Bahrain-Victorious finished fifth in the Giro d’Italia last year and could also be in for a chance at victory in Australia, as could AG2R Citroën Team’s Ben O’Connor.
Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Finally, UAE Team Emirates are a squad which we can expect to be seeing plenty of at the front of the 2023 Tour Down Under. They bring one of 2022’s breakthrough riders Jay Vine who signed for the team following his two stage wins at the Vuelta a España last year. The Emirati team also has options with George Bennett and Marc Hirschi.
When it comes to the pure sprinters, Caleb Ewan will ride the race for the UniSA-Australia national team and will be hoping to open up his 2023 win tally early in the season after a lacklustre 2022 season. Gerben Thijssen of Intermarché-Circus-Wanty is another strong sprinter, as is Kaden Groves of Alpecin-Deceuninck and Bryan Coquard of Cofidis.
It’s always tough to make predictions for the first race of the season. Some riders will come into the race with flying form, whereas others will be using the Tour Down Under as a way to open up their legs for bigger goals later in the season. It’s for this reason that we’re going to bank on an Australian rider to take victory who will be especially motivated to win in front of a home crowd. We think Rohan Dennis will reign supreme for Jumbo-Visma and will take the second victory at the Tour Down Under in his illustrious career.
Cover image: Zac Williams/SWpix