Winning edge: Simon Gerrans (left) celebrates his 2012 win. Photo: Getty Images
WINNING opportunities will be rare for sprinters in this year's Tour Down Under, with organisers having plotted the most challenging route in its 15-year history. But that has done nothing to put the speedsters off making the trip for the World Tour opener.
The Tour Down Under, which starts on Tuesday and finishes next Sunday in Adelaide, boasts a top field of sprinters that includes international stars Germans Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano), American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Italian Andrea Guardini (Astana), Spaniard Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), and Belarusian Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ).
Add the likes of Australian flyers Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mark Renshaw (Blanco), Chris Sutton (Sky), Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) and Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo-Tinkoff), and you have a sprinters' field that would honour bunch sprints in the Tour de France.
With the race suiting all-rounders such as defending champion Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), who will relish the extra hills of this course, the battle between the sprinters for the few stage-winning chances coming their way next week is expected to be even greater.
It will also heighten the opportunity for those sprinters in the warm-up, the Down Under Classic on Sunday night.
Renshaw said as much on Saturday before he and his teammates, including his Australian lead-out rider Graeme Brown, trained on the route that could see a race-defining selection on stage two on Wednesday that includes the three-kilometre-long and aptly named Corkscrew climb, with seven kilometres to go.
''The Corkscrew is really tough,'' he said. ''We may not know who is going to win [after that stage], but we will definitely know who is going to be in contention to win the race [overall]. I will go 100 per cent Sunday in the [Down Under Classic] and in the first stage - 100 per cent. We have two good young Dutch climbers for the Corkscrew - then I will take any opportunity after that.''
Haas and his teammates will set out to make best of the Classic in which he will be up for a crack if the ''A plan'' to set Farrar up for the win does not come to fruition in the gallop home on the inner-city circuit.
''When you have a sprint train that is enthusiastic and really ready to race, that is when the results come,'' he said. ''We have superman Steele Von Hoff in the lead-out train. We have Robbie Hunter who is an artist at figuring out these lead-outs and then we have Tyler who just goes fast.
''We have some real horsepower … We are going to take a lot out of this race.''