Stage 1
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20/01 - Stage 1 - Tanunda to Campbelltown - 132.6 km

After People’s Choice Classic on Sunday, it’s now time for the real race to start. Marcel Kittel won the criterium and he’s definitely the man to beat in this opening stage of Tour Down Under 2015. More on this later.
The route
Starting out in Tanunda, the riders take on a 32 km lap twice before they head south. There is an intermediate sprint located in Bethany offering 3, 2 and 1 bonus seconds on each lap. A breakaway will probably sweep up these seconds, but don’t be surprised if some of the GC riders try to get in the mix to get an early advantage on their rivals. Bear in mind that this race was won with a margin of just one second last year.

After passing the hydration station in Williamstown, there are just about 20 km left to the start of the only categorized climb on the menu today, Checker Hill. The riders climb the hill from the opposite side, compared to last year, when it featured on stage 2. From the top of Checker Hill, there are less than 30 km to go. The terrain is undulating and it might be difficult to control the peloton. However, the most likely scenario is that it all comes back together for the final sprint in Campbelltown.

The finish
As you can see on the stage profile, this is not a pancake flat sprint. Furthermore, the roads twist and bend a lot. The riders turn left onto Maryvale Road just before the last kilometer banner. From here, it’s straight-out all the way towards the finishing line on an undulating road, setting for a very fast finish.

The expert view
In my opinion, the currently best leadout rider in the world is Koen de Kort of Giant-Alpecine. He proved this again in People’s Choice Classic on Sunday with a brilliant leadout for Marcel Kittel. Therefore, who’s better to describe what to expect on this stage than the man who has to make sure it all goes according to plan. Here is Koen de Kort’s take on stage 1 of this year’s Tour Down Under:

"I think this stage will be quite tricky. Most riders won't know exactly how good they will really be and therefore, it'll most likely be controlled until Checker Hill. We climb it from the opposite direction we have done in previous years. It might not be as steep but I think the side we do now could be even more difficult because it's still pretty steep and the climb is longer. There will be attacks and riders will get dropped. I still think the peloton will get back together but the run-in to the finish is not as easy as it looks with twisty and undulating roads. It's more downhill than uphill but it'll still be hard to control the race and attackers are out of sight very quickly."

The favorites
Even though the finish isn’t as straightforward as it may look, it still suits Marcel Kittel very well. The sprinters’ teams should manage to control the race on the final kilometers and the long stretch towards the line is perfect for big powerhouses like Kittel. The pace will be extremely high which means nobody in this field will be able to match the German’s top speed. If Koen de Kort hits the front on the final 500 meters with Marcel Kittel in his wheel, only crashes or other incidents can stop them. This is the third time Kittel takes part in Tour Down Under. He still hasn’t won a stage. I’m certain he’ll be very eager to change this fact today.

In top condition, Giacomo Nizzolo should be the biggest threat to Marcel Kittel. However, at this early point of the season, nobody is peaking. On paper, the finish looks good for the fast Italian who’s able to keep a high pace for a long time. If teammate Marco Coledan can position Nizzolo well before turning left onto the final kilometer, a podium place should be within his reach.

Juanjo Lobato did very well in People’s Choice Classic and must be named among the top candidates today. Movistar always performs well in Tour Down Under and obviously, Lobato is in great shape already. However, I see other stages in this race much better suited for the young Spanish sprinter. That being said don’t be surprised if Lobato makes top3 again today.

Naturally, the Australians will hope to do well on some soil and with the likes of Chris Sutton, Mark Renshaw, Steele Von Hoff and the national champion Heinrich Haussler, it will be a small surprise not to see an Aussie sprinter make it onto the podium in Campbelltown.

The outsiders
There are two main factors to consider for the sprinters today. Either you have to fight hard to be on Marcel Kittel’s wheel, or you have to launch the sprint early and hope you can take the rest by surprise. Greg Henderson tried to do so in People’s Choice Classic – without luck. Today, courageous riders will have a much better chance of getting a small gap if they start their sprint from afar. The speed will be extremely high on the downhill sections and it’s only possible to go so fast. Unless Giant-Alpecine manages to keep everything under control, it could easily be a very messy sprint, with riders trying to move up on both sides of the road.

The young Dutch sprinter Barry Markus has all the right qualities to do well today. He only finished 16th on Sunday but he felt fine, and, usually, Markus does very well at the start of the season. Another youngster with a solid chance of a good result today is Rudiger Selig. In People’s Choice Classic, the German entered the final corner in a bad position and got boxed in before he could launch his sprint. To me, it seemed like a podium place was within his reach had he been in a better position. If Selig gets it right today, he could end up taking everybody by surprise.

For other fast outsiders look to Niccolò Bonifazio, Wouter Wippert, Boris Vallee and Gianni Meersman.

Orica-GreenEdge doesn’t have any sprinters in the race. They have to attack if they want success on home soil. It will be extremely difficult to make it all the way today but I’m sure they will try. As Koen de Kort described, it doesn’t take much of a gap for the peloton to lose visual contact with a lone attacker. Riders like Luke Durbridge, Cam Meyer and Michael Hepburn are all excellent track riders. In a twisty and undulating final, the peloton can’t afford to give any of these guys too much of gap if they want to see them again before the finishing line. The same goes for Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Astana’s Luis León Sanchez.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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