The Tour Down Under starts in the Adelaide suburb of Tanunda next Tuesday (January 20).
All 17 WorldTour teams will roll out to begin the new season in earnest, with native talent accounting for some of the brightest hopes for overall victory.
Nine of the sixteen editions have been won by home nation riders, and with a host of homegrown talent, and Australia’s only WorldTour team, Orica-GreenEDGE, in attendance, the chances of another home victory are high.
Here, we consider five riders in with a chance of overall victory.
1) Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team)
Will the old lion roar once more in his final outing at Australia’s only WorldTour event? The BMC leader rode strongly last year, winning stage three and finishing second overall. A tougher parcours than in previous years, one that includes three uphill finishes, may help to deliver the fairytale ending.
Can the old lion roar again? Victory on home soil in his final Tour Down Under would provide a fitting end to Cadel Evans' WorldTour career. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Of Australian cycling’s recent heavyweights, Stuart O’Grady, Michael Rogers and Simon Gerrans have all won their home race (Gerrans on three occasions). Evans will wish to add his name to the roster. Rohan Dennis, who will bid for the Hour Record in Aigle on February 8, is presumably close to peak form and well-placed to deliver, should age blunt Evans’ challenge.
2) Richie Porte (Team Sky)
Richie Porte? Geraint Thomas? Peter Kennaugh? Sky’s talent-heavy selection for the Tour Down Under contains three possible leaders, but Porte is clearly the man in form, having won the Australian time-trial championships recently. His victory on stage five last season was his only win of a disrupted campaign, which reached its low point at the Tour when he was dropped on a flat section of road on the run to Nîmes. Porte must, to some degree, re-establish his reputation as leadership material having squandered his chance at the Tour. His home race would be a good place to start.
Richie Porte will seek to rebuild his confidence after a disappointing spell as Team Sky's de facto leader at last season's Tour de France. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Thomas is another rider with the talent to win the TDU, and, amid a growing sense that 2015 is the year in which the Welshman must finally land one of the sport’s great prizes, victory in Australia would be a useful start should Porte falter.
Meanwhile, Kennaugh is hungry for success. After publicly criticising Sky for leaving him out of the Tour squad last year, the British champion promptly won the Tour of Austria, as if to prove a point. The pugnacious Manxman is ideally suited to the parcours and could claim a stage at the very least.
3) Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo)
Rogers is a rider of established pedigree and capable of winning on a parcours where only the final stage is flat. Last season’s triumphant return to form after an overturned doping suspension brought three Grand Tour stage wins, including victory on the Zoncolan.
Michael Rogers won three Grand Tour stages last season and is well-suited to the rolling parcours of the 2015 Tour Down Under. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
The official ambition is for a top five finish for Rogers, with a plan to deliver him to the foot of Old Willunga Hill on stage five still in contention. Rouleur columnist Chris Juul-Jensen may play a role in shepherding his senior team-mate.
4) Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale)
Ag2r-La Mondiale joined the top table last season with the performances of Jean-Christophe Péraud and Romain Bardet at the Tour, and with Carlos Betancur slated to lead the team at the Giro and Vuelta, Pozzovivo will wish to lay an early marker to avoid being overshadowed by team-mates in a squad laden with climbing talent.
Ag2r-La Mondiale has an abundance of climbing talent and Domenico Pozzovivo will wish to claim a place in its first rank, alongside Peraud, Bardet, and Betancur. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Blel Kadri’s impressive ride through the Vosges to win stage eight of last year’s Tour, as well as his feisty performance on the road to Sheffield, speaks well of his ability to perform on challenging gradients. A former top 10 finisher at the Tour Down Under, he is another who could spearhead Ag2r’s challenge.
Christophe Riblon’s greatest victories have arrived at summit finishes and his talents might be displayed to greater effect on a parcours more severe than any on offer in the six stages around Adelaide. The two-time Tour stage winner is a rider of proven ability, however, and his presence is an indication of how seriously three-time winners Ag2r regard the Tour Down Under.
5) Luis León Sánchez (Astana)
The Kazakh team’s line-up is one of the strongest in the race. In Luis León Sánchez, they field a former winner (2005) who, having secured a one-year contract with Astana after winning the King of the Mountains competition for Caja Rural at last year’s Vuelta, will wish to make a flying start with his new team.
Luis León Sánchez has returned to cycling's top tier with Astana. A former winner of the Tour Down Under, he is well placed to make an early, favourable impression upon his new team. pic: Offside/L'Equipe
Lars Boom is a feisty competitor, adept in week-long stage races, and may prove a useful ally for Sanchez. Another new recruit, Dario Cataldo, has spent much of his career riding in the service of others, and could also provide valuable support for the Spaniard.