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Chris Froome headlines a stellar cast at the Tour Down Under when road cycling’s World Tour season launches in Adelaide next week.
The four-time Tour de France champion returns to the Tour Down Under (TDU) for the first time since 2010, albeit playing what he called “a slightly different” role.
He will be joined in Australia by fellow Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas, former Vuelta a Espana champion Simon Yates and last year’s Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley.
Australia’s biggest cycling event is back on the World Tour after a two-year break because of the Covid pandemic.
The men’s five-stage TDU gets under way after Tuesday’s 5.5-kilometre (3.5 miles) prologue through Adelaide’s streets.
The women’s three-stage event — now part of the World Tour — begins on Sunday.
Britain’s Froome is part of the Israel-Premier Tech line-up, with 2018 and 2019 TDU winner Daryl Impey of South Africa also racing in what will be his final professional season.
The Israel-Premier Tech team are operating at second-division ProTeam level after their relegation from the World Tour and riding in the TDU on a wildcard invitation.
“Although we received a late invite, I am still hoping to do my best and hopefully I can support Corbin Strong and the rest of the team deep into the finals,” said Froome, who is fighting back after a high-speed crash during the 2019 Tour de France.
The 37-year-old was in intensive care with a broken leg, ribs and elbow after colliding with a wall.
“My role will be slightly different to previous years but I am motivated and I am hoping to give the best of what I have when we kick off the new season,” he said.
– Aggressive racing –
Fellow former Tour de France champion Thomas will lead INEOS Grenadiers, with Australian Luke Plapp and British brothers Ethan and Leo Hayter among the team.
Thomas is coming off a third-place finish in last year’s Tour de France and also won the Tour de Suisse.
“I’m looking forward to starting my year in Australia,” the Welshman said.
“The INEOS Grenadiers have got a strong line-up. A lot of good young guys, so we’ll look to race aggressively and try get as much as we can out of it.”
Yates, supporting Australian Michael Matthews in locally backed Team Jayco-AlUla, said Adelaide was the ideal place to start 2023.
“It will be only my second time participating but it is a special race for me and especially for our whole team,” Yates said.
“I saw that this year’s route features the Mount Lofty climb for the first time, which looks really challenging.”
Other strong contenders for the ochre leader’s jersey are Australian pair Rohan Dennis (Jumbo-Visma) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe).
There is also Italy’s Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious).
All 18 World Tour teams are on the start list and fighting for early wins and UCI ranking points in the first of 35 events in 2023.
For the women’s event, three-time winner Amanda Spratt is back at the head of a strong Trek-Segafredo team.
Her main competition will come from fellow Australian Grace Brown from an FDJ-SUEZ team which contains French sprinter Clara Copponi.