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Cycling: Back on the road

IT is that time of year when the eyes of the sporting world are fixed on the southern hemisphere.

While Andy Murray has been progressing comfortably at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Adelaide is gearing up for the curtain raiser to the 2013 pro-cycling season.

The six-day Santos Tour Down Under begins on Tuesday, with Adelaide playing host to the People's Choice Classic, a 51km circuit race "preview", this morning.

Following Lance Armstrong's long-awaited public confession, those in the sport are understandably keen to move on from cycling's murky past and hope that in coming days the focus will shift to action on the bike, rather than off it.

Unsurprisingly, given the location, the line-up is awash with big Australian names with defending champions Orica-GreenEdge, as the "home" team, commanding the lion's share of attention.

Last year's winner, Simon Gerrans, will lead a seven-strong squad featuring double Australian champion Luke Durbridge, sprinter Matt Goss, Daryl Impey, Jens Mouris, Simon Clarke and veteran Stuart O'Grady. They will face a strong challenge from two-time Tour Down Under winner Andre Greipel and his Lotto-Belisol team, with Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) also in the mix.

Luxembourg's Andy Schleck (RadioShack Leopard Trek) will be looking to recapture his form after fracturing his pelvis in June during the Criterium du Dauphine. "I have a pretty big ego and I like to show the people that I'm still a good bike rider and not a couch potato," Schleck said. "I know what I can achieve and if I'm 100% I think I won't finish too far back."

Rising Scottish cyclist Andy Fenn will have his sights set on stage victories with the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team keen to use the Tour as an opportunity to test and hone his sprint power. Sports director Rik Van Slycke said: "We want to support the young strength of Andy Fenn, to keep working on his development as a top sprinter. We will go with him to see how close he can get to Andre Greipel and other sprinters there."

Tomorrow, meanwhile, the Tour de San Luis starts in Argentina with Omega Pharma-Quick Step's big-coup signing, 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish, due to make his debut.

Susan Swarbrick

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