New prologue to test cycling tour riders

Riders can expect to taste blood when the men's Tour Down Under returns from its two-year hiatus.

One of the best fields in the event's history will contest the six-day Santos Tour, the annual flagship of Australian cycling.

Grand Tour winners Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Jai Hindley and Simon Yates headline the start list, along with world road championships medallist Michael Matthews and sprint ace Caleb Ewan.

It is a rebirth in a number of ways for the Adelaide-based race, which was restricted to domestic riders for the past two years because of COVID-19 and is now back as the World Tour season opener.

This will also be the first time that local star Stuart O'Grady is race director, after tour founder Mike Turtur stepped down from the role.

O'Grady has moved quickly to put his own stamp on the race

One of his innovations will be Tuesday's twilight prologue opener - the first time since the tour started in 1999 that it has featured a time trial stage.

Thomas said the the short, sharp 5.5km loop around the River Torrens, next to the Adelaide CBD, will be a nasty hit-out.

"It will be tough, solid - the first big five-minute effort or whatever it is, of the year," said the Ineos Grenadiers star.

"It's going to hurt, you'll be tasting blood at the end of that. It's a great way to start."

For the first time in many years, the tour also will not feature the famed Willunga climb.

Instead, the last stage next Sunday will feature a summit finish at Mt Lofty for the first time in tour history and that will be where the overall winner is confirmed.

O'Grady said it was no accident that the race has a different look as it returns to the World Tour calendar.

"I'd like to think the race we've designed is something a little bit different from what we've had before," he said.

"It was really important that we came back with some new innovations, new start locations, new finish locations.

"Mike Turtur and his team did a fantastic job, but I'm here I guess to give a little bit of my flavour.

"Hopefully the riders find that interesting and they're not flying back into Adelaide (thinking) 'it's the same old story'."

Two-time world time trial champion Rohan Dennis and fellow Australians Luke Plapp and Jay Vine will be riders to watch in the prologue, while Matthews also will aim for the stage win.

"To be fair, that's everyone's plan. Once you have control of this race, it's much easier," the Jayco-AlUla team leader said.