The 2008 UCI ProTour begins at the Tour Down Under in Australia on January 22 but Cycling Weekly have discovered that most of the big names in the peloton have snubbed the race, preferring to train in Europe and follow a traditional early season build-up.

According to the race?s official start list at www.tourdownunder.com.au, few of the major stars of the peloton will be in the race and most of the 18 ProTour teams are filled with little-known riders who rarely make it into the major races in Europe.

Only the Australian riders who have spent the winter at home will ride the TDU before traveling to Europe, but ironically 2007 ProTour winner Cadel Evans is not riding, although he will be a guest at the race. Evans has said that because he is targeting the Tour de France in July, the TDU comes too early in the season.

The only well-known riders on the start list are local hero and Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O?Grady, rival Robbie McEwen, who leads the Silence-Lotto team and Belgium?s Philippe Gilbert of Francaise des Jeux.

The likes of Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Alberto Contador (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Caise d?Epargne), Alessandro Petacchi (Milram), Damiano Cunego and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) and George Hincapie (Team High Road), have all opted to miss the first ProTour race of the season and will begin their year in the Tour of Qatar, in Italy, France or Majorca, or in America after doing specific training in January instead of traveling to Australia.

The UCI created the ProTour in the hope that it would bring together the best riders in the best races and perhaps create the best racing. The TDU was quickly brought into the 2008 ProTour as part of the UCI?s global plans to compete against the major Tour organizers.

The TDU is a well-organised race but the 2008 start list clearly indicates that it should not be in what is supposed to be cycling?s Premier League.

TOUR DOWN UNDER TEAMS AND LEAD RIDERS

Ag2r La Mondiale (Fra)
Martin Elmiger (Sui) (2007 TDU winner)

CSC (Den)
Stuart O?Grady (Aus)

Silence – Lotto (Bel)
Robbie McEwen (Aus)

Credit Agricole (Fra)
Simon Gerrans (Aus)
Jeremy Hunt (GBr)

Milram (Ita)
Igor Astarloa (Esp)

Bouygues Telecom (Fra)
Xavier Florencio (Esp)

Team High Road (Ger)
Bernhard Eisel (Aut)

Astana (Sui)
Jose Luis Rubiera (Esp)

Caisse D?Epargne (Esp)
Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp)

Quick Step (Bel)
Dmytro Grabovskyy (Ukr)

Francaise Des Jeux (Fra)
Philippe Gilbert (Bel)

Liquigas (Ita)
Murilo Fischer (Bra)

Cofidis (Fra)
David Moncoutie (Fra)

Gerolsteiner (Ger)
Jan Robert Forster (Ger)

Euskaltel ? Euskadi (Esp)
Mikel Astarloza (Esp)

Rabobank (Ned)
Graeme Brown (Aus)

Lampre (Ita)
Fabio Baldato (Ita)

Saunier Duval (Esp)
Jose Alberto Benitez (Esp)

Australia ? UniSA (Aus)
Allan Davis.

RELATED LINKS
2008 ProTour dates