Off-season is officially over – just days into 2024, and the Women’s World Tour kicks off with the first stage race of the year, the Santos Tour Down Under. Featuring a line-up composed of nine WWT teams, six UCI continental teams and an Australian national team, the race takes place from Wednesday 23rd to Sunday 27th August with three varied stages taking place in South Australia, five days after the national championships have crowned new riders with the green and gold on Mount Buninyong in Victoria.
It’s impossible to tell how riders’ form will be coming straight out of the Christmas period, but the race often provides an early indication of team dynamics and riders to watch over the coming season, along with the opportunity for the antipodean riders to shine on home soil, before making the long journey back to Europe for the main block of racing beginning in the spring.
It’s the 12th edition of the race, and the second time it has been a WWT level race, offering teams the opportunity to begin the year with success at the highest level. The peloton will look a little different, with new kits and new machines, and it goes without saying that everyone will be keen to make their mark at the earliest possible opportunity.
Over the course of three stages, the riders of the women’s peloton will face their first challenge of 2024, a total distance of 291.2km, and including the longest ever stage of the Tour Down Under on stage 2. Here’s what they can expect over the course of the three days.
Stage 1 – Friday 12 January – Hahndorf-Campbelltown (93.9, Flat)
Beginning north-east of Adelaide and taking place over the rolling Adelaide Hills, stage 1 offers a relatively gentle lead-in to the 2024 season with a mostly flat stage.
The peloton must tackle two category 4 climbs as the route heads south, offering those with an interest in the polka dot Queen of the Mountains jersey the chance to get off the mark, before turning back north to complete a looping route back to the Adelaide suburb of Campbelltown. There will be two intermediate sprints along the way too, for riders hoping to contest the Ziptrak Sprint jersey.
A downhill run to the finish line concludes the day, with a steep descent to lead into the final which is likely to result in a bunch sprint as the fast women test their legs for the first time in 2024.
Stage 2 – Saturday 13 January – Glenelg-Stirling (104.2km, Hilly)
The longest and hilliest of the three days with a total of almost 2,000m of altitude gain, stage 2 will offer opportunities for riders with their sights on the overall classification, and could also provide a launchpad for breakaway riders in search of stage victory.
Beginning on the beach road of Glenelg, the peloton will head south and turn inland for more views of the Adelaide Hills as they approach the first major test of the day, the category 1 Cherry Gardens Hill climb. Though it’s just shy of 3km long, the climb averages almost 6% gradient with a maximum pitch of a leg-breaking 15.6%, and will likely break the peloton up early on, with GC teams hoping to capitalise on any splits.
The second climb of the day brings the riders into Stirling. A category 2 ascent, the riders will cross the finish line with the first rider over the line being awarded the QOM points, before two and a half laps of a circuit around the town of Stirling with plenty of ups and downs should see a spicy finale to the day, and plenty of attacking racing. An uphill drag to the line will see punchy riders come to the fore.
Stage 3 – Sunday 14 January – Adelaide-Willunga Hill (93.4km, Hilly)
If stage 2 set up the general classification battle, the third and final stage will shake it out and crown the eventual winner of the race.
Beginning just south of Adelaide city centre and heading due south, the riders have an early challenge in the shape of the Windy Point climb. A category 1 test, the proximity of the ascent to the start of the race means that GC teams will have to be attentive to riders looking to break away early, and attempt to keep them on a short leash.
After that, all roads lead to Willunga Hill. Following the climb, the riders face another uncategorised ascent before a long flat section and with a summit finish on the infamous category 1 ascent facing the peloton at the end of the race, things may get cagey as the riders save themselves for the final attack of the Tour Down Under.
At 3km long and with an average gradient of 7.4%, Willunga Hill will sort the final order of the overall classification, and crown a stage winner on one of the most iconic climbs in the antipodes.
Riders to Watch
It seems remiss not to mention SD Worx at the top of every preview when it comes to favourites, but the Dutch super team have opted out of travelling to Australia for the second year running and in their absence, there are a host of teams who will be looking to capitalise.
Despite an arguably below average 2023 season, FDJ-SUEZ arrive at the race with the defending champion Grace Brown, supported by a strong squad that also includes Cecile Uttrup Ludwig for an alternative GC leadership option. Brown will once again hope to perform well on home soil, having already claimed the national ITT title, and Ludwig will hope to launch her season with a positive result after a quieter 2023.
Brown’s main rival could well come from the Lidl-Trek team, who bring four Aussies to the race including debutante, junior World time trial champion Felicity Wilson-Haffenden. A three-time previous winner of the race, Amanda Spratt is likely to have the whole team’s support behind her, and with Brodie Chapman among the ranks – always a great wildcard for attacking and breakaways – they will hope to wrest control of the race from FDJ.
Home team Liv Alula Jayco are the only WWT team at the race to field a full squad of antipodean riders, with five Australians and one New Zealander, the promising young rider Ella Wyllie. They bring a broad spread of rider types, and could be in with a shot at any of the stages, with 2023 stage winner Alexandra Manly and Ruby Roseman-Gannon arguably their brightest hopes.
Canyon//SRAM had a strong 2023 season and will hope to begin 2024 in a similar fashion. Chloe Dygert will be one of the favourites to take the overall title, and with support from the likes of Soraya Paladin and home riders Tiffany Cromwell and Neve Bradbury, they are definitely ones to watch.
Outside of the favourites, other riders in with a chance include AG Insurance Soudal’s Ally Wollaston, UAE Team ADQ’s Sofia Bertizzolo and Human Powered Health’s Katia Ragusa.
Riders to watch (GC)
5-stars Chloe Dygert
4-stars Grace Brown
3-stars Amanda Spratt
2-stars Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
1-star Alexandra Manly, Ally Wollaston
When – Friday 12 – Sunday 14 January 2024
Where – Australia
What – 3-day stage race
TV Coverage: Discovery+, Eurosport
Voxwomen works with brands that really do care about the growth and development of women’s cycling. MAAP is one of those brands. Please take a moment to visit them and see how they are progressing women’s cycling apparel and female cycling communities.