It’s the second edition of the Women’s Tour Down that has been at WorldTour level, but somehow it feels like the race is stepping into a new realm again. The race may still be just three stages long, it still opens the year of international top-tier racing –just like before – but with more Women’s WorldTour teams on the start list, a space of its own on the calendar with a weekend finale and an iconic summit finish that is set to delight both the riders who love to climb and fans.
In 2023 Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) won the event after a tight battle with three time winner Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) but there is definitely a different twist to the friendly rivalry between former teammates heading into this year’s event from Friday January 12 to Sunday 14 January.
When Spratt was asked at the race press conference if the summit finish on the last stage on Willunga Hill is the point where gets back at Brown, there was no hesitation when she answered with a chuckle ‘absolutely’.
It was a course announcement which definitely put a spring in Spratt’s step as she targets a fourth title but Brown – who mowed down Spratt on the Corkscrew descent to claim victory in 2023 – was perhaps hoping that the finish line of the final stage would be placed a little differently.
“I was looking to see if the descent had been cut off the profile, but it turns out we finish at the top of Willunga,” said a jovial Brown at the pre-race press conference. “But I think it is really cool that we get to race up a climb that is so iconic in the men’s race and I like a challenge so we will see how I go.”
Spratt and Brown may be two of the key riders to watch, but the race of course, contains a far broader list of contenders, with a dynamic road race at the Australian Championships providing a clear demonstration of the strength of the local riders in the field. Plus the start list is also delivering a growing array of international challengers.
A queen of Willunga
There has long been a heavy emphasis on the climb of Willunga in the men’s Tour Down Under, with Richie Porte having claimed the mantle of King of the Mountain. The climb, however, has not been in the women’s international race before. Still one member of the WorldTour peloton has managed to carve her name on the sign post alongside Porte that outlines the fastest times and that is Sarah Gigante.
She claimed the Queen of the Mountain on Willunga in 2021, when the climb was included in the Santos Festival of Cycling – the…