The professional women's peloton will kick off their racing season at the 2018 Santos Women's Tour. In its third edition, the event has been upgraded to a UCI 2.1 status and is set to run from January 11-14.
Results from the event's short history, two years, predicts that the woman who wins the opening stage will also win the overall title. Easier said than done.
In 2016, it was Katrin Garfoot, racing for then Orica-AIS, who broke clear from the field with a small breakaway that finished nine seconds ahead on stage 1. She hung on to the leader's jersey through the stage 2 sprint won by Nettie Edmondson and capitalised on proper teamwork during stage 3, won by her teammate Lizzie Williams from a breakaway. She finished with the bunch on the final day to claim the title. It was a slim margin, though, having held the same time as stage 1 breakaway companions, Shelley Olds and Lauren Kitchen, during all four stages.
Last year, it was Amanda Spratt, from then Orica-Scott, who launched a solo attack three kilometres out and gained 19 seconds to take a solo victory on the first day. Her team kept her in the front group during three subsequent bunch sprints won by Kirsten Wild, Chloe Hosking and Wild, again, to win the overall title. She even managed to build her lead out an additional six seconds as runner-up Janneke Ensing was caught behind a gap in the field on the last stage.
Defending champions Spratt and Garfoot will be on the start line in Gumeracha on January 11. But there will be one big difference this time around - a finish atop Mengler’s Hill. In fact, with the addition of two climbing stages, retaining the overall lead for four consecutive days will no doubt pose the biggest challenge.
Spratt leads the line up for newly named Mitchelton-Scott in their attempt at a third straight win. She recently competed at the Cycling Australia Road National Championships, where she placed fourth in the road race. Though she appears to be in good form, the new course could better suit her teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten, time trial world champion and winner of La Course atop the Col d'Izoard in 2017.
Garfoot, who is likely more suited to the hilly terrain, just won her third straight title in the time trail at the Australian championships. Unfortunately for Mitchelton-Scott, however, she decided to stop racing for the team so that she could focus on her family and stay closer to home in Australia, while also preparing for the time trial at the Commonweath Games in April. She will instead race for UniSA-Australia, a team put together with powerful riders Tiffany Cromwell, Shara Gillow, Lauren Kitchen and Rachel Neylan.
Other riders to watch are newly crowned Australian road champion Laura Malseed (Tibco-SVB), Linda Villumsen (Virtu Cycling), Taylor Wiles (Drops-Trek), Lauren Stephens (Cylance), Mayuko Hagiwara (Ale Cipollini) and Eri Yonamine (Wiggle High5).
The series of sprinters to look out for include Nettie Edmondson (Wiggle High5), Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance), Kendall Ryan (Tibco-SVB) and Chloe Hosking (Ale Cipollini).
Hilltop finish adds to the overall challenge
The women will line up to start the tour in Gumeracha, host of both the start and finish of stage 1's 115.7km race. The peloton will race two loops through the Adelaide Hills. The stage includes two queen of the mountain ascents at Cyanide Climb along Terlinga Road and then Mount Torrens, which boasts 11.1 per cent grade. There is also one intermediate sprint at the half-way point in Gumeracha.
A day for the overall contenders, stage 2's 102km race will finish at the top of a category 1 climb up Mengler's Hill, which is sure to cause some gaps in the classification because of its 14.4 per cent grade. But the peloton might already be in tatters before the final climb after the two opening circuits, which then passes once over the nine per cent Whispering Wall ascent in Williamstown. The riders going for sprint points will have an opportunity in Greenock along Murray Road.
Stage 3 brings the peloton to the longest race of the four days at 122.4km. The point-to-point event will start at the new Bend Motorsport Park and climb out through Callington and Kanmantoo. The sprinters will have a chance to pick up more points along Old Princes Highway to Junction in Nairne. The race will finish with a tilt up the Comet Mine Climb, along Tischer Road just before concluding in Hahndorf.
The Santos Women's Tour will end on a closed 2.3km circuit in Adelaide. The women will race 20 laps for a total of 46km. Organisers will throw down four primes on laps 4, 8, 12 and 16, and then crown the overall winner. The women's race ends moments ahead of the start of the men's People's Choice Classic.
2018 Santos Women's Tour
Stage 1: January 11 – Gumeracha to Gumeracha, 115.7km
Stage 2: January 12 – Lyndoch to Mengler’s Hill, 102km
Stage 3: January 13 – The Bend Motorsport Park to Hahndorf, 122.4km
Stage 4: January 14 – Wakefield Road to Wakefield Road, 46km