A world-class peloton will line up in Australia to kick off the 2019 season at the Women's Tour Down Under from January 10-13. Amanda Spratt returns to the race with her Mitchelton-Scott team in an attempt to defend her title for a third consecutive time against what is being billed as the toughest field in the history of the race.
"Returning to a race as defending champion is great – even more so when it's in Australia in front of a home crowd," she said. "I haven't returned to many races as a defending champion, so it definitely makes this Tour Down Under even more special for me."
There will be a total of 15 teams lining up for a start in Hahndorf that include some of the top-ranked squads in the world: Mitchelton-Scott, CCC-Liv, Ale Cipollini, Astana, Tibco-SVB, Rally UHC, BePink and the newly launched Trek-Segafredo.
The event will embark on its fourth edition. Retired rider Katrin Garfoot won the inaugural race 2016 and Spratt won two overall titles in 2017 and 2018, all under the Mitchelton-Scott outfit.
Mitchelton-Scott director Martin Vestby said that he expects one of the strongest fields in the history of the event and that will make for an exciting four-day race.
"With some new big teams at the start line, I expect the Tour Down Under to be a great race with strong competition, and we could see different scenarios this year that will make our title defence more difficult.
"But we have a strong team at the start, and more cards to play. 'Spratty' will for sure be one of our leaders, and the course suits her, but she isn't our only option, which will keep teams guessing."
Mitchelton-Scott will line up with a dominant team that includes Spratt along with Lucy Kennedy, Gracie Elvin, Sarah Roy, Grace Brown and Georgia Williams.
The Australian-based outfit will face CCC-Liv's team of Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, who will be one of the Spratt's biggest GC threats, along with Jeanne Korevaar and Riejanne Markus.
Trek-Segafredo bring strong climbers in Ruth Winder and Elisa Longo Borghini, along with sprinters Lauretta Hanson and Lotta Lepistö.
American outfits Tibco-SVB and Rally UHC will also be contenders for the overall titles. Tibco arrive with last year's runner-up Lauren Stephens, along with two Australians – Brodie Chapman and Shannon Malseed. Rally UHC come from a mini training camp in California and include contenders Sarah Bergen and Kristabel Doebel-Hickok, while Astana bring a contender in Arlenis Sierra and BePink's team includes sprinter Rachele Barbieri.
There will be a series of Australian-based teams: UniSA-Australia with Rachel Neylan and Lauren Kitchen, Specialized with Amy Cure, Gusto StepFWD with Jess Mundy and Sydney University with Georgia Whitehouse. New Zealand will also field a national team led by Deborah Paine.
The four-day race will have something for all types of racers with sprint stages, a hilltop finish, and a downtown circuit race.
"The course set for the 2019 Santos Women's Tour Down Under will take the riders through some of South Australia's most picturesque locations in the Adelaide Hills and Barossa regions," said David Ridgway, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.
"With equal prize money up for grabs, we know the elite women riders will be battling hard over the 376km covered across the four stages to put on a great show for cycling fans," said Minister Ridgway.
Mengler Hill sets the tone for GC
The race will begin with stage 1 on January 10 in Hahndorf where the women will race for 112.9km before finishing in Birdwood. There's one intermediate sprint in Gumeracha along with two QOM ascents in Forreston and one in Charleston.
"It's definitely a challenging opening stage," race director Kimberley Conte told Cyclingnews. "It's not incredibly technical, but it is very up and down, and so finding your rhythm – especially in what is for many riders their first race of the season – could be a struggle for some.
"I always hope that we set a course that is backbone to the race, and then it's in the hands of the riders to see where they take that," said Conte. "I think it's a great opening stage, and it'll be exciting to see what should be a big bunch sprint in Birdwood for the first time that we're finishing a stage there."
Stage 2, on January 11, will be one for the climbers with a start in Nuriootpa and a hilltop finish on Mengler Hill in Angaston. The women will race 116.7km with an intermediate sprint in Angaston followed by a QOM atop Three Cols Climb. The race loops back through Eden Valley for a second intermediate sprint in Angaston and then heads toward the finale on Mengler Hill.
"I'd expect to see the race open up here on stage 2," Conte said. "The course before Mengler Hill is quite flat, with some rolling roads, but it will really come alive once we get to the bottom of the climb.
"Those who have been to Mengler Hill before will know that it's quite open and exposed, which, if it's hot, or windy – or, like last year, foggy and rainy, which was quite unusual – will make it exciting. You just don't know what's going to get thrown at you, but I'd expect to see a really strong performance from a rider like Spratt, although she'll certainly have competition from the other teams."
Stage 3, on January 12, will start in Nairne and finish 104.5km later in Stirling. There'll be an intermediate sprint in Echunga and a QOM at Red Gum Hill in Greenhills Range.
"The beautiful and technically challenging stage 3 route, finishing in Stirling, incorporates part of the famous circuit used frequently on the men's race. Riders who know the area well may be able to put their local knowledge to the test and emerge as the victor on this stage," Conte said.
"We're using a small, narrow road called Aldgate Valley Road on the circuit, which is absolutely stunning and beautiful, but from a racing perspective, it's quite shaded, and there are a lot of twists and turns, so if you're able to attack at the bottom of the climb – which is quite a gradual climb up to Stirling, but also quite long – then you have the opportunity to stay away. You're kind of out of sight, out of mind," she told Cyclingnews.
"After going through Stirling for the first time, the riders face a technical descent all the way back down to the start of the climb, which they'll come up once more to the finish line. There are real opportunities for the rouleurs or even the sprinters, like Chloe Hoksing, as we've seen sprinters win the men's stages here before," Conte said, with Caleb Ewan a prime example in 2018.
The race will end on January 13 with stage 4 in Adelaide. The peloton will compete in a 42.5km race held on a closed city circuit that starts and finishes on Bartels Road.
"We expect a fast and furious sprint finish for stage 4 around the Adelaide East End Circuit, immediately before the Down Under Classic, with huge crowds anticipated to cheer on some of the best female athletes in the world on their final day of racing," Conte said.
"It's a great way to finish things off, and spectacular to see this level of racing on that last stage. And we're back to the old, classic circuit: a little bit shorter, tighter and faster, which means that the riders definitely can't let their guard down."