The women's Tour of Flanders has been given an even tougher finale for next season with the addition of the Taaienberg climb, making the final 40 kilometres of the race the same as the men's edition, the race organisers have announced.
The women's event will run for the 16th time in 2019, starting in Oudenaarde on April 7 – the same day as the men's race – and taking the riders on a tough 157-kilometre route that also finishes back in Oudenaarde.
That addition of the Taaienberg climb, as well as the Steenbeekdries cobbled section, with 40 kilometres to race makes for an even tougher last quarter of the race, with the riders then still facing the climbs of the Kruisberg, the Oude Kwaremont and the final climb of the Paterberg.
The 2018 race was won solo by Boels Dolmans' Anna van der Breggen, with her Dutch teammate Amy Pieters bringing home the chasers over a minute down, ahead of Mitchelton-Scott's Annemiek van Vleuten and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervélo Bigla).
Spratt looking to make it three-in-a-row at Tour Down Under
While both the men's and women's UniSA-Australia teams that will compete at their respective races at the 2019 Tour Down Under have been announced, fans of the South Australian event eagerly await news of the full line-ups of top-class riders for January.
The Australian can expect stiff competition from top teams that include Astana, CCC-Liv – formerly Waowdeals – and the new Trek-Segafredo women's team, who will all send strong line-ups, looking to depose Spratt.
"It's a big target for me, and the mixture of stages should suit me but also our whole team, so I'm excited to see what we can do together there," Spratt said on the race's website of the four-day women's race.
"Returning to a race as defending champion is great – even more so when it's in Australia in front of a home crowd. I haven't returned to many races as a defending champion, so it definitely makes this Tour Down Under even more special for me."
Spratt enjoyed a hugely successful season in 2018, heading back to Europe after winning Down Under to take second place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the overall victory at the Emakumeen Bira stage race. She then won a stage and took third overall at the Giro Rosa, and finished off her season with a silver medal in the road race at the World Championships.
Grace Garner signs with Hitec
The Garner sisters rode together at Wiggle High5 during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, but, following the demise of the team at the end of this year, 21-year-old Grace was able to tweet her delight in being able to continue to race alongside her older sister.
"So happy and relieved to finally announce that I will be riding for Hitec Products for 2019. I'm so grateful for this opportunity and also to continue my journey with Lucy," she wrote on Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to finding my feet again in such a great team."
The team also includes three-time Norwegian road race champion Vita Heine.