Broadcast options for the Santos Women’s Tour are limited to a one-hour highlights package on the fifth of February on Australia’s Nine Network, which means the first UCI women’s race of the season has been best followed in real time on Twitter. The official race feed (@SantosTDU_live), a handful of teams and a few journalists (including the author of this story) provide live race tweets for fans hoping for updates out of Australia.
Women’s cycling fans were quick to raise the pitchforks in response to this news. However, Santos Women’s Tour race leader Amanda Spratt called for patience with progress.
“It’s easy to sit here and say all sorts of things about the lack of coverage or not having highlights until one month after the event, but live television is expensive,” Spratt told Cyclingnews. “I think it’s important not to become too impatient with the development process.”
A women’s race run alongside a men’s race inevitably invites comparison. All the men’s teams – riders and personnel – stay at the Hilton in central Adelaide while the women stay outside of town in college dorms. The winner of the Tour Down Under earns €12,000. The total prize purse for the women’s race is worth $12,000 (AUD) – which is around €8450. The men have six days of WorldTour racing plus a bonus race in the form of The People’s Choice Classic, a standalone criterium. The women’s four-day includes two road races mixed in with two criteriums.
And then there is the television coverage. The People’s Choice Classic is broadcast live in its entirety as is the final stage of the Santos Tour Down Under, a circuit race that last around two hours. In total, fans will be able to watch more than 20 hours of live coverage. The television broadcast is supplemented by a live stream on Nine’s Wide World of Sports and the TourTracker app, both of which offer 14 hours of live coverage globally.
No such broadcast or online stream exists for the women’s race. Race organisers provide media with a two-minute video daily news highlight video. The one-hour highlight package will air in three weeks.
“We would love to see a live stream or broadcast of the event, and it’s part of our growth strategy, but it’s something we will build towards as we grow the race,” said Hitaf Rasheed, director of Events South Australia. “Live broadcast of road cycling, which includes filming across hundreds of kilometres of open roads, is extremely expensive to produce, and we need to grow our audience and our commercial partnerships simultaneously to be able to deliver this.”
Adelaide hosted the first edition of the Tour Down Under, won by local hero Stuart O’Grady, in 1999. In 2008, the Tour Down Under earned WorldTour status and become the official season-opener.
Although a women’s race has been held in Adelaide in January since 2012, it wasn’t until 2015 that the race had a connection to and shared a name with the Santos Tour Down Under. That year, Valentina Scandolara, riding for Orica-Scott (then Orica-AIS) won what has come to be considered the inaugural Santos Women’s Tour. In 2016, the women’s race earned UCI status and an international peloton.
“If you look at it from year to year, the growth and development is massive,” said Spratt. “This year, there are eight WorldTour teams here, which is huge. The organisers are accommodating teams and bringing them out for Cadel’s race, too. And the stages are getting harder with a little bit of everything.”
“We are all committed to growing the Santos Women’s Tour, which means growing the quality of the race, growing the spectator and fan base, growing the media coverage and, of course, growing the commercial support and broadcast coverage,” said Rasheed. “Like it was with the men’s race, which is now in its 19th year, it’s a journey.”
“We believe we have come a long way in three years,” Rasheed added. “We are now a UCI 2.2 ranked stage race, our race director Kimberley Conte has done a great job and the quality of the peloton has continued to improve with 11 UCI Women’s Teams and six domestic teams this year, our crowds are growing and we’ve had great media support this year particularly from our media partner The Advertiser.”
Spratt, who is posed to win the overall in Victoria Park on Tuesday, chooses to focus on the gains that have been made over the last three years and the progress she trusts is still to come.
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