The Santos Festival of Cycling may have been ranked as an Australian National Road Series event but the organisation surrounding it and coverage provided had far more in common with a Women’s WorldTour race, and that continues to be the direction where the South Australian event is heading.
It would be understandable if, after two years of cancellations of the 2.Pro Women's Tour Down Under race due to COVID-19, the momentum toward the top-tier may have slowed. That, however, hasn’t been allowed to happen, with the Santos Festival of Cycling serving as a clear reminder that the race is waiting in the wings to step back onto the international calendar with full-force.
“Our team is really committed to this event, South Australia and the government here is really committed, our sponsors and stakeholders are really committed to cycling here in South Australia in January and we wanted to really show – that despite the disappointment of not having the ability to host an international event this year – we were still going to show off the best of Australian racing here,” Women’s Race Director Kimberley Conte told Cyclingnews in Adelaide.
The race this year, from January 23 to 26, played out across a varied course, with three stages on the road to decide the general classification and then one last hit out at a criterium in the centre of Adelaide.
It was all shown via live-stream from start to finish and with a depth of media resources to make sure that the race and the peloton packed with young hopefuls got attention beyond home shores, a feature ever more crucial in an era where international opportunities have been near impossible to come by because of travel restrictions associated with COVID-19.
“The fact that people overseas could be watching this race online was really important, and we know that they were,” Conte said.
“We were getting messages from international teams whilst the racing was going on. So again, just keeping South Australia and keeping this event in the eye of the public, not just here in Adelaide or in Australia but globally, is really important to us because next year we'll move back into that international format and we want to just show the world that's something that we are really good at doing here.”
The combination of gravel sectors, strategically placed climbs and time bonuses from the intermediate sprints kept the racing dynamic and also kept the efforts rolling to reshuffle the GC right up to the final kilometres of the race.
Women’s WorldTour riders and domestic talent alike had the opportunity to make a mark as, while Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco) held the overall jersey with a tight margin from start to finish, the four days of racing delivered a different winner each day.
Plus, the under 19 riders that would have lined up to represent Australia at the World Championships in 2021, had an opportunity to elevate their racing by lining up in the national squad, Team Garmin Australia, with the nation’s top-ranked rider, Grace Brown.
“The silver lining to all of this is that this year we've had the ability to showcase some of the most talented Australian riders coming through,” Conte said. “The talent, and depth of that talent, is unreal.”
Australia’s only WorldTeam BikeExchange-Jayco did sweep up the wins on the final two days of racing, with Roseman-Gannon – who just last year was an NRS rider benefiting from the exposure the race offered – and Georgia Baker. However, on the first day of racing it was 21-year-old Emily Watts (Knights of Suburbia) who took the stage and on the second it was the usually track-focussed South Australian Maeve Plouffe (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast). New Australian champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv-SRAM) also kept appearing on the podium and took second overall, showing that her road race victory in Buninyong was far from a one-off.
Women’s WorldTour status is within sight for the Women's Tour Down Under, potentially even as soon as 2023.
"It's definitely on the cards for certain,” said Conte, when asked about the possibility of shifting up a ranking to Women’s WorldTour in the short term.
“It takes an enormous amount of effort. As you are progressing through each of the UCI levels and there's a lot of work that goes in before the event – of course consultation with the UCI, consultation with stakeholders. It's not so easy as just saying, 'Oh, we're going to have a WorldTour race next year', but it is definitely on the cards for this event.”
“Whether that happens in 2023 or we move forward to 2024 or beyond that has not been decided yet, but I'd be delighted if it was and we are fortunate that no matter the status of this event, we have so many of the top international teams that want to come back.”
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.