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Women’s Tour Down Under makes its step up to the top-tier in 2023

ECHUNGA AUSTRALIA JANUARY 24 A general view of Georgia Baker of Australia Sprint Jersey Ruby RosemanGannon of Australia Blue Santos Leaders Jersey Alexandra Manly of Australia Amber Pate of Australia and Amanda Spratt of Australia and Team BikeExchangeJayco lead the peloton during the 2nd Santos Festival Of Cycling 2022 Womens Elite Stage 2 a 857km stage from McLaren Vale to Echunga TourDownUnder on January 24 2022 in Echunga Australia Photo by Daniel KaliszGetty Images
Maintaining momentum with a 2022 domestic Santos Festival of Cycling amid the COVID-19 cancellations (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Santos Tour Down Under women’s race will be returning to the calendar after two years absence with a lift in status to the Women’s WorldTour, guaranteeing a strong showing of top teams at the Australian summer event which has long looked on track for the shift to the top tier of racing.

The well organised and supported race has been running alongside the men’s WorldTour ranked Tour Down Under in January since 2016, shifting up from 2.2 status to 2.Pro in 2020. The race then faced two years of cancellation of the international event due to the border restrictions in place as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but still kept the momentum toward the top tier, instead running an event which delivered a professional level style of racing for the domestic competitors and even included live coverage – a requirement for Women’s WorldTour events that some of those already with the ranking have struggled to provide.

“Since 2016 the Santos Tour Down Under women’s race has delighted athletes and fans with its fantastic organisation and high-profile racing,” UCI President David Lappartient said in a statement. “It is a pleasure to see this event join our leading series of races for women’s professional road cycling alongside the biggest and most important events in the world.

“This Australian race will showcase the depth and strength of the women’s peloton and set the tone for a season of intense and hard-fought racing.”

The race, which equalised prize money so it matched the much larger men’s WorldTour purse back in 2018, will be the first event on the 2023 calendar when it runs as three-stage road race from Sunday January 15 to Tuesday January 17, also preceded by a criterium in Adelaide on January 14. 

It will also be the first Women’s WorldTour (WWT) stage race to ever take place in Australia, adding to the one-day elite women’s event at the Cadel Evan’s Great Ocean Road Race which delivered the first WWT race in 2020. However, it too was faced with two years of COVID-19 pandemic related cancellations through 2021 and 2022.

“It’s clear the Santos Tour Down Under will return with impact and share an important story in the process – one set to inspire a new generation of athletes and deliver a true spectacle,” South Australia’s Minister for Recreation, Sport and Racing, Katrine Hildyard said.

Previous editions have been run under the stewardship of race director Kimberley Conte, that however will be changing in 2023 as the race steps up to the WWT, with Stuart O’Grady leading the women’s event alongside two assistant race directors, Annette Edmondson and Carlee Taylor. They are both South Australian-based former professional cyclists who have participated in the race on a number of occasions.

“We share a passion for this great race and are committed to seizing the opportunities its new status will bring,” O’Grady said in a statement.

“Moving to the UCI Women’s WorldTour means elite teams – who increasingly have male and female rosters – can share resources, and it also reaffirms South Australia as the best place to begin each professional cycling season.”

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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.