Santos Festival of Cycling 2022 - Preview

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: Luke Durbridge of Team BikeExchange wins the Leaders jersey after the Men's Bike Exchange Stage 2 from Birdwood to Lobethal of the Santos Festival of Cycling on January 22, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Peter Mundy/Getty Images)
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Tour Down Under may be absent for another year but there will still be a solid block of racing in Adelaide, the surrounding hills and countryside this Australian summer next week, with four days of racing for both the women and men set to unfold at the Santos Festival of Cycling from Sunday January 23. 

The racing is spread over seven days,  with a crossover of the men's and women's race days at the mid-week criterium. It is a National Road Series event which will bring together some WorldTour professionals, the top domestic teams and a number of aspiring young riders.

BikeExchange-Jayco and a scattering of Australian top-tier riders from other squads are joined by Team Garmin Australia in taking on the domestic teams. The national squad will give those young riders who haven’t been able to race in Europe or contest a World Championships, the closest experience to top level international racing they can have on home shores. 

As well as experience, the race also a race that provides a rare opportunity for aspiring professional cyclists from Australia to draw the gaze of top-level international teams. The world of cycling is used to turning their attention to Australia at the start of the season for the WorldTour and 2.Pro races and many retain the habit for the Festival of Cycling, which still provides similarly challenging courses, some familiar names to act as a yardstick and plenty of coverage. 

Luke Plapp last year launched into the spotlight while riding alongside Richie Porte for Team Garmin Australia, and has this year gone from mentee to mentor as he again lines up with Porte in the national squad, but this time he is doing it with an Ineos Grenadiers contract and Australian elite road title.

Australia’s top-ranked female cyclist, Grace Brown, will similarly be leading the way for the women’s national squad, while for BikeExchange-Jayco there will be a welcome return to racing for Amanda Spratt following surgery for Iliac artery endofibrosis. She will be lining up with the new Australian criterium champion, Ruby Roseman-Gannon. 

The racing begins with three days of women’s road stages, then there are two criteriums on Wednesday January 26, with one marking the end of the women’s competition and the other marking the beginning of the men’s. From Thursday the men will head out on the roads of South Australia for three stages, culminating atop Willunga Hill on Saturday January 29. 

Women's Race

The stages

  • Sunday January 23 11am, Stage 1 Tanunda to Williamstown
  • Monday January 24 11am, Stage 2 McLaren Vale to Echunga
  • Tuesday January 25 11am, Stage 3 Lobethal to Lobethal
  • Wednesday January 26 18:15, Criterium Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga, Adelaide

The women’s race begins in Tanunda, in the heart of the state’s wine rich Barossa Valley, with an 85.4km stage to Williamstown. It’s one for the sprinters, though not totally flat and they’ll likely have to dig deep on the Whispering Wall climb. 

Stage 2 takes the racing from the countryside north of Adelaide and starts closer to the coast, in a winery itself, Penny Hill in McLaren Vale. It takes the riders up the long climb up Peters Creek Road little more than 20km in and then delivers a little more ascent with Figtree climb and a 2.8-kilometer section of dirt as the race heads to the QOM at Prospect Hill. The course then heads to Hahndorf before looping back to Echunga where the riders will cross the line after 1182m of climbing and 85.7km.

The third stage of 86.9km starts and finishes in Lobethal and could well be the day that decides the general classification. As the race loops around the town in the Adelaide Hills it crosses over two unpaved sections and a final challenging climb 2 kilometres from the final line, which also marks the end of the stages out on the roads surrounding Adelaide.

The women's race finishes with a criterium on a 1.35km circuit in the heart of Adelaide that’s likely to draw the crowds enjoying a public holiday in celebration of Australia Day. It’ll be a fast racing finale with the final winner crowned after 45 minutes and 1 lap.

Riders to watch

BUNINYONG AUSTRALIA JANUARY 16 Grace Brown of Australia competes during the Australian Cycling National Championships 2022 Womens U23 and Elite Road Race a 1044km race from Buninyong to Buninyong AusCyclingAus on January 16 2022 in Buninyong Australia Photo by Con ChronisGetty Images

Grace Brown (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) with Rachel Neylan (Cofidis) dsitting behind (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

BikeExchange-Jayco always steps into the Australian summer with strength and, despite the travel constraints delivered by the COVID-19 pandemic and the departure of some key Australian riders, they still looks well positioned to make an impact on the racing. 

Usually in South Australia the team would look to Amanda Spratt, but the three-time Santos Women’s Tour Down Under winner is stepping back into racing with more modest ambitions this year, given she is only weeks into her return to training after a long lay-off due to surgery. 

The responsibility for stage wins and the overall, therefore, will largely fall on the shoulders of new signing Ruby Roseman-Gannon, who has joined the team with impressive form, having won on three of her four race days so far this season and swept up Australia’s criterium title in the process. She also just missed the podium in the road race at the Australian National Championships, so is clearly comfortable at the moment getting over those hills as well. 

Grace Brown, second at the event last year, is always one to watch. She has moved to FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope team for 2022 and so leads the Team Garmin Australia national squad at the Santos Festival of Cycling.

There she will be mentoring a group of U19 and first year U23 riders, which may have an impact on her ability to take her own chances, but while it is a young team there are some extremely capable players among the group, which is largely made up of those who missed the opportunity to represent Australia in the Junior category at World Championships in 2021 due to COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions. 

Among them is Alyssa Polites who has already reaped the benefit of sticking to Brown’s wheel, making an astute selection at the U23 and elite women’s road race at the Australian National Championships last week and managing to follow Brown in the select group’s sprint to the line. That ultimately led to the 18-year-old Polites not only winning the U23 road title in her first year racing the category, but also stepping up to third on the elite podium.

Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv Attaquer), the solo winner of the national title who came in just ahead of that group led by Brown and won’t be able to go unnoticed as she steps into her first race wearing the green and gold striped jersey of the national champion, but she’s got a solid bunch of teammates around her that could also make a mark, particularly Peta Mullens when it comes to the criterium. 

That’s far from the end of the list of domestic squads and riders from them that could pose a threat, with the likes of Matilda Raynolds from InForm TMX MAKE always sure to be an aggressor while Danielle de Francesco and U23 time trial and criterium winner, Anya Louw, of ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast had plenty of good form on display at Nationals.

Then there is Team Westpac, which has pulled another couple of professional riders into the mix in the form of Trek-Segafredo’s Lauretta Hanson and Rachel Neylan of Cofidis. Hanson is one to watch when it comes to a fast finish and Neylan has a record of delivering from the break.

Men's Race

The Stages

  • Wednesday January 26 19:30, Criterium Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga, Adelaide
  • Thursday January 27 11:00, Stirling to Lobethal
  • Friday January 28 11:00, Mount Lofty to Woodside
  • Saturday January 29 11:00, McLaren Vale to Willunga Hill 

Straight after the women’s race wraps up with the criterium, the men’s race kicks off on the same 1.35km circuit in the heart of Adelaide with 45 minutes and 1 lap of racing.

The event then heads out to the Adelaide Hills, taking in 114km and 1800m of climbing from Stirling to Lobethal. The bulk of the climbing is in the first two thirds of the race, though there are still some undulations as it heads into the flatter finishing loops around Lobethal and a steep climb not far from the line. It could well end up being a sprint, but with the opportunities for the attackers there is certainly no guarantee.

Stage 2 may start at Mount Lofty, but on the summit, so this is a day that packs in just a little less climbing. Still, the four ascents of Quarry Road, with an average gradient of 6.6 per cent, on the finishing loop could take their toll and also provide a launching point as the riders head toward the finish line in Woodside after 112.9km. 

The final 113.2km day, starts in McLaren Vale before winding past the vineyards and onto the coast where the cameras are bound to linger on the views of Aldinga Beach. Then the race heads toward an always fitting finale, the iconic climb of Willunga Hill.

Riders to watch

Santos Festival of Cycling

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Last year Luke Durbridge took out the overall at the race after setting the tone with an 80km solo break on stage 1. The BikeExchange-Jayco rider will be back to defend his title in 2022, though the rest of the peloton will surely be reluctant to let him get away on his own again.

Team Garmin Australia will again comprise of Richie Ports and Luke Plapp, now Ineos Grenadiers teammates, and the pair are bound to be the most closely watched duo when it comes to the Willunga Hill stage. However their real focus will be on the experience they can offer their teammates; a new group of up and coming riders that are still in, or just coming out of, the Junior ranks. 

That includes Dylan George, who won the Junior men’s Australian road race title in 2021 and come eighth in the U23 road race in Buninyong last week in his first year within the category, plus Zac Marriage who won a bronze medal in the U23 Time Trial.

There are also some other professionals scattered throughout the field, notably the Jumbo-Visma duo of Rohan Dennis and Chris Harper, who will be lining up with Villawood. 

Then there is a composite team including 2021 Team Qhubeka NextHash rider Dylan Sunderland and Jensen Plowright, who is now riding with Continental team Equipe Groupama-FDJ. James Whelan, former EF Education-Nippo, rider will also be riding with Team BridgeLane and no doubt will be looking to further his claim for a return to the WorldTour after a stoic second in the road race at Nationals.

As the road nationals made clear, however, the competition from the domestic squads shouldn’t be underestimated, with third placed Brendan Johnston lining up for Giant Racing while the rider who rode to fourth even after a long early break, Kane Richards (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), is also clearly one to watch. 

InForm TMX Make will be back with a strong squad heavy with U23 riders, which is clearly far from a disadvantage given Blake Quick’s emphatic victory in the mixed elite/U23 field at Bay Crits. He then followed up with the U23 men’s road race title, where three of his Santos Festival teammates also joined him in the top 6. That included Carter Turnbull, who won the U23 time trial last week and also delivered a top 10 result at the Santos Festival of Cycling last year.

Another rider who made clear at Road Nationals that he is not to be underestimated this year is Cameron Ivory (St George Continental) who took a late flyer to take victory in the elite criterium. Then there’s also a cluster of Whelan’s teammates, from Drew Morey and Alistair Christie-Johnston, to Matthew Dinham who came second in both the U23 time trial and road race. 

How to watch

The women's and men's road race stages can be seen from 10:50 Adelaide time (which is 10:20 AEDT) live on 7 plus while coverage of the criteriums on Wednesday January 26 starts at 16:35 Adelaide time (17:05 AEDT).

If you live outside a broadcast zone or are on holiday outside your country and find that the live streams to be geo-restricted, you can get around this by getting access to them by simulating being back in your home country via a 'virtual private network', or VPN, for your laptop, tablet or mobile.

Our sister site TechRadar tested hundreds of VPNs and recommends the number-one VPN currently available as Express VPN. With ExpressVPN, you can watch on many devices at once including Smart TVs, Fire TV Stick, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android phone, iPads, tablets, etc.

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