Women's Tour Down Under 2023 - The Essential Preview

Amanda Spratt
Amanda Spratt (Image credit: Getty Images)

For many years now, the women’s racing at the Tour Down Under has had the look and feel of Women’s WorldTour event – top teams, high-level organisation, live coverage and prize money that matched the men’s event. This year as it returns to the UCI calendar after two years of absence, it has finally got the classification to reflect that reality. 

The women’s Santos Tour Down Under, with the Schwalbe Classic as the curtain raiser on Saturday, January 14, will deliver Australia’s first-ever Women’s WorldTour stage race from Monday, January 15 to Tuesday, January 17 and its lifted status – and points on offer –  to help provide a continued incentive for top tier teams to make the trip to Australia in January amid what is becoming an increasingly loaded calendar of women’s racing. 

It has been a 12-year build toward the top tier for women’s racing at the Tour Down Under, which started in 2011 with a series of women’s street criterium races won by Chloe Hosking. The next year it grew to three races, and then in 2015, the annual women’s race became part of the National Road Series before securing 2.2 status in 2016 and 2.1 status in 2018, and that was also the year that the women were offered prize money that equalled the men’s. 

From then, the move up to Women’s WorldTour status under the guardianship of long-term race director Kimberley Conte only seemed a matter of not if but when. In 2020 it reached 2.Pro level but for 2021 and 2022 COVID-19 intervened, and with borders shut, the international racing was cancelled but determined to keep the momentum rolling, the organisers kept the racing going, delivering a National Road Series race with the trappings of a top-level international race. 

Now with the borders re-opened, the first Women’s WorldTour Santos Tour Down Under has nearly arrived. Conte has moved onto other challenges, so it will be under the stewardship of the team of Stuart O’Grady, Annette Edmondson and Carlee Taylor that the race, which takes riders from the coast to the climbs, plays out. 

Three-time winner Amanda Spratt will return, but instead of heading into the challenge with Australia’s only WorldTour team to back her, she will instead be lining up with the might of Trek-Segafredo behind her, a formidable team that has already proven its strength on Australian soil even when outnumbered after Brodie Chapman swept up the Australian road title

Add in Grace Brown at the head of FDJ-SUEZ with the sprint of French rider Clara Copponi thrown into the mix, the formidable Jayco-AlUla duo of Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Alex Manly plus New Zealand’s Georgia Williams, who is now riding with EF Education - Tibco SVB but is oh so familiar with the roads of South Australia after having spent most of her career within the Australian Women’s WorldTour squad now known as Jayco AlUla.

Stephen Farrand and Simone Giuliani will be in Adelaide to cover the race for Cyclingnews, gathering all the important news, rider reaction, race analysis and the new 2023 bike tech.

A stage for the sprinters, puncheurs and climbers

After the curtain raiser event of the Schwalbe Classic on Saturday, January 14 – where both the women and men race for one hour and one lap over the 1.35km Victoria Square/Tarntanyangga circuit in central Adelaide – the road stages which will decide the overall standings begin. It may be just three stages, but as well as squeezing in the city, the coast and the climbs, the new trio of race directors have plotted out one stage for the sprinters, one for the puncheurs and one for the climbers to give as many riders a chance to bid for the podium as possible as well as keep the GC battle evolving. 

Stage 1: Glenelg to Aldinga, 110.4km

It's time to head to the beach for stage 1 on Sunday, January 15, which given the temperatures are forecast to be around 30°C, is bound to be a popular place. While the men's race has often finished beachside, the 110.4km stage's coastline finish is new territory for the women's race. The first stage of the tour is one for the sprinters, starting in Glenelg, working its way through the wine region of McLaren Vale, onto Willunga – but not up the iconic climb – and then sweeping through to Aldinga beach before looping around through Willunga and past the coast again before finishing on Snapper Point, Aldinga. It's not a pancake flat day, but there is nothing that should trouble the sprinters too much with the biggest ascent of the day, Chaffeys climb with an average gradient of 5.9%, coming at little more than 30km into the racing. There will be Queen of the Mountain points available there, plus sprint points on offer at 53.8km and 93.2km in Willunga, but of course, the sprint where everyone will be looking to make the real mark will unfold in Aldinga. 

Stage 2: Birdwood to Uraidla, 90km

Birdwood has served as a venue for the stage finish of the last two editions of the race, with Spratt taking a solo win there in 2020, but this time on Monday, January 16 it is where the riders will be lining up to set off for a short but challenging stage 2. Don't let the 90km distance fool you, this will be no easy day of racing. It is marked out as one for the puncheurs as it ventures into the Adelaide Hills. The first climbing challenge comes at North East Ridge, short at less than a kilometre and averaging 5.9%, but the section with a maximum gradient of 15.6% will deliver some pain. It will be a more sustained effort, however, when the race reaches Mount Lofty, which will also be the centrepiece for the men's final stage later in the week, but the difference is that the women will tackle it just once but from a different direction. Climbing the back means tackling the steeper gradients, with the 6.1km climb delivering an average gradient of four percent but with stinging sections and a maximum of 14.4%. Given it's a climb that summits just ten kilometres from the finish, it is also likely to provide an ideal launching point and way for the overall contenders to start stretching those gaps.

Stage 3: Adelaide to Campbelltown, 93.2km

The final deciding stage is unequivocally firmly slated as one for the climbers, taking in 1,773 metres of vertical ascent across 93.2km. And for the first time, the women's race will take on the tough Corkscrew Road climb. Stage 3 starts in the heart of Adelaide, heading out to Cudlee Creek, Lobethal and the stage 2 start location of Birdwood before looping back to Gumeracha and heading back toward Adelaide and the brutal climb, which could well decide the race. The ascent of Corkscrew road tops out just 7.5km from the final finish line, and it is a 2.3km ascent that has the potential to do some serious damage, especially after a day where the road has served up a regular dose of short but leg taxing ascents. It may reach a maximum elevation of just 499m, but its average gradient of 9.2 percent and a maximum of 24.4 percent is bound to have many riders looking forlornly for more gears. Those who like their climbs short and sharp will then be hitting the top and hoping to maintain their advantage through the downhill run to the end in Campbelltown, so they can secure a stage victory and perhaps even the ochre jersey of the race leader as well.

Riders

The elite women's podium at the AusCycling Road National Championships 2023, with Brodie Chapman (Trek-Segafredo) first, Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ) second and Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) third

The elite women's podium at the AusCycling Road National Championships 2023 (Image credit: Con Chronis/AusCycling)

This may be an international event, but there is no doubt the Australian riders in any team entered clamber to get a position on the start list so they can get the rare opportunity to race on home soil, with their family and friends cheering on. Then if their team doesn’t happen to be coming, there is a scramble to secure a spot on the Australian team. Add the two Australian-based teams that have managed to secure a spot, the new continental squad Team BridgeLane and ARA Skip Capital, and the start list is well over a third Australian. 

It should be no surprise then that the Australian riders heavily populate the ranks of the favourites. Firstly it’s hard to go past three-time winner Amanda Spratt. Her recent seasons haven’t been the easiest, with no victories in sight since she took out stage 2 of this race in 2020, but now that she’s addressed her Iliac artery endofibrosis and had time to recover, plus has the impetus of a new team in Trek-Segafredo, there is every chance this could be a renaissance for the rider from New South Wales who has twice stood on the elite road race World Championship podium. The 35-year-old was clearly in good form at the Australian Road Championships, ready to jump on the moves as her new teammate Brodie Chapman set off solo to take victory and then sprint to third place. On that note, too, with the new Australian champion by her side, that will be either excellent support or another strong option to chase results for the team.

They are bound to have a fight on their hands, however, as Australia’s only Women’s WorldTour team Jayco AlUla have always gone all out to take victory at their home race - the three titles of Spratt, who spent 11 years with the squad are testament to this. Ruby Roseman-Gannon, who swept up the title in the Santos Festival of Cycling last year, the domestic replacement event for the cancelled Tour Down Under, is a prime candidate for the team, but so is Alex Manly, who proved her GC strength by taking victory at the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour in 2022.

Then there is Grace Brown, who was a massive threat on the start list of the Australian National Championships road race and secured second place even when she was lining up without a single teammate, With her FDJ-SUEZ team behind her, she is a presence that looms even larger and watch out on the sprinters' stages for her teammate Clara Copponi, who last year swept up her first Women’s WorldTour win at the Women’s Tour and will be sure to be searching for the next one.

EF Education Tibco-SVB’s Lauren Stephens will be one to watch for the overall, with the rider from the United States having come fourth in 2020 and second in 2018, while her teammate Krista Doebel-Hickok will be one to watch on the climbs, as will her teammate from New Zealand Georgia Williams, a regular at the race with her former Jayco team. The new ZAAF women’s team will also be one to watch, with Australian riders Danielle De Francesco and Lizzie Stannard putting on a clear show of strength and form with their repeated attacks in the Australian Championships road race, while the Australian national team will be lining up with a strong group of riders, their normal trade teams absent, from former Australian champion Nicole Frain to seasoned professional Rachel Neylan, who came third overall in Adelaide in 2019.

There are only six Women’s WorldTour teams on the roster in 2023, and while it would have been nice if more had made the trip to Australia, the flip side is that – unlike in the men's event – that means there is also room for Australian teams outside the top tier beyond the national squad to find room on the start line, providing a rare opportunity for up and comers to make their mark. 

ARA Skip Capital will be lining up along with the new Australian UCI squad, Team BridgeLane, which was partly supported by crowdfunding in a bid to increase the opportunities for the nation’s female cyclists as they strive to bridge to the European professional peloton. Riders to watch from BridgeLane include Emily Watts, who won the first stage of the Santos Festival of Cycling last year, and Keely Bennett, who came second in a stage of the Bay Crits earlier this month, standing on the podium between Roseman-Gannon and Chloe Hosking.

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Production editor

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 as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.

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