What does the Women’s Tour Down Under have in store for us now that it has reached the highest level?

The Santos Tour Down Under women’s race appears to have been on track for the WorldTour for several years, and in January 2023 it will become the first-ever stage race in this category for Australia, a nation with a long history of providing a flow of strong riders to the European peloton.

After starting in 2016 and running alongside the Men’s WorldTour race each January, the Women’s Tour Down Under was last held in 2020 as a 2.Pro event. But it faced a two-year hiatus from international competition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related border closures.

News, however, came out last week that her return in 2023 would be a Women’s WorldTour event. As such, the race which increased its prize money to the equivalent men’s event in 2018, now also matches it as one of four events added to the Women’s WorldTour in 2023.

“It’s huge, it’s huge. It’s so important for women cyclists to create, not the women’s race and the men’s race, but the Tour Down Under and use the sponsors, use the base we already have to promote both races,” the new director said. running assistant Annette Edmondson. Cycling news when asked about the importance of stepping up.

“Now we have a chance to really elevate the women, it’s just going to get more and more teams out. It’s going to make it an even bigger race.

“The Women’s WorldTour is expanding, there are many more teams every year that become WorldTour, there are more races organized. This means that the number of riders in each team is increasing so that they can cover these races So that’s just part of the growth of the sport and I’m so proud that South Australia supports this race and really gives it the attention it deserves.

The women’s one-day event at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race has moved up to the Women’s WorldTour level in 2020, and under Kimberley Conte’s leadership, the Women’s Tour Down Under has long appeared to be on the same path, with Conte telling Cycling news earlier this year that “it’s definitely on the cards”, but it hadn’t yet been decided if it would be in 2023, 2024 or beyond. Ultimately, the change came sooner rather than later, and in the first year of both and with the men’s race being top-tier, both will also have new race directors in their lead cars.

Conte switched to South Australian football, with Australia and New Zealand hosting the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. Meanwhile, Stuart O’Grady, who became race director during the The men’s event when Mike Turtur retired in 2020 – after 22 years in charge – waited longer than expected to oversee its first top event thanks to the two years of cancellations. However, when the event returns in 2023, O’Grady will have an even bigger job than originally planned, having taken on a dual role as race director.

Why one became three

When the Women’s Tour Down Under was looking for a new race director, two of those they contacted were recently retired South Australian professional cyclists Annette Edmondson and Carlee Taylor. Both were interested but already had other commitments, so they came up with the idea of ​​a joint candidacy. It was a successful plan. The pair became assistant race directors, with O’Grady leading the trio who all raced the event on various occasions.

“The Tour Down Under has been a big part of all of our lives throughout our sporting careers,” Taylor said. Cycling news in a joint interview with Edmondson and O’Grady this week. “And being able to have the opportunity to help grow was something you can’t say no to.

“It’s my favorite race and being able to do it from the other side of the fence and really helping to have an impact on that and showcasing South Australian cycling, our roads – we have so many options that we can present – and be part of the very first statutory race of the Women’s WorldTour: it’s really special.”

Taylor competed in the event in 2017 and 2018, Edmondson from 2016 to 2018, and O’Grady won it in 1999 and 2001 and ran it 13 times. The trio not only have Tour Down Under experience, but are on their turf and therefore also have detailed knowledge of a myriad of roads that could find their way into the race.

“Between the three of us, there wouldn’t be too many twists and turns in the whole state that we don’t know about,” O’Grady said. “So although Mike [Turtur] ran an absolutely brilliant race for over 20 years, there are also lots of roads in the hills and lots of places we haven’t explored yet. I plan to feature a few at the 2023 event. It will be a different race and it will be an exciting race.”

The Women’s WorldTour event will take place over three stages from Sunday January 15 to Tuesday January 17, with a pre-race criterium on Saturday January 14. It will not only be an opportunity for some of Australia’s best developing riders to experience a Women’s WorldTour field on home soil, it will also give local fans a rare opportunity to see the world’s best race on their home roads.

Gravel – inside or outside?

ECHUNGA AUSTRALIA JANUARY 24 Ruby RosemanGannon of Australia and Team BikeExchangeJayco Blue Santos Leaders Jersey lead the peloton during the 2nd Santos Cycling Festival 2022 Womens Elite Stage 2 an 857km stage from McLaren Vale to Echunga TourDownUnder on January 24, 2022 in Echunga Australia Photo by Daniel KaliszGetty Images

Stage 2 of the Santos Festival of Cycling women’s race in 2022, with a section of almost three kilometers of gravel. (Image credit: Getty Sports/Photo by Daniel Kalisz)

There was definitely a different flavor to the men’s and women’s events at the Santos Cycling Festival in 2022, a four-day local replacement for the canceled international races. One of the most notable differences was the inclusion of several gravel sections in the women’s event, which raises the question of whether this will continue in 2023 under new managers and in a new category.

“I think you have to be very careful,” O’Grady said when asked if there will be gravel roads on the course in 2023. “It’s a really good balance.

“The Tour Down Under has a really special place in the calendar. We must also recognize that it is at the beginning of the year, it is in January. It can get extreme temperatures, so while the gravel and dirt are great fun – I think there’s definitely a time and place for that – we have to be very careful how we design the course.

The race opens the international season allowing runners to escape wintery conditions in Europe, with mid-summer temperatures often approaching – and sometimes exceeding – 40° Celsius.

“Guys and girls love coming to Adelaide for a reason, it’s because they can plan their whole year,” O’Grady said. “They set up for the Classics, for the Giro, for the Tour de France. I think from what I’ve seen recently, certainly watching from the couch, a lot of race organizers seem to be jostling for more gravel [and] more extreme roads and I certainly think, as an old biker [former pro] moreover, he may start to have a little too much.

“I think it’s just a really good balance and it’s something I would try to keep consistent. We want teams to come down and enjoy their time, not go home with broken collarbones. It’s a juggling act.”

Teams and timing

The Women’s Tour Down Under may be one of four new events added to the Women’s WorldTour calendar in 2023, but it also adds to considerable growth this season, with the Women’s Tour de France among the races added to the calendar. .

“Women are absolutely showing it right now,” O’Grady said. “It’s been amazing, but it’s been very rapid growth, hard to follow, not [just] for event organizers, but also for teams – providing enough riders in the team, logistics, equipment.

“Everything is going so fast. So we’re happy to be in there and we’re lucky to have a state government that is so supportive with investments in women’s cycling and great sponsors and stakeholders. I think the time has come [to join the Women’s WorldTour] and hopefully we can make it even bigger and better in the future as more women’s WorldTour teams join us.

Lineups even in the top women’s WorldTour teams are far smaller than in men’s, and UCI President David Lappartient warned earlier this year that an imbalance was beginning to appear between the number of riders and teams and schedule.

Still, the Tour Down Under expects good turnout as, even without the extra points on offer that a move to the Women’s WorldTour will bring, the women’s race has already attracted a strong showing from the front rows.

“The announcement is only very recent, so obviously we haven’t spoken with all the teams,” O’Grady said. “But [as] our position in the calendar is so unique and we’re going to be the very first race of the season, you’d like to think most of the teams would be fresh and the riders would be pretty excited.

“I know a lot of teams and riders have already come to Australia to train and lay the groundwork for their season, so hopefully now, as the Women’s WorldTour grows, more and more big teams are going to kind of duplicate each other and everyone is happy to come to Adelaide to kick off their season.”

As a Women’s WorldTour race, all the top teams will receive race invites, but will they all come?

“I imagine so,” O’Grady said. “I think that’s one of our roles now as a team, we have to get in touch with all these teams. And again, I hope we shouldn’t have to try too hard. to lure them here, that they would like to come down – there are Women’s WorldTour points to be earned.

Maria R. Newman