Riders to Watch: Six Guns Blazing
A record number of Women’s WorldTour teams will make the journey to South Australia for the Santos Tour Down Under, so who will come out on top is difficult to predict.
Fans last year were treated to a spectacular first edition of the women’s race of the Santos Tour Down Under at UCI Women’s WorldTour Status - the highest level of competition in professional cycling globally.
As the event continues to grow and expand, Santos Tour Down Under race director Stuart O’Grady says the interest gathering internationally will put added pressure on the riders who have competed for victory for many years in South Australia.
“I expect the Australian riders who are keen to perform in their home race, particularly former victors like Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown, to put up quite the fight against the international superstars of the women’s cycling field,” O’Grady says.
“This year will see one of the toughest ever conclusions to the Santos Tour Down Under, with the women’s final stage having a spectacular first-time finish atop Willunga Hill. “With a varied design of stage types for sprinters, climbers and puncheurs, we might see different riders in the Santos Ochre’s Leader’s jersey at the end of each three stages.”
1. Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig - Fdj-Suez
Danish superstar Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, known to always be giving her all and regularly taking on the biggest names with an unbreakable fighting mentality, is certainly a rider to watch.
Appearing in her first Santos Tour Down Under in 2024, fans can expect her to be a rider to beat as a Tour De France Femmes stage winner and recent bronze medallist at the UCI Road World Championships in Glasgow.
Representing FDJSuez alongside reigning Santos Tour Down Under champion Grace Brown, the question hangs on who will get the support to go for the Ochre Jersey. Or will the formidable pairing topple the rest of the peloton? With Willunga Hill providing the dramatic and challenging concluder on Hyundai Women’s Stage 3, Ludwig should excel as a terrific climber.
2. Grace Brown - Fdj-Suez
The three-time National Champion is back to defend her Santos Tour Down Under victory, and there’s good reason to suspect she’ll be a leading contender again. Claiming the silver medal for the individual time trial at the UCI World Championships and carrying the National Champions jersey in the same field, Grace Brown is in top form.
Brown excels in races where she has the opportunity to attack and ride away solo, making her 2024 Santos Tour Down Under campaign one of her most challenging. She’s made her mark in her FDJ-Suez team and pairing with Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will be an entertaining battle as the two great talents ride side by side.
3. Amanda Spratt - Lidl-Trek
A seasoned and highly skilled veteran in the cycling scene and an inspiration for many now joining her in the peloton. Amanda Spratt of Lidl-Trek is a three-time victor of the Santos Tour Down Under, making her the most successful rider - men or women - in the history of the event.
She was narrowly pipped to her fourth win by Australian compatriot Grace Brown this year into Campbelltown. As a highly accomplished climber, fresh off a top 10 finish in the Tour De France Femmes in 2023, Spratt will be out to make more history at the 2024 Santos Tour Down Under.
The toughest final weekend in the history of the Santos Tour Down Under will make for a thrilling event, and race director Stuart O’Grady has some early predictions for who he thinks will put in an entertaining fight for Ochre. At the opening race of the UCI WorldTour Season - and the start of professional cycling around the globe - there are always many question marks over who will perform.
O’Grady believes the stage finishes on Willunga Hill and Mount Lofty on consecutive stages and days will be the only way to properly indicate who in the world of elite cycling has the required mix of power, strength, and endurance.
He’s willing to make an early call, particularly with some big Australian and International names already confirmed for the start line.
“We’ve put together a very challenging set of stages for the teams and riders to overcome in this edition of the Santos Tour Down Under,” O’Grady says.
“Until we’ve locked in the riders from all 20 teams, it’s difficult to say who looks like the favourites for the Santos Ochre Leaders Jersey. Australia has many great talents at the moment, so I always expect to see them perform well in a race that is very special to them all, but mixing in international greats who’ve had previous success at some of the biggest races typically makes for a highly entertaining race.”
1. Julian Alaphilippe - Soudal-Quick Step
An adored fan favourite, 31-year-old Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe is an incredible competitor and someone who rarely disappoints on the bike.
Returning to the Santos Tour Down Under, where he made his World Tour cycling debut 2014, Alaphilippe has since gone on to achieve greatness on multiple occasions, most notably winning the UCI Road World Championship twice.
His other accolades include six stage wins at the Tour de France, along with being a former winner of the King of Mountain and wearing the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) for 11 days straight.
Aggressive, confident and always determined, Alaphilippe’s riding style puts him in a prime position for a mountain of cheers - and potentially more - at the Santos Tour Down Under. Stuart O’Grady believes having Alaphilippe back at the Santos Tour Down Under will make the race even more exciting for everyone.
2. Jay Vine - UAE Team Emirates
Reigning champion Jay Vine is back, keen to defend his Santos Tour Down Under victory from the array of talent heading to South Australia. Historically it’s been no easy task, with only South African Daryl Impey before him managing to achieve back-back victories, in 2018 and 2019. A duel Grand Tour Stage winner at La Vuelta, Vine might have what it takes to wear the iconic Santos Ochre Leaders Jersey again.
At 28 years of age, Australian Time Trial Champion Jay Vine is still relatively fresh into his professional career. Extending his contract with UAE Team Emirates for four years, there are plenty of eyes eager to see what this Australian talent can achieve, starting with his second Santos Tour Down Under entry.
3. Luke Plapp - Team Jayco AlUla
Making the switch home to the only Australian World Tour team, is 22-year-old Luke Plapp of Team Jayco AlUla, who heads to the Santos Tour Down Under with brand new opportunities ahead of him. The back-to-back Australian National Champion already displayed his General Classification capabilities, finishing second at the UAE Tour to then World Champion Remco Evenepoel back in February.
Signing a four-year contract with the Australian team is a gesture of great confidence from both parties and a symbol of things to come, potentially from the Santos Tour Down Under as Plapp takes to the start line.