Santos women’s Tour Down Under director Kimberley Conte is convinced age is no barrier as the 101 women start list for the Festival of Cycling stage race boasts a generation gap.
Almost three decades separate the most experienced 1973-born, 48-year-old Katie Banerjee in the peloton from her youngest Knights of Suburbia teammate 17-year-old Sophie Marr who was born in 2004.
Banerjee earned an impressive 29th place at the recent Australian road national championships in Victoria, in a boost for the fledgling national road series team.
Marr is the junior women’s national road champion and finished second in the junior women’s individual time trial in Victoria last weekend.
And as soon as the start gun fires the Ziptrak women’s stage 1 off from Tanunda on Sunday morning, Conte believes the incredible mix of talent will highlight how strong the field really is.
“We have a very good mix of riders from the UCI WorldTour BikeExchange-Jayco team, the Garmin-Australia the national team, Roxsolt Liv Sram a UCI continental team and several teams from the NRS,’’ Conte said.
“We’re also proud to parade the new national road champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv Sram) and the national individual time trial champion Grace Brown (Garmin-Australia).”
Stage 1 also poses to be a testing time for the entire peloton as up 20mm of rainfall has been predicted by the Bureau of Meteorology throughout the 85.4km course which finishes at Williamstown.
“Usually at this time of the year the peloton has had to battle strong winds,’’ Conte said.
“But if it does rain, the peloton will possibly have both elements to contend with and it should make for a very interesting start to our second Santos Festival of Cycling.”
After Sarah Gigante last year took out inaugural Santos Festival of Cycling honours before winning a contract with UCI women’s WorldTour team Movistar which starts this year, BikeExchange-Jayco’s Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Roxsolt Liv Sram’s national road champion Frain are expected to better their 2021 third and fourth places at the race.
With BikeExchange-Jayco’s Amanda Spratt working her way back to full fitness after undergoing surgery on her leg in October after doctors diagnosed her with iliac artery endofibrosis, she is expected to support her teammates, including Roseman-Gannon who won the recent Bay Cycling Classics and the Australian national criterium title.
The Santos Festival of Cycling also incredibly boasts some international riders which is unusual given the coronavirus pandemic has almost shut off Australia from the rest of the world since early 2020.
Knights of Suburbia has Ireland’s Shannon McCurley who became the first woman to represent her nation at the Olympic Games in Rio 2016.
Westpac is the team with the most international riders with South Africa’s Kerry Jonker – a member of Andy Schleck’s CP NVST - Immo Losch UCI team.
Other Team Westpac international teammates include New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard and Ireland’s Megan Armitage.
A former firefighter, Great Britain’s Jacqui Slack, who is now a professional triathlete will race independently, rounds off the international flavour.