Australians expected to shine when women’s WorldTour racing comes to South Australia
Pro cycling has come of age in recent years thanks to a concerted effort to make women’s racing more prominent. The Santos Tour Down Under has been awarded WorldTour status for 2023 and Australian riders enjoy leadership billing on teams chasing the ochre jersey.
It’s early in the season. There are new riders in the elite ranks, plenty of changes to team rosters, and different priorities for the riders who will be lining up for the opening round of the 2023 Women’s WorldTour. These variables alone make predicting who is likely to shine in January 2023 something of a challenge.
In the first Women’s WorldTour stage race to be contested in the southern hemisphere, there are several Australians in the mix in the quest for the ochre jersey.
With the start of the action now only days away, we take a look through the start list for the 2023 Women’s Santos Tour Down Under and highlight a few who will be in contention for the title this January.
The provisional start list offers some insight into how the 13 teams (with six riders each) have prepared for the three-stage showdown.
International competition returns to South Australia this month and the women’s peloton for 2023 includes riders from the USA, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Greece, Poland, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Canada, South Africa, and Norway.
Six of the 13 teams have an Australian rider at the top of their order: Jayco-AlUla’s (2022 Santos Festival of Cycling champion Ruby Roseman-Gannon), Trek-Segafredo (three-time champion Amanda Spratt), FDJ-Suez (recently crowned National Criterium champion Grace Brown), ZAAF Cycling Team (Danielle de Francesco), ARA Skip Capital (Georgia Whitehouse), Team Bridgelane (Emily Watts) and the Australian national team (Nicola Frain).
Jayco-AlUla is the only Australian-registered WorldTour team (for both men and women) and there are six Aussies in the line-up, that also includes the recently crowned national criterium champion Amber Pate, one of the stars of 2022 Alex Manly, the inform Georgia Howe, the ever-consistent Jessica Allen who has been part of the team since 2017, and the 2022 Commonwealth Games road race gold medallist, Georgia Baker.
Take your pick: any of these women could score in the TDU of 2023, and that appraisal includes GC, stage wins, plus the blue and polka-dot jerseys.
Brown in the hunt for ochre
There are several other stand-out performers from Australia who are sure to be chasing the overall victory and, going on what we’ve seen in recent years – and even recent days, taking into account the #RoadNats in Victoria – one of the most marked women will be Grace Brown.
The 30-year-old is a regular visitor to the podium in all kinds of races, from the Classics to the world championships, she has been one of Australia’s most consistent riders in recent years. Brown has many strong points and although she won’t be able to demonstrate her TT prowess (which saw her finish fourth in the Tokyo Olympics and second at the worlds in Wollongong last September), finding early-season form is a forte of hers.
Brown is the highest ranked rider on the start list from the UCI’s rolling world ranking system (in 11th place at the beginning of the season). She is a very complete rider who has a knack of hitting good form for the Australian summer and she’ll be keen to her FDJ-Suez team-mates that she hasn’t lost any of the spark she enjoyed in 2022, her first season with the French outfit.
Spratt’s back… and in fine form
Amanda Spratt is the GC winner of the women’s TDU three years in a row (2017-2019) and although her performances have been hindered in recent years, her ride at the nationals on the weekend is evidence that she’s back in top shape.
After 11 years on the ‘GreenEdge’ roster, Spratt begins 2023 with new motivation and a new team for the first time in her pro career. The 35-year-old is a genuine competitor who relishes a challenge and Trek-Segafredo have rightfully nominated her as leader for the TDU.
Spratt will be well supported by a solid team line-up that includes a couple of other Australians in Loretta Hanson and the new national champion Brodie Chapman. Also on the roster is a stalwart of the women’s peloton, Taylor Wiles (USA) and the German star Lisa Klein who was part of the gold medal winning pursuit team from the Tokyo Olympics.
Others to consider for GC in 2023
Going on past performers at the Santos Tour Down Under, it’s hard to ignore American veteran Lauren Stephens. Second overall in 2018 and fourth in 2020, the EF Education-Tibco-SVB rider recently celebrated her 36th birthday. She has consistency, years of experience and solid team support. Expect to see her vying for victory again when she returns to South Australia this January.
“Most of the international teams have nominated sprinters as their leaders,” notedSantos Tour Down Under assistant director, Annette Edmondson, “and so the list of GC favourites boasts a strong Australian accent. Still, we should also expect a few surprises and there’s plenty of quality in the peloton.”
New Zealand’s Henrietta Christie of the Human Powered Health team earns a special mention from Edmondson who has been impressed by the progress made by the 20-year-old from Wellington. This is only her second season in the pro ranks, but she’s rated as quality climber and “the kind of rider who is going to come to the fore on the ‘Corkscrew’ climb”.
The steep ramp that comes less than 10km from the end of the final stage will weigh on the minds of every rider in contention for the title. The Corkscrew isn’t long but it’s tough and it will be particularly taxing on the sprinters who may have enjoyed some glory in the opening stages.
Another Kiwi rider who has the qualities to excel in the GC battle is Ally Wollaston who will lead the New Zealand national team this January. She fractured her collarbone in 2022 but Edmondson says she’ll be one to keep an eye on throughout the TDU.
The first women’s WorldTour stage race in Australia may be comprised of just three stages, but it heralds the beginning of something that will only continue to grow. (There is, of course, also the ‘prelude’ criterium on Saturday 14 January, but this is a separate contest, not part of the stage race.)
The Santos Tour Down Under continues to nurture the women’s racing scene and the riders will surely respond with more quality action on varied terrain. And surely a few more stars of the sport will emerge from this showcase of cycling in South Australia.