Women's Tour Down Under History
Man, what a journey we’ve all experienced since the last Women’s Tour Down Under. One of the few races held in early 2020 before the Covid pandemic kicked off properly, Australia’s stringent rules since have prevented a return to international racing until now. In the meantime, the Festival of Cycling races has kept us occupied at this point in the season. A sort of Tour Down Under but only for domestic racers or those based in Australia. Sarah Gigante dominated the first one before Ruby Roseman-Gannon won a flatter edition in 2022.
Ruth Winder won the last proper Tour Down Under, beating Liane Lippert and Amanda Spratt by a handful of seconds in the GC. That broke the winning streak of Amanda Spratt, who had won 3 in a row between 2017-2019. If you go far enough back, you start to see flat parcours riders taking the best results. The likes of Valentina Scandolara won in 2015, Loes Gunnewijk in 2014 and Judith Arndt in 2012.
Strangely, given the link the men’s race has to Willunga Hill, it’s never been a feature in the Women’s Tour Down Under. This season, the race has chosen to feature the Corkscrew climb near the end of Stage 3. It’s not a summit finish but is more a launch pad for an attack and downhill run to the finish line.
Women's Tour Down Under 2023 Stage Profiles
Women's Tour Down Under 2023 Contenders
The obvious place to start is with the most successful Women’s Tour Down Under rider, Amanda Spratt. The Aussie has made the move to Trek Segafredo this off-season after spending her entire career with BikeExchange/Mitchelton/Orica/etc. After iliac artery troubles, her 2022 was a solid way to return to form and the transfer may breath some fresh life into her legs too. The presence of the Corkscrew climb makes her the GC favourite. She’ll be supported by another local in Brodie Chapman who has moved across from FDJ-SUEZ this year. 2022 was a career year where she took her highest profile win to date at GP Féminin de Chambéry and also 4th in GC at the Tour de Suisse. She’ll work for Spratt but is a useful foil. The team will have another newbie Ilaria Sanguineti for the sprints. Released from leading out Balsamo and Consonni at Valcar for now, she is a useful sprinter in non-top-tier fields and won Dwars door het Hageland last season.
I think Grace Brown is going to be Spratt’s biggest challenger. She’s either going to be able to match her on the climb or alternatively have the power needed to close the gap on the downhill. There’s a chance on Stage 2 as well where the rolling road could see a similar attack that saw her win a stage of the Ceratizit Challenge last year. The team’s sprint option is Clara Copponi and normally she would be a top option in this kind of company. However, she spent the very end of 2022 with an illness and there’s no guarantee that she will be at her best once racing resumes. If she’s fit again, then ignore the doubts.
I quite like Krista Doebel-Hickok for this race and she’s got some great support on her team as well. If the pace kept is kept high and then she could get herself on the right side of any splits on the Corkscrew, ensuring a high GC finish. Teammate Emma Langley is very useful on the rolling terrain and starting to come to the attention of European fans after strong races in the USA. I can’t rule out Georgia Williams making an impact either. She’s left BikeExchange-Jayco in search of greater opportunities and has the potential to climb strongly too. I think Doebel-Hickok and Langley are probably going to be closer to leadership here but with great freedom, it will be interesting to see what Williams can do.
Last year’s Festival of Cycling winner Ruby Roseman-Gannon is a surprisingly strong climber but may not be quite as pure as say, Spratt. She has a strong team though so they may have to see how many they can get over the top together and then organise a chase. If they make the chase, Roseman-Gannon has a realistic shot in all 3 stages here. Her teammate Alex Manly is a similar sort of rider in that she has a fast finish and can get over some of the hilly lumps as well. Between the pair, Jayco-AlUla has a good shot at some success.
Coralie Demay took a popular solo victory at the Tour de l’Ardeche towards the end of 2022 and it was a just reward for a fine season. She’s a good climber and in this field one of the strongest. Canadian Simone Boilard was a revelation in 2022 and might be able to match Demay on this terrain. She’s got a decent finishing kick that maybe isn’t up there with Roseman-Gannon’s but will allow her to finish high up on all the stages potentially. It’s great to see the St Michel-Mavic-Auber93 team racing in Australia.
Dani de Francesco has made the jump from Australian teams to Zaaf Cycling for 2023. The former triathlete finished the Australian season off as the leader of the National Road Series and has been impressive for a long time with her consistently high finishes. She’s ready to move up to the UCI level and see how she gets on. I’m expecting a couple of top-10s for her to start the UCI season.
Cofidis’s Australian rider Rachel Neylan will be riding for the national team at the Women’s Tour Down Under. She’s an all-rounder who can do well on just about any terrain. She also has a podium at the Women’s Tour Down Under in 2019. She probably hasn’t got the finishing sprint to win a stage here, she can contend all of them and the last 2 in particular.
Ally Wollaston had her breakthrough year in 2022 where the Kiwi took a pair of victories at GP de Plumelec-Morbihan and the Lotto Belgium Tour. A wrist injury at the Tour de France Femmes derailed the second half of the season so she’ll be ready to get back to racing properly this season. She’s got a great shout for winning Stage 1.
Cypriot Antri Christoforou had a great 2022, winning La Classique Morbihan and finishing 6th at the Ruta del Sol. She’s got a decent chance on the rolling hills in Australia and beat riders like Coralie Demay and Grace Brown to win in Morbihan. She’s definitely more of the GC threat whereas her new teammate Daria Pikulik will be a good candidate for Stage 1. The Pole won the flat Ekeren-Deurne race last year and might’ve won at the Baloise Ladies Tour if not for Lorena Wiebes.
2023 could be the season for Mari Hole Mohr to come to wider attention. Winner of a stage of the Tour of Uppsala last season, her path to leading the team is a little clearer now that Ingvild Gåskjenn has moved on. She’s another for whom the first stage looks like the best chance for a good result.
I’m finishing off this section with a proper wildcard in Thi That Nguyen. The Vietnamese rider has finally returned to the European peloton after Covid derailed her career slightly. She had a contract with Lotto Soudal Ladies for 2020 but was unable to take up any opportunity to race that year due to the pandemic. Israel-Premier Tech Roland has given her a chance in 2023 though after she won the Asian Championship last year. I honestly don’t know what to expect but I do remember her beating Lorena Wiebes in a sprint not too long ago.
Women's Tour Down Under 2023 Outsiders
Sopela lost a strong pair of riders this off-season, one of which was the Brit Claire Steels who joined Israel-Premier Tech Roland. She’s always been a threat in Spanish national races and has started to progress more at the UCI level in recent years too. Steels was 8th in GC at the Tour de l’Ardeche after finishing 2nd on one of the hillier stages. In theory, she could be very useful on the Corkscrew but maybe the climb isn’t tough enough for Steels to do properly well on, however.
The pair of Emily Watts and Keely Bennett will be Team Bridgelane’s best threats. Both finished in the top 10 standings of the National Road Series and Keely Bennett has finished 2nd this week at the Bay Cycling Classic to confirm her form. Those who watched the Festival of Cycling last year might remember that Emily Watts won the first stage ahead of Ruby Roseman-Gannon. It will be interesting to see how the domestic pair get on against Women’s WorldTour riders.
Alexandra Martin-Wallace raced in Europe for Isorex-No Aqua Ladies CT last season and took 4 victories in Belgian and Dutch national-level races. Results were a little harder to find at the Baloise Ladies Tour but her results won’t have gone unnoticed. She ended up not starting at the Bay Crits though so her current form is unknown.
Jayco-AlUla’s Georgie Howe had a great 2022 season, going from winning races in Australia and the Oceania Champs TT to making a big impression in Europe. If she was on a smaller team I’d put Howe has a possible contender but behind Roseman-Gannon and Manly, I’m not sure what options she will have.
Another wildcard is the Czech Nikola Noskova, formerly of SD Worx and Bigla. She originally broke out in 2019 and although the 2020 season was a bit of a write-off thanks to Covid, SD Worx picked her up for the 2021 season which ultimately didn’t pay off after serious back issues prevented her from racing. Now riding for Zaaf Cycling, she may be able to make a return to her previous form.