• The Santos Women's Tour will be hot and hard according to Australian Carlee Taylor. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The Women’s Tour Down Under, officially known as the Santos Women’s Tour is returning for its third edition in 2017 with an upgrade in rating to make it a UCI 2.1 rated race.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
12 Jan 2017 - 2:59 PM  UPDATED 12 Jan 2017 - 3:11 PM

The course sees a few changes from last year which should bring the climbers into the race, a prospect that excites Adelaide local Carlee Taylor (Ale-Cipollini).

A top class field containing most of the top teams on the Women's World Tour will grace the roads of Adelaide CBD and the Adelaide hills across four stages from 14-17 January. Wiggle High5, Canyon-SRAM, UnitedHealthcare, Hagens Berman Supermint, Sho Air-Twenty16 and the top National Road Series team will all be looking to dethrone defending champion Katrin Garfoot and Orica-Scott.

The race begins on Saturday, with the 106.5km stage from Hahndorf to Meadows looking to shape the battle for the general classification. The sting in the tail is the Paris Creek Rd climb, 700 metres at 11 per cent, although it comes after a long false flat section, so there will be some tired legs at the base. Predominantly a climber, Taylor is eyeing the stage as one to possibly make her mark.

“The hardest stage on paper is Stage 1,” said Taylor. “It’s where the climb ends closest to the finish, I think it’s only three kilometres to the finish from the top. It’s a bit undulating from the start at Hahndorf, then there’s a flat section but it can be quite windy there. Then you end with more climbing and that tough climb at the finish. That, for me, looks like the GC day. With the climb being so close to the end I think we’ll see the climbers try to split it up. It may be where I’m looking at doing something.”

The second stage is the 32.2km stage that acts as the curtain-raiser for the People’s Choice Classic, where the men’s field begin with their traditional warm-up event.

“It’s a pretty free-flowing criterium circuit, there aren’t many major corners. The crowd is really awesome on that day, Taylor said. "It’s the day I’m most looking forward to actually because that’s the day I know I’ll have all my family and friends there watching. We have Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini), probably coming off her best year but there are a lot of sprinters coming here and they’ll all want to start the season off with a win.”

Hosking was impressive last year, putting the win on a platter for former teammate Annette Edmondson (Wiggle High5) and also holding on to finish second. This time Edmondson will be one of her main rivals, alongside the likes of Barbara Guarischi and Tiffany Cromwell (both Canyon-SRAM), Kimberley Wells (Rush Cycling), Lauretta Hanson (UnitedHealthcare) and Dutch star Kirsten Wild (Cylance), her first race since her silver at worlds.

Stage 3 is 92.5km of mostly flat riding to Lyndoch, only interrupted by two ascents of the Whispering Wall, which is one kilometre at six per cent gradient. It is far from the hardest ascent but the race around the same circuit broke up the peloton significantly last year, though that was likely due to the temperatures of over 40 degrees out on course. A change to the course will mean that rather than the four loops of last year, only two will be attempted, with the distance made up by two smaller loops from the start town of Tanunda.

“The fact that it’s only two times up the Whispering Wall might mean that it wouldn’t split up as much, Taylor said. "Power athletes and sprinters can normally do a hard one-off effort up the climb, it’s the multiple attempts that does them. It may be a bit more together than last year.

“It is all about how the course is raced though. This year is the best depth Australian cycling has ever seen. It doesn’t matter how easy the course looks on paper, if the racing is aggressive it can always split up. I think the two road race days are definitely going to be quite aggressive. Hopefully, it showcases what women's cycling is like now because it has developed so much over the last few years. We want to see it grow even more.”

The final stage is a criterium around the Victoria Park circuit, well known to local cycling fans as it is often used for weekday events. It’s not likely to see much change in the general classification unless it comes down to a gap of a few seconds between the top riders. Positioning can be quite tricky in the final few bends, a fact Kimberley Wells made use of in her victory on this finish last season. Almost certainly one for the sprinters.

“I really hope these four days show that we are athletes and the way we race is exciting,” Taylor said. “It might be shorter distance than the men, but that’s better because we race from the start. We don’t have 200 kilometres where for the first 100 kilometres while the break rolls away and the peloton is chilling and chatting. When it’s 100 kilometres, the early break that goes can be the winning break.”


So who is going to join Valentina Scandolara and Katrin Garfoot as a winner of the Santos Women’s Tour? Garfoot is in ominous form at the moment with victories in both the time trial and the road race at nationals and is in a belligerent mood to go with it. Alongside teammate Amanda Spratt, she will go in as the main favourite. Taylor avoided picking herself for the win, pointing out the importance of time bonuses in this style of racing.

“I think the Tour Down Under, having bonus seconds for the sprints, unless you win solo on the first day, you’re going to have to be able to sprint a bit," taylor said. "Riders like Tiffany Cromwell, Dani King (Cylance) and Katrin Garfoot who can sprint and get those bonus seconds are going to be at an advantage.”

Other riders who fit the climber/sprinter mould are Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-Scott), Lauren Kitchen (Subaru NSWIS), Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM), Shannon Malseed (Holden Women’s Cycling) and Peta Mullens (Hagens Berman Supermint). Of course, if Taylor was to take the jersey with a Stage 1 win, she will have the ultimate spoiler for the time bonuses in Chloe Hosking, who would be nigh on impossible for the climbers to beat for bonus seconds.

“I’m hoping to have a good race but you have to look at your competitors. I think Orica-Scott will have a lot of riders who are used to the heat," Taylor said. "The difference in temperature is going to be a big thing, I know a number of my team are coming from snow. It isn’t forecast to be over 40 degrees, but definitely in the 30s and that will be very uncomfortable for most of the Europeans.”

The overseas stars also have the complication of starting their season a lot earlier than they normally would. The women’s Tour Down Under doesn’t have the longevity of the male event and most European riders are more used to kicking off their seasons with races in February. Nevertheless, it is going to be the best women's field assembled on Australian soil since the 2010 world championships and should make for some compelling racing.

“I think that almost everyone that is lining up for the Tour Down Under is world-class. It’s going to make for a really tough, little Tour.”