The women's Santos Tour Down Under is entering its eighth edition, with the Uni-SA team used to playing a significant role in the racing against some of the bigger teams in the world.
The 2018 race saw the composite squad take a stage win and third overall with the now-retired Katrin Garfoot. Cycling Australia today announced a squad that lacks a general classification candidate of the quality of Garfoot, but should instead concentrate more upon opportunism and sprinting in Stages 1 and 4.
The team boasts stars of the American criterium scene in the duo of Rebecca Wiasak and Josie Talbot, both also with significant experience on the track and within the National Road Series. The pair can sprint with the best and will be the focus if the finishes come down to a bunch kick.
Established world-class professionals Rachel Neylan and Lauren Kitchen are of a quality equal to any of the riders that the foreign teams will feature as leaders. Emily Roper will be looking to build upon the purple patch of form that saw her ride so impressively in the later stages of the National Road Series and more recently win the mountainous Tour of Bright.
"We wanted a mix of experienced riders and development athletes as well," said Simon Jones, Perfomance Director of the Australian Cycling Team. "I think it 's good to see that mix of capabilities, experience and skills within the team."
That said, it's not just a case that the young riders are the only ones looking to develop, with 'Beck' Wiasak, 34, looking to reforge her career in cycling after being dropped from the Cycling Australia track team where she was a two-time world champion in the individual pursuit.
"You look at a rider like Beck Wiasak," said Jones, "there isn't an 'age' on road development. Particularly on the women's side road development can span a long time and there isn't so much a linear route as 'crazy paving'.
"Beck refocused her objectives and I think she wants to follow that pathway and that's good. I think it's also good opportunity for us to have the agility and flexibilty to see that as a development opportunity as well."
The youngest rider in the squad is 18-year old Anya Louw, with the Tasmanian fresh off her appearance as a junior at the world championships.
"It's really good for these younger athletes to have these opportunities aside from what they would have otherwise," said Jones. "I think she'll have a mix of excitement and maybe a touch of anxiety perhaps. I think it will be a stretch, but I think that's where you learn the most. It should be a good opportunity for her."
The strategy of selection is a complex business, with Jones indicating a mixed approach that aims to foster both the development of individual athletes and the teams that race locally and foster road cycling talent year round.
"I think with the women's team it can be quite different to the men's," said Jones. "With the men's teams it's about giving the National Road Series teams a chance to get some exposure to this higher level of racing. With the women a lot of the teams are already in the races and it (the national team) is more about availability, having a mentorship role and road captaincy."
Last season saw a number of Australian women thrust themselves onto the international stage, with names like Grace Brown (signed with Mitchelton-Scott for 2019) and Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB) both securing professional contracts with standout performances across the 'Summer of Cycling'.
"It's part of the pathway," said Jones. "If we go back and look at the evidence and the history, the summer of cycling has been a really good showcase for Australian talent.
'Looking at our strategy, the athlete is very important but so is the structure. Road cycling is about teams. We wanted to look at the teams and tweak the strategy a bit because ultimately it's the teams and the sponsors that really make road cycling, from WorldTour down to a Continental level. It's important, not just for athletes, but for a sustainable domestic racing scene."
The Women's Santos Tour Down Under will run from January 10-13 with the final stage coinciding with the men's Down Under Classic.
UniSA-Australia Women’s Team - 2019 Santos Tour Down Under
- Lauren Kitchen (NSW - FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope)
- Anya Louw (TAS)
- Rachel Neylan (SA)
- Emily Roper (QLD)
- Josie Talbot (NSW)
- Rebecca Wiasak (ACT)