Letizia Paternoster (ITA) celebrates her stage win at Santos Women's Tour Down Under 2019 - Stage 1, a 112.9 km road race from Hahndorf to Birdwood, Australia on January 10, 2019. Photo by Sean Robinson/velofocus.com

RACE PREVIEW: Tour Down Under

It only felt like yesterday that we penned the 2019 season review, but somehow squad announcements, kit releases, the festivities of Christmas and the celebrations of the New Year have all passed by. 2020 is upon us and it is set to be a great year!

The first national champions of the decade have been crowned with the Australian championships taking place last week. Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) clinched the Australian road race title for the third time in her career whilst 19-year-old neo-pro Sarah Gigante (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) stormed to victory in the time trial. Meanwhile, Chloe Hosking sprinted to victory in the national criterium, claiming her first victory in the colours of the Canadian squad Team Rally.

And for many riders, not just the Aussies and Kiwis, January is synonymous with the land ‘down under’: scorching temperatures, kangaroos, koalas and above all some great early season racing. Indeed, the ‘Australian block’ kicks off with the Santos Tour Down Under this week and pans three weeks of racing finishing with The Herald Sun Tour and sandwiched by the Cadel Evans Road Race and Race Melbourne.

The Tour Down Under

The TdU based in Adelaide, is now in its fourth year as a UCI stage race and for 2020 it will be the first race in the inaugural UCI ProSeries. Raced over 4 days, the stages are challenging and will no doubt provide some thrilling action.

Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) has been the undisputed queen of the TdU and she will be vying to continue her 2020 winning ways by taking her fourth consecutive victory. However, the 32-year- old from New South Wales, faces a fierce battle for the orange jersey with a strong list of rivals looking to dethrone her reign.

6 out of the 8 World Tour teams will line up alongside Spratt’s Mitchelton-Scott squad (Trek- Segafredo, Ale BTC Ljubljana, Team Sunweb, Canyon-SRAM and FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and they will be joined by 6 continental squads (including North American outfits Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank and Rally Cycling, Mexico-based Agolico BMC, European squads Astana, BePink and Doltcini-Van Eyck Sport) as well as the best domestic racers from the southern hemisphere.

The Stages

The TdU features three road stages and a criterium on the final day. The road stages feature a little bit of everything and have been designed such that sprinters, climbers and all-rounders all have the chance of taking the victory.

Additionally, with this year seeing the omission of the infamous Mengler Hill, the race is likely to be even more open and thus unpredictable. Ultimately, the racing will reward the opportunist so expect to see aggressive, dynamic and above all exciting racing every day.

Race director Kimberley Conte explains: “Whether they break away on the technical descent into the finish of Ziptrak Stage 1, attack on Christmas Tree Ridge, 8 kilometres from the finish on Novatech Stage 2, or take advantage of the twisting, shaded climb up Aldgate Valley Road to stay out of sight of the peloton on Subaru Stage 3; there is opportunity for a win.’

Letizia Paternoster (ITA) celebrates her stage win at Santos Women’s Tour Down Under 2019 – Stage 1, a 112.9 km road race from Hahndorf to Birdwood, Australia on January 10, 2019. Photo by Sean Robinson/velofocus.com

The contenders

Given Spratt’s dominance of the event in previous editions she’ll be heading into the tour as the main favourite and ‘the rider’ to watch. No doubt Spratt will also want to give her new Australian national champion’s bands the inauguration they deserve with a winning debut appearance.

Mitchelton-Scott have plenty of options to play too, and the unpredictable nature of the course suits their strengths. 2nd in the time trial and 3rd in the road race (after working tirelessly for Spratt) at this years nationals, Grace Brown is a rider to watch too. Last year, she took victory in stage 3 and with the same stage featuring again this year she will be looking to repeat her successes of 2019. Likewise, Lucy Kennedy has had success at the TdU (finishing 2nd overall last year) and so will be another card that Mitchelton-Scott could play in their very strong deck of options.

FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope will be making their first start at the TdU but with two Aussie’s leading the team they will be motivated to make a mark. Brodie Chapman and Shara Gillow will be the rider’s to watch, particularly, Chapman, who excels in hard and unpredictable racing. After sickness sidelined her in 2019. she’ll be determined to make amends this year.

Chapman’s former teammate and another GC contender to watch out for is Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank). Stephens was second in 2018 and after overcoming a chronic injury towards the tail end of 2019 she may well be back to her best. A tactically shrewd rider, with great time trial strengths, the nature of the stages will very much play into her hands. Stephens will also be supported by Sarah Gigante who loves unpredictable racing and is not averse to a long break and aggressive riding. Gigante, 2019 Australian national road race champion, had a superb ride to win this year’s national TT and with such an impressive performance, the bunch would be wise to keep their eyes on her.

Never to be overlooked, domestic riders will have peaked for this block and will be looking to make a name for themselves on home soil. Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Attaquer), grabbed silver in the road race on Sunday and so is clearly a rider in great shape. Likewise, team mate, Emily Herfoss, will be looking to improve on her 9th place GC finish of 2019 and after finishing 3rd in the national TT and 4th in the road race she’ll by heading to Adelaide with much confidence.

In terms of any bunch kicks all eyes will be on Chloe Hosking in her new orange colours of Team Rally. Hosking, who came 5th in the national road race is clearly in good form and will be looking to add another win to her tally of 3 stage victories at the TdU. Hosking will face sprint challenges from Trek-Segafredo’s Lotta Henttla (nee. Lepisto), Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Nina Kessler (Team Tibco SVB) to name a few. Additionally, Sierra Arlenis (Astana), winner of the Cadel Evans Road Race last year, also has an impressive finishing kick and a history of performing well in early season races.

Unpredictability breeds exciting racing and with the strongest ever start sheet for the TdU, the 2020 edition looks set to be a thrilling 4 days of action.

Summary

When:

16th – 19th January

Where:

Adelaide, Australia

What:

4 days of unpredictable, exciting racing over rolling terrain: Stage 1, Handhorf- Macclesfield, 116km (1551m elevation) Stage 2, Murray Bridge – Birdwood, 115km (1678m elevation) Stage 3, Nairne – Sterling, 109km (1678m elevation)

Stage 4, Adelaide, 42.5km

Who to watch out for on GC:

Spratt *****

Chapman ****

Brown ***

Stephens ***

Outsider:

Emily Herfoss

TV Coverage:

All 4 stages will be broadcast live in Australia on 7Plus Details on international coverage TBC

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