Two years ago, organizers under prompting from the regional government offered the same prize for the women’s field as the WorldTour-level men’s race. This year, stages will be streamed on the 7-Plus network, with the final stage broadcast live on national TV in Australia.
“The live streaming is a fantastic step up. It came with equal prize money, now with live streaming people can realize how exciting women’s racing is,” said three-time defending champion Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott). “A fourth win would be amazing. I love everything this race has to offer, but the biggest priority is to keep the jersey in the team.”
For its fifth edition, the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under features a mix of terrain that will test the riders in the season’s first major stage race. Sixteen teams are lining up, including first starts by Team Sunweb and FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope.
Spratt and her Mitchelton-Scott teammates will be the favorites for overall victory in what’s the start of an important Olympic year.
“It’s not a predictable course this year,” said Spratt, who recently won her third national road title. “It’ll be harder to win again. No one knows where GC is going to be made. As a team, we definitely have other cards to play. Grace Brown is in incredible form, Lucy Kennedy is going very well too.”
“There’s a circuit race, so being the Australian criterium champion, I’ll be able to wear the green and gold stripes, so it’s really exciting, but I don’t think it’s the only stage I can win,” Hosking said. “With my new team, this will be an opportunity for us to race with each other in the peloton and get to know each other. A more dynamic race helps that as well, whereas in a mountain top finish, it’s just about surviving. It’s fantastic that it’ll be televised. Aussies come to this race in form. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see domestic riders beating the international.”
Several teams have had riders training and preparing for the season-opener a few weeks already. With the WorldTour calendar opening the following weekend at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, plus a new race at Torquay, followed by the Sun Tour, there’s a nice block of racing in Australia.
There’s some talk that the race will join the WorldTour, but right now, organizers are looking forward to some intense competition. The races are expected to unfold without incident despite bush fires raging in other parts of Australia.
“This is the 5th year of the race being on the UCI calendar. It’s very exciting to see the race continue to develop, and I’m really proud to be part of it,” said race director Kimberley Conte. “No hilltop will be decisive, we’ve mixed it up a little bit and chosen a dynamic course to provide opportunities to riders who are fit and willing to attack.”