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The Thrilling Women’s Santos Tour Down Under

By Megan Flottorp

The first event on the women’s World Tour Calendar, the women’s Santos Tour Down Under, wrapped on Tuesday, and the 2023 racing season is officially underway! As predicted, the Australians proved that they know their home turf well — with the seven top spots going to riders who claim the Aussie flag as their own. Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ) took the overall title, claiming the ochre jersey her own after an epic descent to scoop up the final stage from under Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo).

Spratt finished runner-up on the stage and in the GC, also winning the mountain jersey. Meanwhile, Georgia Williams (EF-TIBCO-SVB) outsprinted the pack for a solid third-place finish to round out the overall podium.

The race consisted of three days, with a criterium the day before that got the festivities underway and gave everyone a chance to stretch their legs after the winter off-season.

It was Australia’s first-ever Women’s World Tour stage race, and it is safe to say that they were eager to show off. Let’s take a closer look at how it went down.

A challenging route that put the legs to the test

Following the Saturday preview, the women’s main course was made of three demanding stages in and around Adelaide along the Southern coast of Australia.

Daria Pikulik of Human Powered Health started things off strong, with an energised sprint that won her the first stage ahead of Clara Copponi (FDI-Suez) and Georgia Baker (Team Jayco-Alula). She also made history by claiming the first World Tour win for Human Powered Health.

On day two, Alex Manly (Team Jayco-Alula) powered to the win after a small group caught Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) who attacked up the backside of Mount Lofty. Georgia Williams (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and Nina Buijsman (Human Powered Health) completed the speedy Stage 2 podium. Alex Manly took the race lead and went into the final stage proudly sporting the ochre jersey.

Stage 3, which consisted of a gruelling 93.2 km from Adelaide to Campbelltown, was the real test of this event—saving the best for last, the final day of racing, including the daunting ascent up the infamous Corkscrew Road. As with the first two stages, Stage 3 featured two intermediate sprints and a final effort up the category one Corkscrew climb. With 1773 m of climbing to conquer, this one challenged riders to put their best foot forward in setting the stage for the Classics that lay ahead in the spring.

And ultimately, Grace Brown proved she was willing to fight for it. She managed to stay close to Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) when Spratt attacked on the steep Corkscrew climb, and although Spratt was 20 seconds ahead at the QOM, Brown used the descent expertly to reduce her deficit.

Brown gets her win

Following her victory, Brown told the press, “I’m really pleased. The team did an awesome job today, they led me out into the final climb. I knew that Amanda was going to be really good on the Corkscrew but I just kept her within distance, knowing that I could potentially catch her back on the descent, and I was able to do it. Really cool to take this victory after some awesome work from my team.”

She was undoubtedly motivated to take this inaugural World Tour title after coming up painfully short last year. Ultimately, it was the five bonus seconds in intermediate sprints on stages 1 and 2 that helped her sail to victory and avoid a repeat of the 2022 Women’s Tour: “Having been in a similar situation last year where I lost the GC by one second in the final stage, I wanted to be on the front foot this week.” And indeed, she was.

A 12-year build toward the top tier for women’s racing becomes a reality

As we outlined at the start of the season, 2023 brings us four new Women’s World Tour events, and the Tour Down Under was the first. In our opinion, it is about time, too! After returning to the UCI calendar after two years of absence, it has finally got the classification that reflects the calibre of the race. Having long offered top teams, high-level organisation, live coverage and prize money that matched the men’s event, we were glad to see the women’s race at the Tour Down Under join the highest ranks. 

Bravo to all who helped get the season off to a roaring start! The Australians likely are not done showing off yet, either. Next on the docket is the Cadel Evans Road Race, which will take place in Geelong, Victoria, on January 28th.