It’s been a while but it is nice to be back! I hope you enjoyed your off-season and are as ready for the 2018 racing calendar to begin as I am. This year I’ve set myself the resolution to write more women’s previews so what better way to start than with the first race of the season; the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under?!
Now into its third year I am pleased to say that the race has stepped up to 2.1 level and will have the most challenging parcours to date in this edition. Which is good, as the past two years have seen a few criteriums thrown into the mix. This time we only have one!
With both of the previous winners; Garfoot (2016) and Spratt (2017) here, will we see a familiar face atop the podium come the end of the race or will there be a new champion?
First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders over the coming 4 stages.
New year but not a new me, so I once again want to shout-out @LasterketaBurua who made the profiles that I’ll be using here. Go give them a follow on Twitter!
The riders will complete a rolling circuit that starts and finishes in the town of Gumeracha. It’s not an incredibly difficult route, but it does include the steep climb of Mount Torrens that averages 7.6% for 700m. Furthermore, it does include a few uncategorised ramps just before and after Lobethal so keeping with tradition I’ve made a Strava/Veloviewer profile of that segment.
On paper it is not too difficult but given that it will be the first race-day in the past few months for a lot of the Northern Hemisphere riders then I think we could actually see some splits if it is ridden at a fast pace. We could see some of the drags used as a launchpad for a late attack from a group of riders before the descent all the way to the finish line.
If we get a sprint, this should be Hosking’s for the taking. For a late attacker, I’ll go with Spratt.
If Hosking did win stage 1, then it is very unlikely she’ll be holding onto the jersey after stage 2 unless something crazy happens.
With the Whispering Wall (1.1km at 5.9%) being climbed twice earlier in the day it will sap the riders legs a little before their attention turns to the main challenge of the stage with the ascent of Mengler’s Hill.
At roughly 7% for 2km this is what is classed as a “proper climb” in the area. Due to it only being 2km, the gaps won’t be massive but I expect it to be attacked at a crazy pace. This is the stage that will most likely decide the GC.
I have my eyes on Lucy Kennedy for this stage. She was climbing well in the national champs road race and the pure uphill finish could suit her well. Watch this space.
If the GC battle is still close after Stage 2 then the final few kilometres of the longest will decide it. The road undulates a lot in the second half of the day but it all comes down to the quick back-to-back climbs of Comet Mine and Hahndorf.
The finish is a tougher version of what we saw on day 1, but this time there is also a climb to contend with at the end again.
I imagine we’ll see some big digs from the ladies close on GC between the 1-2.25km mark on the profile above as it averages 5.8% over that period with ramps over 10%. This is where they will hope to make their mark and put others into difficulty before the 1.75km of descent and the final 450m of uphill.
Once over the top the riders will carry some speed down the descent and bike handling will be key as they make this awkward left-turn to start the final climb. Will the winner on the day win the race as a whole?!
If Van Vleuten is in good shape then this stage looks ideal for her.
The race concludes with the traditional criterium around Adelaide. Not much else to say here, but expect a fast race and a sprint at the end.
Hosking to once again show her strength but she won’t have it easy with Bronzini and Edmondson sure to offer some stiff opposition.
The GC Battle
One of the things that I like about this race is how dynamic it can be and we often see aggressive racing rewarded. With two, possibly three, stages to shape the GC this year there is a chance things could become more structured. However I don’t think that will be the case and well once again see an attacking start to the season.
There are two teams that are head and shoulders above the rest in terms of strength and depth in regards to their selection; Mitchelton-Scott and the UniSA team.
The Mitchelton-Scott team have three possible GC candidates in their midst with Spratt, Van Vleuten and Kennedy.
Spratt obviously won this race in 2017 and will be hoping to make it back-to-back victories this year round. She was impressive in the National Champs, doing a lot of the work on the front of the pack and eventually picking up 4th place. She’s an attacking rider who can certainly climb well. However, she is much more of a one-day racer than a pure climber, so I’m intrigued to see how she copes on Mengler’s.
Van Vleuten bounced back from an injury fraught 2016 to have her best-ever season last year. On paper, she is by far the strongest rider here and the course looks ideal for her. I’m not sure where her form will be at the moment, but considering that she has been in the Southern hemisphere since the middle of November, I’m going to take a stab in the dark and say she is acclimatised and will be going well.
That just leaves my dark-horse for the race; Kennedy. The 29-year-old Australian is technically a neo-pro with this being her first full season in the professional ranks. In 2017 she had a breakthrough year with some good results in the National Champs before securing a spot on the High5DreamTeam through a scholarship. This allowed her to have a taste of European racing and she didn’t disappoint, taking a maiden victory in the Tour de l’Ardeche while on her way to securing the GC title. Clearly a very talented latecomer to the sport, I’m intrigued to see what she can do this year. Climbing well in the nationals this year, she eventually faded to 9th but I think she’ll be there or thereabouts come the end of this race. Keep an eye out for her!
The Uni-SA team resembles something similar to that of World’s team selection, but their main two contenders for this race will most likely be Garfoot and Gillow.
Garfoot won the first version of this race back in 2016 and will hope to get one over her former team-mates at Mitchelton. Deciding to leave the team at the end of last season to focus more on her family but also the Commonwealth Games, she absolutely crushed the field in the TT last week. Clearly in excellent shape, she has a great chance of winning this race again.
Gillow performed below her expectations in the TT but was much better in the road race, helping team-mate Kitchen to a strong second place. Another good climber, she and Garfoot will have to alternate attacks, hoping to break the will of Michelton. Although saying that, Gillow isn’t the most explosive rider in the pack so she’ll need to churn a massive gear to put everyone else into difficulty.
Other contenders to look out for during the race are Cordon (WiggleHigh5), Stephens (Cylance), Stultiens (WaowDeals), Wiles (TrekDrops) and the retiring Taylor who is riding one of her last races as a professional for domestic team Holden.
Michelton-Scott to play the numbers game well and it will be one of last season’s best cyclists Annemiek van Vleuten who will take the win.
Having been out training in New Zealand from the start of December I think she’ll be firing on all cylinders here. No-one will be able to match her on the climb of Mengler’s Hill and she’ll be able to follow on the other tricky stages. She has said on Twitter that she is here to work hard for the team but I’m not buying it!
Garfoot will come second with Kennedy rounding out the podium.
Thanks as always for reading and any feedback is appreciated as usual, I might be a bit rusty after all! Who do you think will win the race? Will Michelton win it for a third year in a row or will we get a surprise? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.