Women’s Tour Down Under impresses with increased stature, spectatorship

Women's Tour Down Under, Stage 3

Credit: Chris Auld/Santos Tour Down Under

It was a big year for the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under, with the introduction of live-streaming, increased organisational support behind the event and an increased UCI status, jumping up to form part of the new ProSeries.

The heightened status of the race brought a couple of new teams from overseas, with Team Sunweb the highest profile of the new additions. But the outcome of more fans by the sides of the roads, at start and finish towns and engaging with the race via the livestream on the Channel 7 streaming app is more testament to the continued growth of the race over the past five years than anything that changed in this one edition.

Race director Kimberley Conte spoke to Australian Cycling Insider about the growth of the race.

“For me, starting five years ago it was a humble beginning,” said Conte. “It was great to be able to take it from the National Road Series level and just keep building on that every year.

“I think my job as race director is set course that give opportunities for riders to attack. The riders just take them. Year on year, we’ve seen the level of the riders increase dramatically, it’s great for women’s cycling and the public get to see it for the first time on the livestream.”

The locations haven’t changed a great deal, stages generally start and finish around the Adelaide Hills, Murray River region or in the Barossa, with the final criterium on before the men’s warm-up classic. What has changed is the profile of the race with stages starting and finishing in front of many hundreds of fans, rather than half-way down a street from a crossroads like the finale of Stage 1 in the 2017 edition in front of maybe five people that weren’t employed by the race. Conte reflected upon the slow build of the race in stature within the festival of cycling in Adelaide and how her role has changed to reflect that.

“The role has changed,” said Conte, “when you start out at a small race, you do every single role from chief bottle-washer on up. It’s kind of a joke, but you do and you get a feel for the race.

“There’s a lot more staff at the race these days, and I’m lucky to have a committed staff at SATC (South Australia Tourism Commission). I still like to be hands-on though and I don’t want to lose touch with that in the race.”

The move to the ProSeries may seem like a relatively small jump when compared with previous year’s big developments like the move to UCI classification from the National Road Series or the awarding of equal prize money to the men’s race. However, Conte singled it out as being key to the growth for 2020.

“We knew that when we were awarded that new ProSeries status that we really wanted to step things up this year,” said Conte. “From how we designed courses to recruiting teams to be here, it all factored into a great race.

“I think in this years’ edition they really appreciated that the course was a lot more open and there was a chance no matter what type of rider it was, if they were fit enough. The overall feedback from teams was that they want to come back next year, which is always the best.”

Australian Cycling Insider spoke to a number of the athletes present, all of whom had positive feedback of the race experience and were optimistic about it’s future, maybe none moreso than race winner Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo).

“It’s really good to come start the year here,” said Winder, “I’ve come straight from where I live in Boulder, Colarado and not going to lie, it’s pretty cold there. I just spent a week on the trainer, so it’s nice to come here.

“It’s always nice to be here in Australia as the community is so nice and the riding is so nice. I really enjoy it.

“The growth it’s had in the last five years is really cool and they’re talking about having it move up to World Tour next year. Every year it’s step by step and it’s good to see. The organisation is always super smooth and easy for us.”

Experienced New Zealander Rushlee Buchanan echoed the words of Winder and also pointed out the calibre of rider that the event now attracts.

“It’s an awesome Tour, everything is run so well and it’s a pleasure to come here,” said Buchanan. “It is the start of the season, so not all the teams are here but we are racing some of the best riders in the world.

“Ruth is a star, Amanda Spratt, Sunweb… we’re racing some of the best teams in the world. They’re never easy to race, even in January.”

With cycling fans moving on to the next race in the calendar, the Deakin University Women’s Race in Geelong, thoughts for Conte and the race organisation turn towards 2021 in Adelaide. The question which has been a consistent one over the last few years is whether the race will move to WorldTour status to match the men’s Tour Down Under.

 “We’re in a good position as a ProSeries race,” said Conte, “there aren’t too many ProSeries races out there and it affords us the opportunity to still have a team like the national team from New Zealand, which won’t be allowed if we become a WorldTour race. It also gives us the ability to offer a wildcard team.

“At this point, it’s important to continue to the commitment to the development of women’s cycling. WorldTour is still very much on the cards, whether it’s next year or the future.”

As for what the race director envisions for next year’s course, details were kept to a minimum.

“I’d love to do a beach start at some point,” said Conte, “there’s a lot of things in my head and it’s just a matter of trying to fit them all together like a big jigsaw puzzle to form a great race course.”

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger