Women's Santos Tour Down Under 2024: 5 riders to watch

From favourites Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown, to Australia's new national champion and an aspiring Kiwi climber, GCN picks out the must-see riders ahead of the first WorldTour stage race

Clock21:00, Tuesday 9th January 2024
The battle for the overall victory at the women's Santos Tour Down Under should be spectacular if the startlist is anything to go by

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

The battle for the overall victory at the women's Santos Tour Down Under should be spectacular if the startlist is anything to go by

Dropping the curtain on the Women's WorldTour season for the second successive year, the women's Santos Tour Down Under will begin on Friday and see many of the world's best riders open their accounts for 2024.

Once a smaller race that was the battleground for Australia's domestic teams and, of course, Australia's only WorldTeam Liv AlUla Jayco, the women's Tour Down Under is now one of the most hotly-anticipated events on the calendar. Not only does it bring with it the first sightings of riders in new teams, kits and alliances, but the Tour Down Under is quickly earning a reputation for spectacular racing.

The Australian stage race packs a lot into its three days of racing, with a sprinter-friendly first stage followed by two days in the hills to crown the overall winner. There used to be much more on offer for the sprinters before the race's ascension to WorldTour status in 2023, but last year's race is now an indicator of what we can expect from this explosive stage race.

The likes of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ), Justine Ghekiere (AG Insurance-Soudal Team) and the returning Ruth Edwards (Human Powered Health) will surely be up towards the front of the action, but in turn, the Australian and Kiwi riders will be keen to put on a show for the domestic audience.

Read more: Women's Santos Tour Down Under 2024 race preview

With eight Women's WorldTeams in South Australia for the season-opener, we should be strapped in for a thriller and there will be plenty to take in. So we have put together our list of five riders to watch this weekend, including race favourites, national champions and one of the peloton's most exciting young talents.

GCN's 5 riders to watch at the women's Santos Tour Down Under

Ruby Roseman-Gannon (Liv AlUla Jayco)

Tour Down Under pedigree: 4th in 2023, but overall title at stand-in Santos Festival of Cycling in 2022

Analysis: Who better to start with than the recently crowned Australian road national champion? That's right, for those who missed the racing on Sunday, Liv AlUla Jayco's Ruby Roseman-Gannon emerged victorious to take her first-ever national road title. The 25-year-old was quick to thank her teammates for their efforts after the race, but Roseman-Gannon was certainly good value for the green and gold bands come the end of the race.

Read more: Ruby Roseman-Gannon and Luke Plapp claim road titles at Australian national championships

Roseman-Gannon has long been one of the peloton's better climbers, but the Australian has often knocked on the door without an answer. Entering her third year on the Women's WorldTour, the Australian road race was her first professional win and was preceded by a victory in the national criterium championships.

Clearly in flying form, the Tour Down Under comes at the perfect time for Roseman-Gannon. The rider from Victoria will be able to debut her national champion's jersey this weekend and will hope to capture the magic that propelled her to success in the Santos Festival of Cycling two years ago.

Whilst last weekend's road race was technically her first victory as a professional, Roseman-Gannon did in fact win the Tour Down Under's stand-in, domestic race in 2022. Then in her first season with GreenEDGE Cycling outfit, Roseman-Gannon won the third and final stage to take the overall win. A similar performance on Willunga Hill on Sunday would be a dream outing for the new national champion.

Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ)

Tour Down Under pedigree: Reigning champion after overall title and stage win in 2023, 5th in 2018, stage winner in 2019

Analysis: From one national champion to another, FDJ-SUEZ's Grace Brown is not only the reigning Tour Down Under champion, but also fresh from retaining her Australian national time trial championship. Last week's victory was Brown's third in succession and the fourth national time trial title of her career.

Read more: Luke Plapp and Grace Brown win Australian national time trial titles

The 31-year-old may not have the opportunity to show off her green and gold bands in the Tour Down Under, but she will certainly be pleased by another course design that looks to suit her talents. Brown was part of a nail-biting battle for the title with Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) last year - more on her soon - and will fancy her chances on another hilly course.

It was on Corkscrew Road that Brown sewed up the title last time around and this year's summit finish is the harder challenge of Willunga Hill. Brown is no slouch on a climb but will be wary that she used her powerful sprint to pip Spratt to the leader's orange jersey.

Fourth place in the recent national road race confirmed her form ahead of the Tour Down Under and fans can expect to see her well in contention to retain her title.

Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek)

Tour Down Under pedigree: three-time winner (2017, 2018, 2019), 2nd place in 2023

Analysis: As for Brown's rival from last year's Tour Down Under, Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) will be keen to gain revenge as her opening act of 2024. It was only in the stage 3 sprint that Spratt was defeated by Brown last year and her eyes will surely turn to Willunga Hill to get one over on the FDJ-SUEZ rider.

On paper, Spratt is a more natural climber than Brown and given Willunga Hill's pedigree as one of Australia's toughest climbs, the Lidl-Trek veteran could be the better tip for victory come Sunday afternoon. At 36 years of age, Spratt is certainly closer to the end of her career than the beginning, and will be eager to add to her three Tour Down Under titles.

The rider from Penrith, New South Wales, had the race on lockdown between 2017 and 2019, as she claimed three successive victories. But Spratt had to settle for the Queen of the Mountains jersey last year and has not won a stage in the Tour Down Under since 2020.

You can count on Spratt to be on the front foot this weekend.

Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal)

Tour Down Under pedigree: 25th in 2020, but dominant winner of the Santos Festival of Cycling in 2021.

Analysis: Another rider who won't take long to spot in Australia will be a rider on the comeback trail in Sarah Gigante. The new AG Insurance-Soudal rider ripped up her contract with Movistar just a few months ago and will now be looking to bounce back to her best among new teammates after two seasons of illness and misfortune.

The 23-year-old has only ridden 24 race dates since leaving TIBCO-SVB for Movistar in 2022 and recently spoke with GCN about her motivation to return to her flying best in 2024.

Read more: Sarah Gigante: I'm in the best form I've ever had ahead of Tour Down Under

According to Gigante, she is in the best shape of her career ahead of her first stage race of the season and should that be the case, the peloton will quickly be put on notice. It bears little value to mull over Gigante's time with Movistar, instead, we need only to look to the 2021 campaign to get a taste of what might be to come for the Melbourne native.

That year was the first of two seasons without the Tour Down Under due to Covid restrictions, but in its place, the Santos Festival of Cycling flourished and in its first edition, Gigante was seemingly unstoppable. The then-20-year-old won two stages and the overall title, as well as walking away with the young rider's jersey and Queen of the Mountains jersey.

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It was quite the haul for Gigante and put her on the radar of many WorldTeams, with her race-winning move on the final stage coming on the iconic Willunga Hill. Whilst the race has never featured in the women's Tour Down Under, it was raced by the peloton in 2021 and as well as using the hill to seal her Santos Festival of Cycling title, Gigante also set a blistering QoM Strava KOM that has yet to be toppled.

Will that record last come the end of Sunday, and will it be Gigante who stands as the beneficiary once again?

Ella Wyllie (Liv AlUla Jayco)

Tour Down Under pedigree: 8th in 2023

Analysis: Ruby Roseman-Gannon, Grace Brown, Amanda Spratt and Sarah Gigante: these are all names which will be at the top of the bookmakers' list to take the overall title. The likes of Ruth Edwards, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig and Henrietta Christie (Human Powered Health) may be amongst them, but perhaps the lesser-known Ella Wyllie might be a fantastic rider to keep an eye on over the three days of racing.

Wyllie is a new pick-up for Liv AlUla Jayco in 2024 but comes with a burgeoning reputation as one of the brightest young stars in the peloton. Only recently having turned 21, Wyllie has just finished her first full season in the European ranks and wasted no time in impressing her suitors in Lifeplus Wahoo colours.

The Continental side signed Wyllie last winter and her performances in the Tour Down Under are what caught the attention of Liv Jayco AlUla management. Eighth place overall was a notable achievement for a rider so young and inexperienced, and she would show this was no flash in the pan throughout the course of 2023.

Standout results included third in Navarra Women's Elite Classic, the young rider's jersey at Itzulia Women and 16th overall in her first Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift, as Wyllie established herself thousands of miles from her home in Auckland.

Read more:

Now a member of Australia's only Women's WorldTeam, the Kiwi will make her debut in team colours this weekend and lots can be expected of the youngster. Wyllie finished second in the youth classification last year to Christie, and we should expect to see a healthy battle between the pair once again this time out.

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