‘There’s going to be a lot of plot twists’ - Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown ready for unpredictable Tour Down Under

Willunga Hill the showpiece but GC racing could kick off earlier in Adelaide

Clock09:28, Thursday 11th January 2024
Amanda Spratt lit up the Queen stage of the 2023 Tour Down Under

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Amanda Spratt lit up the Queen stage of the 2023 Tour Down Under

Though Willunga Hill may be seen as a staple of the Tour Down Under, it’s going to be anything but a familiar or predictable sight when the women’s event takes on the iconic Adelaide climb for the first time on Sunday.

The 3.7km climb will be the climax of the three-day race, and a welcome new addition to the growing Women's WorldTour event, but the pre-start favourites are expecting a race that will be unpredictable and hard-fought across the whole weekend.

“I was eagerly awaiting the course announcement,” three-time winner Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) said on the eve of the 2024 women’s Tour Down Under.

Read more: Tour Down Under - women's race preview

“I was happy when I saw Willunga, and then Stirling as well. I think that's a great stage. I think they've done a really great job with the course this year. It’s probably a bunch sprint on the first stage, and then Stirling is a bit unpredictable, can go either way. And then obviously we have Willunga.”

The second stage, finishing on hilly laps around Stirling, may be pinned as a puncheur’s stage, as the second stage was last year, but the riders think it could be more decisive than first thought.

The final climb, which the riders will tackle three times and finish atop, has an average 3.9% gradient, but pitches ramp up to a maximum of 11.1%, and the repetition could draw the GC riders into battle.

With only two non-flat stages on which to make a difference, Spratt thinks the race will come down to more than just whoever will win the Queen stage.

“I think time bonuses are going to be really crucial,” she said. “So I think we're really not going to know who's going to win until we cross the finish line in Willunga. I think there's gonna be a lot of plot twists, things are going to change. I think it's going to be a really exciting race.”

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

For Spratt’s main rival in the pre-race favourite stakes, defending champion Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ), the summit finish in Willunga is a welcome challenge, but a challenge nonetheless. Last year, Brown won the Queen stage through her performance on Corkscrew Road, but that stage finished on the flat.

“I was looking to see if the descent had been cut off the profile,” Brown joked about her reaction to Willunga Hill’s inclusion. “But yeah, turns out we finish at the top of Willunga. But no, I think it's really cool that we get to race up a climb that's been so iconic in the men's race. I like a challenge, so we'll see how I go.”

The hilltop finale pushes the favour back into Spratt’s hands when it comes to the rivalry brewing between the two Australian riders, and an off-season niggle has slightly hampered Brown’s preparation, but the FDJ rider remains assured of herself ahead of her title defence.

“I didn't have quite the seamless prep that I had wanted over this pre-season and training,” Brown said. “But I think I've still had quite a good run-in now for the Tour Down Under and I'm quite confident in my form for the racing that starts tomorrow. In the end, I think you have to believe that it's all coming together. We're gonna have a good race.”

Local riders ready to shine

Despite the growing profile of the women’s Tour Down Under, it remains a race whose protagonists are often the Australians, or their New Zealand neighbours.

Coming off of a very competitive Australian national championships weekend, and with the allure of Willunga Hill - whose importance is undoubtedly bigger for the Australians than their European visitors - the home riders are particularly primed ahead of the season curtain-raiser.

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

“Coming into the Tour Down Under, we often see that the Australian and New Zealand riders are very strong and dominating that top 10 on GC, because we’ve been out here and training over the summer. And we’ve really got great riders now too,” Spratt said.

For home team Liv Jayco AlUla, their almost entirely Australian line-up could conceivably win every stage, between newly-crowned national champion Ruby Roseman-Gannon, 2023 stage winner Alex Manly, and the one Kiwi addition of climber Ella Wyllie.

“In this tour, you have to be really open, but we have a really fast climber from New Zealand in our team, and Ruby’s been strong the last few years, so I think with our team we can be quite open, but those two are probably our two key leaders,” Manly told the press.

For the Australian women of the peloton, Sunday will be a chance for a rider to write her name into Australian cycling history, next to names like Simon Gerrans and Richie Porte.

“I think it's really special to race up Willunga Hill,” Spratt said. “I watched for many years the men race up there - I’ve watched Richie Porte win there, Gerrans managed to hold onto the jersey there, or Daryl Impey with a bonus second. So I think Willunga Hill and the Tour Down Under really go hand in hand. For us, that's a really important moment that we get to race up there and finish up such an iconic climb in Australian cycling.”

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