Tour Down Under
With world-class racing and an extended women’s event, South Australia’s famous TDU is now the complete package
In 20 years, the Santos Tour Down Under has morphed into a two-week festival of cycling, offering fans not only world-class racing but entertainment and a unique experience showcasing the best of South Australia. But until 2015 something was missing, and what started as a two-day exhibition of women’s cycling has now grown into a four-day international women’s race which finally makes the TDU the complete package.
As the TDU gears up to celebrate its 20th edition next January, the Santos Women’s Tour will mark its fourth and for the first time with a UCI 2.1 ranking – putting it just two steps away from matching the men’s equivalent on the WorldTour.
World-champion Adelaide cyclist and Olympian Annette Edmondson has won a stage of the Tour and rates it as one of the highlights of her career. “Every year it’s been getting bigger and bigger, and every step forward is great for the sport and women’s cycling in Australia,” she says.
“It started as a two-day race, then it became National Road Series, then international and UCI.
“I won a stage of the Santos Women’s Tour a couple of years ago and that’s one of the highlights of my road career, so hopefully I find some speed again next January.”
The added bonus for Edmondson and her fellow Australian cyclists is the race presents an opportunity to compete on home roads and in front of a home crowd.
“It makes such a difference. When I’m in Europe, there is hardly anyone out there who knows our names,” she says. “So when you’re completely surrounded by locals who know you, or have heard of you or just want to see an Aussie go well, it really spurs you on and is so important.
“Adelaide is home so I know these roads. We race on my training roads all the time and it’s quite strange because we go down it so much faster than normal. And to share it with my European teammates, it’s nice to show off where we come from and make them realise how nice Australia is.
“A lot of them want to come back, and some have even started coming out two weeks early and enjoying the sunshine and the training.”
This year’s race attracted 102 women riders from 19 countries, and the overall title went to Australia’s Amanda Spratt, who rides for Australian team Orica-Scott.
Race director Kimberley Conte says the event’s upgraded status (from UCI 2.2 to 2.1) will attract an even stronger international field next year.
“The mixture of high-level international and domestic teams provides our younger developing riders with the chance to test their skills alongside the best riders in the world,” Conte says.
“This news contributes to the incremental growth of women’s cycling and further cements the sport on the map, providing a platform to tell our story.”
WORDS – Reece Homfray
20 BIG MOMENTS IN HISTORY
1. Lance Armstrong hits town
You could argue race organisers might have their time again if they knew what we know now, but when Armstrong – a seven-time Tour de France winner – launched his comeback to cycling at the TDU in 2009, it put the event through the stratosphere.
2. Peter Sagan rocks Adelaide
The biggest rock star in world cycling, Slovakian Peter Sagan, made his professional debut at the race in 2010 and in 2017 came back as the two-time reigning world champion, oozing class and charisma.
3. Cadel Evans says farewell
Australia’s greatest ever road cyclist and only Tour de France winner waved farewell to a home crowd in the 2015 TDU. He was a fighter right to the end, finishing third.
4. Gerro the great
Simon Gerrans claimed a record fourth TDU title in 2016 when he held off Richie Porte by just nine seconds after eight days of racing. It went with his other titles in 2006, 2012 and 2014.
5. Big names lock horns
The famous Old Willunga Hill hosted a showdown for the ages in 2010 when Cadel Evans in the rainbow jersey went head-to-head with the likes of Sagan and Luis Leon Sanchez. They lit up the climb but the stage was eventually won by Sanchez.
6. Old Queen Willunga
Race director Mike Turtur transformed the race in 2012 when he decided to finish the queen stage on top of Old Willunga Hill instead of in the township. Alejandro Valverde won the stage by the width of his tyre but Gerrans was second and took the overall title.
7. Richie, Richie, Richie
Australia’s best climber Richie Porte completed a historic Old Willunga three-peat in 2017 when he won the queen stage for the third year in a row and took his first ochre jersey in the process.
8. Missile off target
The best sprinter in the world and arguably in the history of professional cycling, Mark Cavendish, made a long-awaited trip to the TDU in 2011 but it didn’t all go to plan. He crashed on Stage 3, fell behind and finished the day in traffic after roads were reopened.
9. Local boy wins
Stuart O’Grady celebrated the very first edition of the TDU way back in 1999 by winning the overall jersey. Racing for Credit Agricole, O’Grady won stages in Tanunda and Victor Harbor on the way to the title.
10. Andre the giant
German sprinter Andre Greipel holds the record for the most number of stage wins (13) in TDU history, after his final appearance in the race in 2013 saw him go past previous record holder Robbie McEwen.
11. Give me your bike
Michael Rogers will never forget how he won the 2002 TDU after he borrowed a spectator’s bike. Rogers’ bike was damaged after an incident but thankfully a fan on the roadside gave him his, which allowed him to finish the stage and win the Tour.
12. Give me your bike, again
It was almost a case of history repeating itself in 2016 when American Tyler Farrar finished Stage 3 of the Tour Down Under on a spectator’s bike. Farrar crashed in the closing stages and damaged his bike, which is when a fan stepped in with the same sized frame and, incredibly, shoes that would fit the pedals.
13. Contador returns
Alberto Contador is one of the greatest Grand Tour riders in history but before all that he won the stage to Willunga in the 2005 Tour Down Under which marked his return from injury. He rates it one of the most important in his career.
14. Dennis the menace
Adelaide boy Rohan Dennis saw his opportunity and took it in 2015 when he upstaged teammate and retiring great Cadel Evans. Racing up Paracombe, Evans was going head-to-head with Richie Porte when Dennis flashed past to take the stage win and hold the ochre jersey for the rest of the week.
15. SPRINT LEGEND
Robbie McEwen showed why he will go down as one of Australia’s – and the world’s – greatest sprinters in 2003 when he won Stages 1, 2 and 6 in a dominant week at the Tour Down Under.
16. Catch him if you Cam
Cameron Meyer rode his way to the biggest win of his professional career in 2011 when he made a daring breakaway into Strathalbyn on Stage 4. It was enough to put him in the ochre jersey, which he defended all the way to the finish.
17. Cycling royalty
There were few bigger names in Belgian cycling at the time Philippe Gilbert came to the Tour Down Under in 2013. What’s more, Gilbert came to Adelaide as the reigning world champion and brought his rainbow jersey with him.
18. Hit the road, Jack
Riding for wildcard team UniSA-Australia, not many gave Jack Bobridge a chance but he upstaged the professional peloton to win Stage 1 of the TDU in 2015. Bobridge found his way into a breakaway on his local roads to Campbelltown, and took line honours.
19. Kamikaze Cadel
Cadel Evans showed why he was one of the best descenders in the world when he called on his mountain bike background to win Stage 3 to Campbelltown in 2014. To do so, Evans broke away at the top of Corkscrew Rd, and no one could stay with him on the way down at frightening speed.
Emerging Aussie sprinter Caleb Ewan justified the hype surrounding his potential at the 2017 TDU when he dominated from start to finish by winning the People’s Choice Classic, Stage 1 to Lyndoch, Stage 3 to Victor Harbor, Stage 4 to Campbelltown and Stage 6 in the CBD. It was quite the week
GERRANS NOT DONE YET
He might be turning 38 next May but the Tour Down Under’s only four-time winner, Simon Gerrans, is hungry for more.
That doesn’t necessarily mean a fifth ochre jersey but he is still eager to be part of the peloton when it rolls into Adelaide in January.
Gerrans has previously won the race in 2006, 2012, 2014 and 2016 – the last three with Australian team Orica-Scott – but next year he will be in the new colours of red and black after switching teams to BMC.
BMC will potentially field the last three winners of the race – Gerrans, Richie Porte and Rohan Dennis – as well as reigning national champion Miles Scotson in its seven-man team for the event.
“When you think about it, to have the past three winners of the race in the one team, I don’t think that ever happens in cycling,” Gerrans says.
“I very much still have a passion for the race. It’s hard not to get excited for the Tour Down Under, especially when you get over to Adelaide in January and see the hype around the event and how much it’s grown over the 20 years.”