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Race Report: The Women's Tour Down Under 2024

Race Report: The Women's Tour Down Under 2024

And so it begins…

Over the last weekend we had the first WorldTour race of the year for the Women’s peloton, and it did not disappoint. The three stages were filled with shocks, stunning performances and perhaps a sign of things to come this year.

Dutch team AG Insurance-Soudal’s novel tri-tiered approach, cultivating young talent and promoting internally with a focus on developing riders properly; paid off, taking victories in the first and final stages and eventually, the Ochre Jersey. Here’s our breakdown of the three stages out in sunny Australia.

 

Women’s Tour Down Under: Stage 1

On the opening stage from Hahndorf to Campbelltown breakaways were certainly a feature. A rested and rejuvenated peloton exploded into life, with Ruby Roseman-Gannon of Australian favourites Liv AlUla Jayco, picking up the 3 second time bonus on the first intermediate sprint.

The day’s first true breakaway quickly formed as Matilda Raynolds (Bridgelane), Katia Ragusa (Human Powered Health), and India Grangier (Coop-Repsol) rode away from the pack, at one point leading by 4 minutes. In what would quickly become a recurring feature of the Tour Down Under, Katia Ragusa picked up successive Queen of the Mountain’s points, the Italian seemingly a confident step above her fellow breakaway riders.

Mathilda Raynolds attempted to push her advantage with 58km still to be ridden, but the flagging lone rider was caught by the bunch after a scramble with 10km to go.

Then, inside a technical final kilometre, Liv AlUla Jayco tried to lead out Georgia Baker, but it was Kiwi National Champion Ally Wollaston of AG Insurance-Soudal who overtook on Baker’s right to win her first WorldTour victory by about a bike length.

 

 

Women’s Tour Down Under: Stage 2

23-year-old Ally Wollaston started a surprisingly challenging second day in the Ochre Jersey, also holding the points classification lead. Although, by the close of business the Kiwi rider had relinquished the Ochre Jersey to impressive stage winner, Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig (FDJ-Suez). Katia Ragusa continued her domination of the QoM classification and the polka-dot jersey across the 104.2km raced from Glenelg to Stirling in-and-around the Adelaide Hills, the longest stage in the women’s race’s history.

Dominika Włodarczyk (UAE) and Ruby Roseman-Gannon fought an impressive duel for the day’s intermediate sprint points, one which the Polish rider triumphed in on both occasions. Young talent Emily Watts of ARA Australian Cycling also looked promising, with a solo-attack 12.4km from Stirling given the proper respect of being aggressively hunted down by the Peloton.

In the end though, a daring and powerful attack by former Road Book contributor Uttrup Ludwig resulted in an emphatic victory for the Dane during her first trip to the Tour Down Under. After the race, Uttrup Ludwig revealed that the original plan had been to race for defending champion Grace Brown, who hadn’t felt at her best forcing the team to adjust. Thankfully, Uttrup Ludwig was more than up to the task of filling in as leader.

 

 

Women’s Tour Down Under: Stage 3

This was it, the Queen Stage of the Tour Down Under, as the women’s peloton took on Willunga Hill for the very first time, and the legendary climb certainly added plenty of twists to the tale.

The final day’s racing began in Adelaide before rolling onto the first 3.8km climb to Windy Point. Amanda Poulsen (Bridgelane) bravely attacked early on, shrugging off a succession of crashes over the previous two days, but her efforts were eventually ridden down.

Katia Ragusa continued her masterful display in the polka dot jersey and picked up maximum points at every opportunity to all but seal her victory. In another continuation of the race’s themes, Włodarczyk and Ruby Roseman-Gannon continued the previous day’s battle for bonus seconds, tearing Cecilie Uttrup-Ludwig from the provisional pole position. In the end, this was nothing but an indecisive skirmish, as Sarah Gigante, supported ably by her team, launched the decisive assault at the foot of Willunga Hill.

The former Australian National Road Race Champion, a title she had won at the tender age of 19, struggled early in the day and was dropped from the peloton on an exposed section. Gigante has had a tough couple of years, suffering from pretty much everything cycling could throw at her: injuries, mechanical failures, and her former team’s internal power struggles. The Tour Down Under was no different, as she wrestled with cross winds which forced her off the back of the peloton.

But her team were prepared, stage 1 victor Ally Wollaston commented that they were happy to ride for the plucky Australian and kept her courage up with constant verbal encouragement. Young Gigante looked every bit the star after her new team seems to have provided her with the support she lacked at Movistar.

As soon as the race hit Willunga Hill, Gigante tore away from the group, attacking up the 3km slope with 6 riders in tow and not stopping. The chasing group, including Uttrup Ludwig and last year’s runner-up Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek) cracked as Gigante renewed her assault with 2.3km to go, their legs failing to keep up with the young Aussie’s strength.

In the aftermath of the race, an emotional Gigante thanked her teammates profusely, saying that she had “burnt so many of their matches, and a few of mine, but they kept believing in me” and the 23-year-old was clearly touched by their support. She had emphatically celebrated as she crossed the finish line, in the aftermath her voice cracked, hoarse with barely restrained tears of joy chocking her words as she admitted to how gruelling the last few years have been: “I’m just so happy to get a win! It’s pretty tough when you’re only 23 and everyone’s saying you’re washed up. Sometimes I did too.”

Gigante is a hard rider to doubt however, and on the length of that legendary hill, she never once looked like struggling. We predict a big season to come, for throughout all her challenges, Gigante has displayed the mental fortitude required of a big race rider.

 

Tune in this weekend for our summary of the men's Tour Down Under. 

 

If you enjoyed this piece, why not pick up The Road Book 2021 and read Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig's contribution: https://theroadbook.co.uk/collections/all-products/products/the-road-book-2021-first-edition

 

Written by: Henrik Bassett

All photography courtesy of Russ Ellis. 

 

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