Stage one offered little shade or rest.

Preview: Seven things you should know about the 2017 Santos Women’s Tour

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Racing in the Northern Hemisphere may still be all about cyclocross right now, but the international road season officially kicks off this weekend with the Santos Women’s Tour in sunny Adelaide, Australia.

The tour, which has a  UCI 2.2 classification, begins on Saturday with more international teams than ever before. Especially now that the Ladies Tour of Qatar has been cancelled, the land down under is becoming an increasingly appealing place to kick off the new season and test the legs.

So here is what you need to know about the kick-off event of the UCI season and the battle for the blue jersey.

1. Four days of hard racing

There is no easy beginning to the four days of racing, with stage one from Hahndorf to Meadows being the longest at 106.5 kilometres. There is also no shortage of hills and the Queen of the Mountain at the top of the Paris Creek Road Climb, 700 metres at a gradient of nearly 11%, is  just four kilometres from the end. Anyone who has an eye to the GC will not be able to ease themselves into the event as this is a tough day where the climbers can lay their claim. “In the last 30 kilometres of racing if it hasn’t already been ripped apart the race will be ripped apart there, definitely,” 2016 winner and Australian road champion Katrin Garfoot told reporters.

In 2016 the stage two evening criterium brought out a huge crowd.

Then on Sunday’s stage two the racing moves from the countryside south of Adelaide into the city centre, with a 32.2 kilometre evening crit. It’s a day for the sprinters that will be followed by the kick off race for the men’s event, a crit on the same circuit. It’s these criterium stages where those who can deliver a quick turn of speed will be trying to claw back time in the sprints, as there are bonus seconds to be had.

Monday’s stage three heads back to the hills with 92 kilometres through the wine growing area of the Barossa. The Queen of the Mountain climb is a little further from the end then Saturday’s stage, with a downhill run to the finish, though the Whispering Wall climb is ridden twice. Its bound to have the legs screaming – not whispering – with pain especially on the second round through.

The final stage Tuesday, where the overall winner will be decided, and its another day for the sprinters with an evening criterium of one hour plus two laps at Adelaide’s Victoria Park.

Since being elevated to a UCI 2.2. event, the Santos Women’s Tour draws a competitive field.

2. Strongest field ever

Not since the World Road Championships was held in Geelong have we seen such a strong international women’s field on Australian shores. There are 11 international teams on the roster, including Wiggle High5, Canyon-SRAM and Ale Cipollini Galassia, along with six domestic teams.

Garfoot takes the national title in a sprint with Spratt. Picture: Cycling Australia

3. No shortage of contenders

Defending champion Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott) is on fire after winning both the time trial and road race at the Australian Championships, but she isn’t the lone contender from her team. Orica-Scott is showing its strength as always in the summer season of racing and the team has the advantage of being acclimatised to the hot conditions. Amanda Spratt, former two-time Australian champion and this year’s silver medallist, has shown she has to be one to watch, along with Dutch rider Annemiek van Vlueten.

Then there are the home-town favourites, Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM) and Carlee Taylor (Ale Cipollini Galassia). Victorian multi-discipline rider Peta Mullens will be coming out with all guns blazing, and a skill at getting over the hills and some criterium finesse. With her new team Hagens Berman Supermint to help her out, the Australian road champion of 2015 will be chasing the win.

Danielle King (Cyclance Pro Cycling) will use her turn of speed in a sprint to her advantage, though after a bit of a break following last year’s late World Championships her training lead in has been short.  The field will be keeping an eye on Lisa Brennauer, to see if she has had time to work back into form post World’s because she is bound to be a dangerous rider if she has. Lauren Kitchen – who normally rides for Marianne Vos’ new team WM3 Pro Cycling which isn’t at the Santos Women’s Tour – has snagged a spot in NSWIS Sydney Uni to give her an opportunity to race.

Then there is also National Road Series rider Shannon Malseed (Holden Women’s Cycling) who delivered an impressive fourth in the Australian Road Championships with a win in a bunch sprint and she will also be in contention for the young rider’s title.

Unforgiving heat and terrain

4. It’s going to be hot

I know it may be hard to imagine if you are somewhere in the northern hemisphere in the depths of winter with snow sprinkling the ground, but the heat and how the riders cope with it is bound to play a big part in the final days of the race. For the first couple of days the forecast is for mild weather but that’s not likely to last with temperatures expected to head toward the high 30’s in the last days. It’s going to be particularly tough on Monday, tackling climbs like the Whispering Wall in the midday sun.

5. No podium girls for men’s race

This may not strictly be about the Santos Women’s Tour, but we think its worth mentioning that the men’s race The Tour Down Under, which the Santos Women’s Tour runs alongside has taken the move to ditch podium girls in 2017. The South Australian government withdrew its support for podium models, prompting a change to having young cyclists on stage instead during the presentations.

6. The second big event in Australia’s Summer of Cycling

The Australian summer of cycling really got into gear when the Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships started on January 4. The Santos Women’s Tour is the next big event and then it is on to the Women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, known as the Deakin University Elite Women’s Race, near the end of the month.

7. How to follow

Sadly there is no live broadcast of the race, but Ella CyclingTips will be on the ground for every stage so keep an eye on our site, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date. You can also follow on twitter via #TDUWomens, look out for a live feed of the race on @SantosTDU_Live and if you are in Australia check your Channel Nine guide for a new hour long highlights package early next month.

For all the information on the men’s  2017  Santos Tour Down Under, check out this CyclingTips preview.

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