Demi Vollering leads Lotte Kopecky over a climb during Worlds in Glasgow.

Wheel Talk Newsletter: Best believe we’re still bejeweled

Racing is back! Abby Mickey previews the Tour Down Under.

Picture by Zac Williams

Abby Mickey
by Abby Mickey 09.01.2024 Photography by
Zac Williams
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Hello and welcome to the new year! I hope you all had a good holiday break and enjoyed some time away from screens and the constant inflow of information. It’s important to prepare your brain for what’s to come … especially as we’re days away from the kickoff of the 2024 Women’s WorldTour.

The three-day race is such a good one to start the year, and this edition promises the most competitive start list the race has seen in its (albeit short) history, but I will get to that in just a moment.

Before I dive in, a gentle reminder that you can get this newsletter, along with Escape Collective‘s other fantastic offerings like Down Under Digest, Spin Cycle, and Threaded right to your inbox.

The WorldTour season might be just around the corner, but racing is well underway Down Under. Our very own Matt de Neef was at Aussie Road Nationals over the weekend and did some fabulous on-the-ground reporting on Ruby Roseman-Gannon’s victory and more.

The 25-year-old Liv–AlUla–Jayco rider also won the criterium title, so clearly she’s off to a good start this new year.

Some other noticeable things from the road race:

?️ Wheel Talk Podcast ?️

We’re back! Loren Rowney, Gracie Elvin, and I returned this week for our first episode of the new year. In it we talked about the upcoming Tour Down Under (including what Willunga will bring to the table), the pressure Australian riders feel to deliver at nationals but retain their fitness for the European season, and more.

We also answered some of our favourite listener questions, some of which might require their own standalone episodes.

We recorded this one early, as Loren is probably holding a new baby in her arms while you read this (or listen to the episode), so there’s no talk of Aussie nationals but don’t worry! Gracie and I will be back next week for more Down Under chat, with a special guest.

And even better news! Matt and Gracie will link up while at Tour Down Under for some on-the-ground coverage. Something to look forward to, even for me.

You can find the episode on the Wheel Talk Podcast or Escape Collective ‘everything’ feed everywhere podcasts are streamed.

? Let’s discuss ?

Tour Down Under!!!!

Wow, have I been looking forward to writing those words? Finally, we are on the doorstep of the 2024 season, and holy moly what a season it’s going to be. Between the growing professionalism of women’s cycling, the changing dynamic of the peloton, the expanding importance of the WorldTour calendar AND the Olympics we are in for a wild ride. And what better way to start than with three days of racing around Adelaide.

The three stages offer a little something for everyone, but only one chance (if that makes sense). There’s one stage for the pure sprinters, one stage that’s a bit more of an unknown, and one “hilltop” finish that will likely determine the 2024 winner of the overall. The final stage is one for the record books, the first time the women’s race gets to take on Willunga Hill.

The start list is extremely exciting, not only with Australian riders ready to prove themselves on home soil, but international talent the likes of which the race hasn’t seen since pre-COVID, maybe ever (as it wasn’t WT before 2023).

I hope you’re as excited about the race as I am, and if not, here’s a little preview to get you counting down the hours.

How to watch

We are living in a post-GCN+ world, sigh, so when it comes to live coverage it’s not as straightforward as we all got used to over the last couple of years.

If you are in Australia the stages will be live on 7plus and 7mate. The time to tune in ranges from 8:30 to 11 depending on location (Australia is quite big, and time zones are wild). Simply, all three of the stages will go live at 11 AM local Adelaide time.

For those in Europe, you can find coverage of all three stages starting at 1:15 AM on Eurosport.

In North America, the live coverage will be on FloBikes starting at 19:15 EST.

The Stages

Stage 1: Friday, 12 January – Hahndorf to Campbelltown (93.9 km)

We start the Tour with a sub-100 km jaunt from Hahndorf to Campbelltown. The 93.9 km stage includes some minor rolling hills, but nothing major, and a long false-descent to the finish. On paper, it’s for the sprinters.

There are some other features in the race – two category 4 climbs – so the QOM jersey will see some action even if the finish isn’t that selective. Especially with the local Australian teams in attendance, any chance to get on the podium or in a jersey is massive. The climbs are a ways from the finish, however.

The route map and course profile for stage one of the 2024 women's Tour Down Under. The route features a loop start around Hahndorf before a meandering route to Campbelltown, and no major climbs.

Last year Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health) surprised when she bested Jayco–AlUla’s sprinter lineup to take the first stage. This year the Australian professional team will be riding high off their strong performances at the nationals and with the National Champion on the team. But other teams have some strong contenders. For example: Chloe Dygert of Canyon–SRAM (not strictly a sprinter but has proven she can be there in the right circumstances), Ilaria Sanguineti of Lidl–Trek (normally the leadout for Elisa Balsamo, this is the Italian’s opportunity to make her own results), and Ally Wollaston of AG Insurance–Soudal.

Stage 2: Saturday, 13 January – Glenelg to Stirling (104.2 km)

The longest stage of the race, the second day is only 104.2 km from Glenelg to Stirling. It’s the first chance for the teams with hopes of GC victory to try their hand with a final climb to the finish, albeit not as challenging as the final day on Sunday, the second stage is still an interesting one.

The second stage is harder overall than the other two stages, with constant undulation all day, but like stage 1, only two categorized climbs. The first is a Cat. 1, though it’s just under 3 km in length it also gets up to 15.6% grades. The second climb is a Cat. 2, with an average of only 3.9%, just before the race reaches the finishing town. The finale is a circuit through Stirling that is constantly rolling, with a slight uphill to the finish.

A majority of the stage takes place in the stunning Adelaide Hills (if you’ve not got a chance to ride there I highly recommend it) after starting on the beach. The entire stage is ripe for attacks, and anyone who breaks away before the circuits in Stirling will have a good chance of taking the stage.

The route map and profile for stage 2 of the women's Tour Down Under. After a start in Glenelg, the riders had south and east before looping back north to a circuit around Stirling. There are two marked climbs and an uncategorized uphill finish, with lots of smaller uncategorized ascents.

This one could definitely lean towards the GC riders, but also offers some great opportunities for local legends to have some fun. It will set the scene for the final stage, and the lead will likely change hands from stage 1 (unless Roseman-Gannon proves too good to best and the newly crowned champ is in the mix).

Stage 3: Sunday, 14 January – Adelaide to Willunga Hill (93.4 km)

On Sunday the winner will be crowned atop Willunga Hill, a roughly 3.4 km ascent with maximum grades of 10% (7% average), although the final 1.8 km of the climb is where the real action will take place. The run-in to the climb will be a lot of kilometres to prep for a short but maximum effort, but the flats before the climb will give teams with strong contenders a chance for a full sprint-style lead-out.

Even if a break goes early on the peloton will likely keep it on a short leash, with such an important finale.

The map and profile for the third and final stage of the Women's Tour Down Under, with a start in downtown Adelaide before a southerly route to a circuit that will finish with one climb of the steep Wilunga Hill.

Since the women haven’t been able to race up Willunga before we don’t really know what it will do. It’s short, could Roseman-Gannon hang on to take it all, even if she doesn’t win the stage? Is Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s incredible end to the 2023 season going to transfer over, and if it does, how will FDJ–Suez manage having both the Danish star and defending TDU winner Grace Brown on the team together? Can Brown win up Willunga? How about Lidl–Trek? They have both Spratt and Chapman, who could do well, depending on how fast the race goes up the climb.

See. Lots of questions. Which is awesome. How great is going into a race without a clear out-and-out winner?

The Riders

Nine WorldTour teams and six Continental teams make up the start list for this year’s TDU. Each team has utilized their Aussie riders, if they have them, and with nationals only a few days prior those riders will likely be the ones with the best form. Here’s the most interesting info/riders for each team:

FDJ–Suez: Grace Brown (2023 winner, TT specialist), Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (puncher, 3rd at Worlds 2023)

Lidl–Trek: Amanda Spratt (2019, 2018, 2017 TDU winner), Brodie Chapman (climber, 2023 Aussie road champ), Lauretta Hanson (on good form, usually domestique)

Liv–AlUla–Jayco: (hometown team) Ruby Roseman-Gannon (2024 Aussie road champ)

Visma–Lease a Bike: A very young team, 19-22 only and half of them are new to the team

Canyon–SRAM: Chloe Dygert (2023 ITT world champ), Neve Bradbury (strong climber), Soraya Paladin (versatile)

Human Powered Health: Ruth Edwards (2020 TDU winner, returning from a hiatus)

UAE Team ADQ: Sofia Bertizzolo (strong sprinter), Mikayla Harvey (climber)

AG Insurance–Soudal: Sarah Gigante (new signing, former Australian road champ, strong climber, GC contender if Willunga is raced hard), Ally Wollaston (sprinter), Anya Louw (exciting talent)

DSM Firmenich–PostNL: Franziska Koch (usually works for others, but has a few good results so hopefully an opportunity for more here)

Australian National Team: Sarah Roy (long-time pro, and very strong), Nicole Frain (former national champion), Elizabeth Stannard (new signing to EF Education–Cannondale, but without them at the race is racing for Aus)

I won’t lie, I don’t know a ton about the Australian Continental teams on the start list but I will say this; racing a WT race in your home country, for someone outside of Europe where it is rare to have such an opportunity, is super special. They will all no doubt be super active throughout the week.

Wheel Talk Podcast Picks:

Loren: Brodie for the overall, but Ruby might be able to take it based on her current form
Abby: Spratty! (purely a heart pick if I’m honest)
Gracie: Spratt. She looked good at nationals and with the Olympics this year, a TDU win would be great for selection.
Matt: Spratt, but really looking forward to how Gigante will go on Willunga.

? The joys of social media ?

EF Education–Cannondale dropped their 2024 kit, and it’s as pink as we’d expected. The team also has their own Instagram account separate from the men’s team so go ahead and give them a follow, I’m sure they’ll deliver.

Kim Cadzow eyeing the horizon decked out in the new EF Education-Cannondale team kit by Rapha.

What do you think of the new kit? Let me know in the comments!

?️ A picture worth a couple words ?️

Since we’re in Australia this week (or wish we were) I wanted to highlight one of my favorite Aussie photographers. Zac Williams does some incredible work, as you can see. Both the photo below and the feature image are his handiwork, both taken at the Worlds in Glasgow last season.

Kopecky, eyes closed, receives a hug from Demi Vollering after the road race at the 2023 World Championships.
Photo © Zac Williams

This photo is so heartwarming. Teammates turned rivals for a day, two riders who fueled speculation about the dynamics within the SD Worx camp after Strade Bianche and proceeded to be the two most talked about riders of the season, regardless of whatever happened in Italy. Two of the most decorated cyclists in 2023, normally working together, but on this hectic day in Scotland they had to flip the script and fight each other, and what a fantastic race it was.

I love how Zac captured this moment of calm after Kopecky had taken the rainbow honours, her eyes closed, enjoying the genuine moment of affection from her trade team teammate.

Zac is going to be at the Tour Down Under this weekend (the men’s as well) so make sure to follow him on Instagram for some stunning pictures from the race: @z_w_photography

? Taylor Swift trivia ?

That’s right. New year and I’m up to my same tricks.

Taylor Swift stopped by the Golden Globes to support Barbie, the rightful winner of two awards including Best Original Song for Billie Eilish and Finneas’ “What I Was Made For.” Swift was nominated in the Cinematic and Box Office Achievement category (which Barbie won as well), and as much as I wanted the Eras Tour Film to win and Swift to be one step closer to an EGOT, Barbie was superb and I back the victory. Swift did too, naturally. She was the first person to stand when the announcement was made.

Now, I am not one of the fans that delves deep into the Swift lore, picking apart every move she makes from who she is spotted at dinner with to the earrings she happens to be wearing, but it was hard not to notice the green dress she wore on Sunday night. If you weren’t aware, each of Swift’s albums has a corresponding colour. Fearless is yellow, Red is … red, 1989 blue, Reputation is black, Lover is pink, Folklore is grey (or silver depends on who you ask), evermore brown, and Midnights is navy. Swift’s self-titled debut album is green.

She is known for her little hints, easter eggs if you will. Her favourite place to plant hints is in her clothing (think her sequin romper paired with butterfly high heels pre-Lover announcement) and her choice to wear green when everyone and their mother is preparing for Reputation Taylor’s Version was a choice. She’s trolling us, I love it. There are only two re-records left for Swift to release; Reputation and Debut (self-titled). Rumour has it both will be released in 2024 … and I apologize for the person I will become when Rep TV is dropped.

Have you seen the Eras Tour Film yet? I am really looking forward to its release for purchase. So is Ronan.

? Until next time! ?

Well, there you go, the first newsletter of the year. Looking ahead I am a little nervous for everything that’s coming our way. New Taylor Swift albums, lots and lots of bike racing, and who knows what else. Buckle up kids, and thanks for reading.

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