The iconic Willunga Hill climb will return to the Santos Tour Down Under in 2024.
The climb won’t just feature in the men’s race – the women’s race will also tackle the TDU’s most famous ascent for the first time as an international event.
“It’s [the women’s peloton’s] first crack at international level to find our queen of Willunga Hill,” race director Stuart O’Grady tells Escape Collective. “Also, they’ll be finishing on the Sunday, which is really important – just a really good opportunity for the fans to get out there and cheer on all the women up Willunga Hill.”
The 2024 Tour Down Under carnival will begin on Friday January 12 with a three-stage Women’s WorldTour (WWT) race – the first WWT event of the year and the race’s second edition as a top-tier event. After a day for the sprinters on stage 1, the peloton will tackle a hilly stage from Glenelg to Stirling on stage 2.
The third and final stage begins in the Adelaide CBD on Sunday January 14, before heading south towards the McLaren Vale region. After a local lap, the stage and the race overall will be decided on the Willunga Hill climb – a 3 km ascent with an average gradient of 7.4%.
While this is the first time Willunga Hill has featured in the Women’s Tour Down Under, the climb was included in the 2021 Santos Festival of Cycling, a national-level event which replaced the TDU in 2021 and 2022 in the wake of COVID-19 travel restrictions. Former Australian champion Sarah Gigante (Movistar) won solo on Willunga in 2021.
“I think the women have got three cracking stages,” O’Grady says of the 2024 route. “Starting at Hahndorf, starting at Glenelg, starting in the CBD for the first time – we just really tried to give them the absolute best three stages possible. So I’m really excited to see how they play out.”
The last women’s TDU before the pandemic, held in January 2020, was raced over four stages as a 2.Pro (second-tier) event. When the race returned to the international calendar in 2023 it was a WorldTour (top-tier) event, but only held over three days. While the 2024 edition will again be held over three stages, O’Grady hopes to increase that in the years to come.
“It’s a tricky one, with it not being mandatory participation [for WorldTour teams] as yet,” O’Grady says. “We’re hoping that’ll change so that we can get all the women’s [WorldTour] teams down here and have a full field. But until then, I guess, we send the expressions of interest across the women’s teams and then hope for a good uptake.
“It’s difficult to create more stages until we can kind of guarantee that we’re going to get the quality and the level of field which is WorldTour level. At the end of the day, I guess the cost comes into play [but] we’re certainly looking at growing the event in the future.”
O’Grady says that while the race is only three stages long, the women’s peloton will have other chances to race while in Adelaide.
“There’ll also be another couple of opportunities for the women to race in some criteriums, which will be on during the period of the men’s race,” he says.
Grace Brown (FDJ-Suez) won the 2023 edition of the women’s Tour Down Under ahead of Amanda Spratt (Trek-Segafredo) and Georgia Williams (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB).
The men’s Tour Down Under will begin with the traditional Down Under Classic criterium on Saturday January 13 – the same day as stage 2 of the women’s race. This curtain-raiser event isn’t part of the TDU proper – the stage race begins three days later, on Tuesday January 16, with the first of six road stages.
The 2023 edition of the men’s Tour Down Under began with a prologue individual time trial in what was a first for the race. O’Grady says that while that stage was well received – despite horrible weather on the day – it won’t be an every-year feature of the TDU.
“I was really happy with it,” he says. “Obviously, the weather wasn’t fun at all, for the riders, for everybody else, but it just brought a different dynamic to the race and created a more aggressive, attacking-style race. So look, it’s certainly something that I’ll bring back. I think probably every second year we’ll bring in some form of time trial.”
Stage 1 of the 2024 men’s race is likely to be a bunch sprint in Tanunda, stage 2 is a tougher day ending with a hilly circuit around Lobethal, stage 3 is likely to end in a sprint in Campbelltown, and stage 4 is also likely to feature a bunch sprint, finishing in the town of Port Elliot.
“It’s a relatively steady first four days,” O’Grady says. “Stage 2 is actually a little cracker – I’m really looking forward to seeing how they attack that one. But the other three are made for the sprinters. So I really wanted to make this final weekend where the race is won and lost, and not just on one stage.”
The final two stages are what O’Grady describes in a press release as “the most challenging final weekend of racing in Santos Tour Down Under history”: back-to-back uphill finishes to round out the Tour and decide the GC.
The first, on stage 5, is the return to Willunga Hill. The last time the climb featured in the Tour Down Under was 2020 when Matthew Holmes won the stage ahead of overall winner Richie Porte. In 2021 and 2022 the climb was part of the domestic-level Santos Festival of Cycling, but it was omitted when the WorldTour event returned in 2023.
Starting in Christies Beach, stage 5 of the 2024 TDU will include two ascents of Willunga, the second of those closing out the stage.
While Willunga returns in 2024, O’Grady seems to suggest that, much like the prologue ITT, the popular climb might rotate in and out of the race in the years to come.
“I think you’ve just got to keep shaking it up a bit,” he says. “I certainly don’t want to make every TDU the same old thing. It’s important to shake it up and have different hills, different circuits. And you know, with the 25th edition coming up in a couple years time [in 2025], I think we’ll probably look at something even more exciting. [Willunga’s] a real fan favourite though.”
The sixth and final stage will finish with three ascents of Mount Lofty in the Adelaide Hills, the same climb that featured in the final stage in 2023.
“I really liked how the Mount Lofty circuit played out [in 2023],” O’Grady says. “So it’s been slightly tweaked but very similar. I just thought that was a cracking way to finish.”
The finishing circuit has been extended slightly compared to the 2023 course.
“It was so fast – the guys raced incredibly quick,” O’Grady explains. “They were either going up or down. So this just gives them a little opportunity to gather their thoughts and assess the race and see who’s who and where’s where, and then attack the climb again. So we brought it back a little bit – it’s not the four loops, it’s only two and a half. That’s due to the Saturday being so difficult.”
Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) is the defending champion, having won the 2023 men’s Tour Down Under ahead of Simon Yates (Jayco AlUla) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious).
2024 Santos Tour Down Under schedule
- Friday January 12: Stage 1 – Hahndorf to Campbelltown (92 km)
- Saturday January 13: Stage 2 – Glenelg to Stirling (104 km)
- Sunday January 14: Stage 3 – Adelaide CBD to Willunga Hill (93 km)
- Saturday January 13: Down Under Classic criterium – Adelaide CBD (1 hour + 3 laps)
- Tuesday January 16: Stage 1 – Tanunda to Tanunda (144 km)
- Wednesday January 17: Stage 2 – Norwood to Lobethal (141 km)
- Thursday January 18: Stage 3 – Tea Tree Gully to Campbelltown (145 km)
- Friday January 19: Stage 4 – Murray Bridge to Port Elliot (136 km)
- Saturday January 20: Stage 5 – Christies Beach to Willunga Hill (129 km)
- Sunday January 21: Stage 6 – Unley to Mount Lofty (128 km)
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