An old favourite will be back in force at the 2024 Tour Down Under with Willunga Hill not only returning to the men’s race as the penultimate stage on a tough closing weekend, but the iconic climb of the South Australian race will also provide the finale for the Women’s WorldTour race.
“The 2024 edition is a good combination of stages that worked really well in 2023 and we’ve got some new start and finish locations, which is exciting,” Tour Down Under Race Director Stuart O’Grady told Cyclingnews. “It’s good for the race, it’s good for the fans.”
One of the fan favourites throughout the years of the race has always been the climb that starts just off the main street of the small town of Willunga and after a year of absence in 2023 spectators are bound to be back lining the ascent in force for 2024.
“Willunga Hill is the most iconic climb we’ve had in Tour Down Under history and that’s what I’m thinking of when I’m designing a lot of this, the people that are making the effort to come to South Australia and enjoy the show,” said O’Grady. “You want to deliver the best possible stage for the riders, but also for the fans and, you know, give them multiple occasions to yell at their favourite riders as they go past.”
The three-stage women’s race will start with a sprinters stage, with the beginning of the Women’s Tour Down Under moved to an earlier time-slot of Friday January 12 this year, cutting out the overlap with the men’s race that has occured in the past when the race finished on the Tuesday as the men’s event started.
“We really wanted to give the women their own focus and I think it’s really important for the growth of their race that it doesn’t overlap,” said O’Grady.
The Friday start opens up spectator friendly weekend racing for the challenging Saturday stage to Stirling and the Sunday finale atop Willunga HIll, which loops through the township twice before heading up for the ascent and a summit finale. This will mark the first time that the women’s international race has taken on the iconic climb and the two uphill stage finishes in a row over the weekend are bound to shape a challenging and exciting GC battle.
“We’re always trying to grow the event and hopefully we can attract more Women’s WorldTour teams down here this year,” said O’Grady. “That’s certainly our priority.”
The men’s racing will start with the Down Under Classic criterium on Saturday January 13, a pre-WorldTour race hit out before the main event begins on Tuesday January 16. The first four stages deliver an opportunity for the sprinters and the puncheurs, with stage 2 in particular throwing in a series of short but steep climbs that could suit the attackers.
Then on the weekend its all for the climbers, as Willunga Hill returns on stage 5, with two ascents. The first of the two days of summit finishes is likely to be decisive in the overall competition. The finale will once again be on top of Mount Lofty, with three ascents in 2024 rather than 2023’s five, however it will still be a tough summit finish to crown the overall victor as the day still includes more than 2,800m of climbing.
“The final weekend for the men’s is probably going to be the most exciting in history,” said O’Grady.
While there are many familiar sections of road from 2023 edition of the races, won by Jay Vine and Grace Brown, there are also some note-able absences. For a start with the women’s racing now in full swing over the weekend the women’s peloton will not be lining up for the traditional pre-race criterium due to the overlap. The men’s 5.5km prologue will also not be returning for the 2024 men’s edition of the race, however, that doesn’t mean it will not be back down the track.
“It just instantly brings a new dynamic to the race. Instead of chasing bonus seconds, the entire peloton are pretty much on a different time straight away so it just creates a more aggressive style of racing,” said O’Grady. “I think it was a really cool part of this year’s event and it’s certainly something that we’ll look at bringing back in the future.”
What has changed – Race starts on a Friday, with a move to a weekend finale and amped up level of climbing. Crossover of Women’s WorldTour race with normal timeslot of criterium on Saturday means the women’s pre-race hit out is off the table. Willunga Hill is appearing in the international race for the first time ever.
- Friday January 12, stage 1 – Hahndorf to Campbelltown, 92km and likely one for the sprinters
- Saturday January 13, stage 2 – Glenelg to Stirling, 104km with an uphill finish and course that could suit the puncheurs
- Sunday January 13, stage 3 – Adelaide CBD to Willunga Hill, 93km and finishing on the summit of the iconic climb
What has changed – The prologue is out this year, making it six full road stages of racing and Willunga HIll is returning on the penultimate day, making it a tough final weekend before the finish on the top of Mount Lofty.
- Saturday January 13, Down Under Classic – Fast paced city circuit with 1 hour plus three laps of racing. Event not included in WorldTour race.
- Tuesday January 16, stage 1 – Tanunda to Tanunda, 144km through the Barossa. A flat stage suited to the sprinters.
- Wednesday January 17, stage 2 – Norwood to Lobethal, 141 km in the Adelaide Hills with three ascents of the short but steep Fox Creek Climb. Leans to the attackers.
- Thursday January 18, stage 3 – Tea Tree Gully to Campbelltown, 145 km starting with a small climb before heading into a fast finish.
- Friday January 19, stage 4 – Murray Bridge to Port Elliot, 136km that takes peloton past lake Alexandrina before a first-time finish at Horseshoe Bay. Final stage that suits the sprinters.
- Saturday January 20, stage 5 – Christie’s Beach to Willunga Hill, 129 km which takes riders through McLaren Vale before two laps of the iconic climb, with a summit finish likely to be decisive in the GC race.
- Sunday January 21, stage 6 – Unley to Mount Lofty, 128km with three ascents of Mount Lofty and a summit finale to the opening week of WorldTour racing in 2024.