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The Tour Down Under has been missing from its normal season starting slot on the international calendar for two years, with the COVID-19 pandemic related border closures giving it little choice but to set aside the international event and instead focus on a domestic cycling festival. That, however, is set to change in 2023.

With borders now reopened the Tour Down Under organisers have announced that the women’s and men’s stage races will once again take their places in the international calendar, setting dates of January 13 to 22 for the 2023 return. 

“I can say emphatically and with great excitement that we are ready,” Race Director Stuart O’Grady said in a statement

“We look forward to seeing familiar faces who we haven’t seen in South Australia since the 2020 Santos Tour Down Under, as well as riders who are experiencing the event for the first time.”

O’Grady is currently in Europe, meeting with many of the teams set to compete in South Australia in 2023. After the long absence of international racing from Australia, a number of top riders will be returning to the nation for their second time in six months to take part in the Tour Down Under, as Wollongong in New South Wales is home to the UCI Road World Championships in September this year.

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In 2020 the Tour Down Under was one of the few races that took place before the rapid spread of COVID-19 brought the season to a halt. Richie Porte won the six-stage men’s WorldTour event, which finished atop Willunga Hill, while Ruth Winder took out the four-stage 2.Pro women’s event.

There were not any race details included in the announcement, such as stages or the event format, though when Cycling News discussed the potential for a shift up to Women’s WorldTour level with women’s race director Kimberley Conte in Adelaide in January she said it was on the cards. 

“Whether that happens in 2023 or we move forward to 2024 or beyond that has not been decided yet, but I’d be delighted if it was and we are fortunate that no matter the status of this event, we have so many of the top international teams that want to come back,” said Conte.

The international races across Adelaide and the surrounding regions may have been cancelled the last two years, but the Australian summer focus on racing in South Australia has remained for many. Domestically-based riders participated alongside returning WorldTour professionals in a 4-day National Road Series event for the women and men, that had much in common with the courses, coverage and support of the regular international event.

It proved a valuable showcase for a number of domestic riders  – who had more limited international racing opportunities amid the pandemic – including Luke Plapp, who is this year starting his first season as a professional with Ineos Grenadiers, and Sarah Gigante, who has now shifted up to World Team level with Movistar.

Gigante won the 2021 women’s event and Ruby Roseman-Gannon was victorious in 2022 as she started out her time in the professional ranks with new team BikeExchange-Jayco. In the men’s NRS event Luke Durbridge reigned supreme for BikeExchange in 2021 while James Whelan (Team BridgeLane) set up his 2022 win with a stage 1 solo.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Simone Giuliani
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