Katrin Garfoot appears to have forgotten how to lose. Fresh off the back of an Australian summer that saw her win the national time trial title and the Santos Women’s Tour, the Orica-AIS rider arrived at the Ladies Tour of Qatar adamant that she would be playing a supporting role for her team.
But when a rider is experienced a purple patch of the kind currently being enjoyed by Garfoot, everything appears effortless. Opportunities seem almost to present themselves.
So it proved on stage 2 of the Ladies Tour of Qatar to Al Khor Corniche. Part of a four-woman move that ghosted off the front of the leading group on the run-in to the seaside town, Garfoot eased away from her companions in the final two kilometres almost without realising it.
“On the roundabout I was the first one in, I just did three fast pedal strokes and then stopped pedalling. When I turned around, no one was there, so I went for it and they didn’t seem to chase,” Garfoot said. As simple and as complicated as that.
“No one wanted to chase. That was it – head down and go for it. Either I make it or I don’t. So I’m pretty stoked.”
Garfoot soloed home 13 seconds clear of second-placed Trix Worrack (Canyon//SRAM) and ultimately put almost a minute into pre-race favourites Chloe Hosking (Wiggle-High5) and Ellen Van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans) to claim the overall leader’s gold jersey
Appearances can be deceptive, of course, and while Garfoot slipped clear with insouciance in the finale, it took an entire afternoon of hard graft just to put herself in that position in the first place. Indeed, Garfoot was one of many caught out when an 11-rider echelon forged clear after the race turned into a section of crosswind following the first intermediate sprint.
“We weren’t prepared for that. Most of us didn’t make it to the split from our team, only Gracie [Elvin] did but our group worked really well and we chased back on,” said Garfoot, who was a vigilant presence at the head of affairs from there on in. “In the end there were 25 riders in the front and it kept on splitting, but for some reason I ended up in the front and it was my luck today.”
Garfoot’s victory ultimately seemed the fruit of sheer strength rather than mere good fortune – or at least any luck was hard-earned during her two-up raid in the company of Elisa Longo Borghini (Wiggle-High5) in the exposed final 30 kilometres.
“There were also a lot of mind games going on, nobody wanted to pull through and people were tired,” Garfoot said of life in the front group, which was eventually reduced to just ten riders on the approach to Al Khor.
“I did a good move just going away with the Wiggle girl with 20 or 30 kilometres to go. We just pulled turns because we didn’t know what was happening. Then we heard Boels was chasing, and I just wanted to make it as far as the crosswind section still ahead so I could go with the jump if there was one.
“And of course there was one, and I was in with Gracie. It was pretty tough there and then with 10k to go, the mind games started. And it all split up funnily enough, I don’t know why.”
Once Garfoot found herself on the right side of the final split, the rest was history. Wiggle-High5 were represented by Amy Pieters in Garfoot’s four-rider group and opted not to chase, which allowed the quartet to extend their margin to a winning one.
“For us it was a really good situation having Amy Pieters there,” Wiggle’s Chloe Hosking explained. “I think she was just unlucky to miss Kat going. But Kat’s coming from the Australian summer, she’s done altitude, she’s firing, so we can’t be disappointed really.”
In the overall standings, the 34-year-old Garfoot is 17 seconds clear of Worrack, and only two others – Amy Pieters (Wiggle-High5) and Romy Kasper (Boels-Dolmans) – are within a minute of her on the general classification.
The Olympic Games time trial in Rio may be the centrepiece of the season for Garfoot, who grew up in Germany but is a naturalised Australian, and she may have come to the Ladies Tour of Qatar with little more than training in mind, but on the evidence of Wednesday’s stage – and her early-season winning streak as a whole – wresting the gold jersey away from her will be a complicated task.
“I’m not sure what our plans will be because I didn’t expect to wear this. I will think about it when I get back to the hotel and chat with the team,” Garfoot said. “We’ll see, we’ve got more cards to play.”