Annemiek van Vleuten had a domestique's early work in her legs as she opened her sprint on Eastern Beach Road along Geelong's waterfront. The Dutchwoman was meant to work her Australian teammates, newly crowned double Australian champion Katrin Garfoot and Santos Women's Tour overall winner Amanda Spratt, at the Deakin Women's Race but was the lone Orica-Scott rider amongst a selection of five riders fighting towards the finish. Second to jump, Van Vleuten was first across the line.
"I surprised myself to be there in the final," Van Vleuten told reporters, including Cyclingnews, following podium presentations. "In Tour Down Under, I was still struggling uphill. Today I was one of the better riders uphill."
Early crosswinds and unrelenting aggression played to Van Vleuten's strengths. With only five kilometres raced, Van Vleuten launched the first attack of the day as the peloton turned toward Barwon Heads. The wind had changed direction, and Van Vleuten hoped to split or at least soften the field in the crosswinds. Although her attack didn't have the desired intent, it signalled Orica-Scott's intention.
Ten kilometres later, the Australian-registered squad in conjunction with Canyon//SRAM forced the pace in the cross-winds. The damage was swift and dramatic. Only 18 kilometres into the 113-kilometre day, three distinct groups had taken shape. Thirty riders made the front split.
"I'm a bit older, and I have a big engine," said Van Vleuten. "For me, it's really good that there were already some crosswinds, already people started to suffer. The big suffering races that are really hard, that's what I like."
Van Vleuten contested both intermediate sprints, coming second to Alé Cipollini's Romy Kasper on the first and winning the second. Combined with her position at the finish, it was enough to earn the sprint jersey. She chased down the near-constant attacks and launched a few of her own in the closing kilometres.
"I had the feeling with Katrin Garfoot and Amanda Spratt, they were supposed to be our leaders, and they didn't have a great day. When I noticed that they weren't there, and it was only me, and I had already done some work, then I felt some pressure," noted Van Vleuten. "I thought: ‘Maybe it will be up to me today. It will maybe ge hard to finish this one off, and it's really important to my team to win this one.' Then I felt a little pressure. I tried to forget about all the work I had done already in the race."
The peloton, which had regrouped following earlier splits, had tackled three of the six hills that come in quick succession in the Deakin Women's Race finale when a group of around 20 riders emerged. It was from this group that Emma Pooley, guest-riding for Holden Women's Cycling, escaped in a solo bid for glory. When Pooley had pocketed 20-seconds, race announcers began to discuss her chances, excitedly reminding viewers of Pooley's previous success in Victoria -- an individual time trial world title in Geelong in 2010.
In Pooley's wake, Van Vleuten, Janneke Ensing (Alé Cipollini) and Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dream Team) traded pulls. A mechanical took an obviously and understandably frustrated Ensing out of the chase as Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare) and Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle-High5) bridged across to Van Vleuten and Kennedy.
The quartet reached Pooley with three kilometres remaining.
"I knew that I was fastest of the group, but you feel the extra pressure so that they don't surprise you," said Van Vleuten. "With Emma Pooley it was: ‘I want to be last wheel and she wants to be last wheel. No, I want to be there.' I didn't want it to be that they would surprise."
Winder opened the sprint.
"I got caught on the front with a probably a kilometre to go and no matter how slow I went, no one really wanted to come around me," Winder told Cyclingnews. "I tried to ramp it up and go early, but Van Vleuten came around me. I just put my head down and did everything I could to jump onto her wheel to hold onto second place."
Van Vleuten said her win in Australia buoys her confidence as she heads back to Europe where she'll train at altitude in preparation for her biggest goals of the season.
"I go home tomorrow with this trophy in my backpack," said Van Vleuten. "It's awesome. It inspires me even more […] I start racing at the end of February. This gives me good confidence that I'm in a good way for spring."
Van Vleuten was quick to shut down any suggestions that a race win, this one one or any other, would help put her horrific crash at the Rio Olympics behind her.
"I don't want [memories of the crash] to disappear," said Van Vleuten. "For me, it was one of the best races of my life. I don't ever want to forget about it. The ending maybe, but I also don't want to forget the ending because that's cycling. It's horrific and awful and beautiful.
"I'm okay to talk about the crash, but not only about the crash, especially about the whole race in Rio," Van Vleuten added. "If people want to talk to me about that, about the whole race, I'm fine with that. I hope they will talk about that. It was a big race for women's cycling. It was wonderful to watch. For me, it had a bad ending, but it's good for me to show people that my shape in Rio inspired me already for next season."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Annemiek Van Vleuten (Ned) Orica Scott||3:04:13|
|2||Ruth Winder (USA) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team|
|3||Mayuko Hagiwara (Jpn) Wiggle High5|
|4||Lucy Kennedy (Aus) High5 Dream Team|
|5||Emma Pooley (GBr) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|6||Susanna Zorzi (Ita) Drops||0:00:27|
|7||Kirsten Wild (Ned) Cylance Pro Cycling||0:00:33|
|8||Chloe Hosking (Aus) Ale Cipollini|
|9||Chloe Dygert (USA) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|10||Gracie Elvin (Aus) Orica Scott|
|11||Annette Edmondson (Aus) Wiggle High5|
|12||Gretchen Stumhofer (USA) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|13||Ann-Sophie Duyck (Bel) Drops|
|14||Kylie Waterrues (Ned) Maaslandster Veris CCN|
|15||Julie Leth (Den) Wiggle High5|
|16||Amanda Jamieson (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|17||Abigail Van Twisk (GBr) Drops|
|18||Elizabeth Williams (Aus) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|19||Tayler Wiles (USA) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team|
|20||Alexandra Manly (Aus) Orica Scott|
|21||Annie Foreman-Mackey (Can) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|22||Rushlee Buchanan (NZl) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team|
|23||Leah Thomas (USA) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|24||Alice Barnes (GBr) Drops|
|25||Daiva Tuslaite (Ltu) Ale Cipollini|
|26||Georgia Catterick (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|27||Kate McIlroy (NZl) Specialized Women's Cycling|
|28||Lucy Bechtel (Aus) Specialized Women's Cycling|
|29||Grace Brown (Aus) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|30||Justine Barrow (Aus) Rush Women's Team|
|31||Katharine Hall (USA) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team|
|32||Peta Mullens (Aus) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|33||Malgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Cylance Pro Cycling|
|34||Shannon Malseed (Aus) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|35||Sharlotte Lucas (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|36||Amanda Spratt (Aus) Orica Scott||0:00:37|
|37||Romy Kasper (Ger) Ale Cipollini||0:00:39|
|38||Jenelle Crooks (Aus) Orica Scott|
|39||Carlee Taylor (Aus) Ale Cipollini|
|40||Danielle King (GBr) Cylance Pro Cycling|
|41||Tiffany Cromwell (Aus) Canyon SRAM Racing||0:00:49|
|42||Rebecca Wiasak (Aus) High5 Dream Team||0:01:50|
|43||Grace Anderson (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|44||Nina Marie Laughlin (USA) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|45||Jessica Pratt (Aus) High5 Dream Team|
|46||Rebecca Womersley (GBr) Drops|
|47||Amy Cure (Aus) Wiggle High5|
|48||Anna Christian (GBr) Drops|
|49||Alexis Ryan (USA) Canyon SRAM Racing|
|50||Christel Van Loo (Ned) Maaslandster Veris CCN||0:02:59|
|51||Anna Trevisi (Ita) Ale Cipollini||0:03:42|
|52||Janneke Ensing (Ned) Ale Cipollini|
|53||Amy Roberts (GBr) Wiggle High5||0:04:19|
|54||Barbara Guarischi (Ita) Canyon SRAM Racing|
|55||Starla Teddergreen (USA) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|56||Beth Ann Orton (USA) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|57||Lisa Brennauer (Ger) Canyon SRAM Racing|
|58||Louisa Lobigs (Aus) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|59||Jessica Cerra (USA) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|60||Lauretta Hanson (Aus) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team|
|61||Rossella Ratto (Ita) Cylance Pro Cycling|
|62||Ellen Skerritt (Aus) Rush Women's Team|
|63||Jaime Gunning (Aus) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|64||Lauren Hall (USA) UnitedHealhtcare Pro Cycling Team||0:04:23|
|65||Tsubasa Makise (Jpn) Maaslandster Veris CCN||0:05:41|
|66||Jessica Lane (Aus) Maaslandster Veris CCN||0:09:44|
|67||Ella Scanlan-Bloor (Aus) Specialized Women's Cycling||0:11:02|
|68||Kristy Glover (Aus) Rush Women's Team||0:11:03|
|69||Matilda Raynolds (Aus) Rush Women's Team||0:11:28|
|70||Ivy Audrain (USA) Hagens Berman / Supermint|
|71||Kristina Clonan (Aus) High5 Dream Team|
|72||Ruby Livingstone (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|73||Erin Kinnealy (Aus) Holden Women's Cycling Team|
|74||Grace Garner (GBr) Wiggle High5|
|75||Sofia Arreola Navarro (Mex) Sho-Air Twenty20|
|76||Kate Perry (Aus) Specialized Women's Cycling||0:14:14|
|DNF||Mieke Kröger (Ger) Canyon SRAM Racing|
|DNF||Katrin Garfoot (Aus) Orica Scott|
|DNF||Marta Tagliaferro (Ita) Cylance Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Rachele Barbieri (Ita) Cylance Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Mikayla Harvey (NZl) New Zealand National Team|
|DNF||Desiree Ehrler (Swi) Maaslandster Veris CCN|
|DNF||Ayla Rudgley (Aus) Maaslandster Veris CCN|
|DNF||Winanda Spoor (Ned) Rush Women's Team|
|DNF||Minda Murray (Aus) Rush Women's Team|
|DNF||Taryn Heather (Aus) Specialized Women's Cycling|
|DNF||Sophie Mackay (Aus) Specialized Women's Cycling|
|DNS||Chloe Moran (Aus) High5 Dream Team|