Two products of the Canberra cycling scene came head-to-head in a breathless finale to stage one of the Ladies Tour of Qatar, as Chloe Hosking (Hitec Products UCK) pipped Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) for the honours in a four-up sprint in Mesaieed.
The victory leaves Hosking six seconds clear of Elvin overall, but both Australians had reason to be cheerful as they scanned the general classification on Tuesday evening, given that the mid-stage split has already effectively reduced the battle for the final golden jersey to fewer than 20 riders.
The decisive echelon was formed largely due to the fierce rhythm imposed by Specialized-lululemon as the peloton hit crosswinds after taking a sharp right turn 45km into the stage, but Orica-AIS contributed significantly to the success of that move. Elvin told Cyclingnews afterwards that the team had been briefed on what to anticipate.
"We were waiting for that corner to come up because we knew it was going to be a crosswind and a lot of us were trying to push in near the front before we hit the corner," Elvin said. "I think it was Specialized who really put the pace on once we got over the right-hand corner, and we all just tried to stay on near the front."
When the dust settled ahead of the finale, Orica-AIS had three riders in the lead group - Elvin, Emma Johansson and Tiffany Cromwell. Without a marquee sprinter in their line-up, the Australian squad was keen to grasp any opportunity that presented itself to distance the faster finishers.
"This is a different kind of race to what we're used to over in Europe in terms of the parcours as it's very flat and fast, so you really have to wait for the crosswind sections to do any damage," Elvin said. "On our team as we don't have a true sprinter, so it was a goal for us to try and get rid of Bronzini and a few of those other sprinters."
Rochelle Gilmore (Wiggle-Honda) and Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) did make the split, however, and so Elvin took it upon herself to forge clear of the sprinters in the final 20 kilometres. Her sometime-training partner Hosking was wise to the move, however, alerted to the danger when Specialized-lululemon's Lisa Brennauer ghosted across the gap ahead of her.
"GreenEdge and Specialized are probably the two most dominant teams here, so I knew I had to be there when they had two riders off the front," said Hosking at the finish. "Once we were away, I knew Gracie was in form and I knew she would be the one to beat."
So it proved in the finishing straight, as Hosking held off the challenge of the Australian champion Elvin against the barriers to take the win, her first at the Tour of Qatar in her fourth appearance in the race. "I had no expectations," admitted Hosking, whose only racing during the Antipodean summer came at the Australian championships. "This is definitely preparation for the spring, for Het Nieuwsblad and the Ronde van Drenthe, so hopefully this is just a step-up to that."
Ahead of Wednesday's stage two to Al Khor Corniche, Hosking holds the golden jersey, although Orica-AIS join Specialized-lululemon in having strength in numbers near the business end of the general classification.
"It's a good position for my team to be in because we don't have to be too defensive as we don't have that number one position just yet, but we have three riders close to it," Elvin said. "So I think we've still got lots of cards to play."
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