It wasn’t the start the Team BikeExchange women's squad would have hoped for on its first day of racing at the Santos Festival of Cycling. The only Australian team competing at Women’s WorldTour level walked away from the National Road Series event having suffered at the hands of the in-form domestic riders as pre-race favourite Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) ceded more than a minute on the overall.
The Australian women’s team has dominated the racing in South Australia during January for years, though Amanda Spratt narrowly missed out on clinching her fourth title in 2020, beaten by Trek-Segafredo’s Ruth Winder. Then the team was facing a field packed with the top squads from all over the world. Now, with the UCI 2.Pro Santos Women’s Tour Down Under cancelled, it is instead facing a field packed with in-form domestic riders with everything to race for as the four-day tour unfolds.
“Not the day I was hoping for, today is a reminder that the local girls are in really good form," said Brown who finished down 1:21 on the overall. "To be honest I haven’t done anything over threshold in training, so that was really brought to front of mind today.”
"When we were attacking over the climb, I just couldn’t go up that extra level to stay with them. So, I finished in the second group, but thankfully Lucy was in the front.”
Teammate Lucy Kennedy came in eighth and after time bonuses was sitting ten seconds behind winner Peta Mullens (Roxsolt LIV SRAM) on the overall and eight behind Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA Pro-Racing). She is on the same time as key GC threat Sarah Gigante, who is racing for Team Garmin Australia which was pulled together to house a group of top-level riders at the event.
“The girls did a great job to bring back the break and put Lucy at the front for the final climbs,” said Sports Director Dave Sanders. "Then she did her job over the top and finished well in the front group as planned. We had hoped to have Grace there as well to give us more options for the rest of the race, but she’s still finding her legs in her first race of season 2021."
Getting back to Australia from Europe amid a pandemic hasn’t been the easiest of tasks with two weeks of mandatory quarantine for the returning riders. So even though the Women's WorldTeam power of Team BikeExchange may seem undefeatable, the domestic riders have had uninterrupted training and their season peak playing in their favour.
“We had hoped Grace and I would both make any selection, but the NRS teams are really strong at the moment and capitalised over that final climb to keep the front group away,” said Kennedy.
“Racing is a bit of a shock to the system at this time of year and I felt very sluggish early but built into it a bit. My form is maybe a little better than I was expecting so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do up Willunga, which is likely to be decisive."
The inclusion of the climb in the women’s race for the first time on stage 3 is undoubtedly a feature that will play into Kennedy’s hands. Though as we have seen from stage 1, the lack of international teams doesn’t mean the climb will be any less fiercely contested.
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