The nascent Trek-Segafredo women's team could hardly have got off to a better start in their first season, winning at their first attempt at the Women's Tour Down Under. The rider who did it for them is rising star and second-year professional, Letizia Paternoster.
With a hugely strengthened field for the 2019 Women's Tour Down Under, Paternoster was not the pre-stage favourite. However, the 19-year-old Italian came from a long way back to beat her more experienced rivals in the sprint. Having been delivered to the back of the Mitchelton-Scott train by new teammate Lauretta Hansen, Paternoster had to dig deep after launching her sprint a little too early.
"When I went, I thought I was closer to the finish line, and when I saw it was still 250m to go, I wanted to die a little. I am so happy to have pulled it off," said an elated Paternoster. "This is really an amazing day for me; it's only my second year as a professional rider. To start out with the new team, and the first race of the team like this, is really, really great.
"I want to thank Lauretta (Hanson) who brought me in a perfect way to the finish line, but also the rest of the team – we really rode together as a team today and it was just awesome to finish it off like that and take the leader's jersey on top is a nice bonus."
Thanks to the victory, Paternoster pulled on the first leader's jersey and has a two-second advantage on Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) going into stage 2.
Not yet a household name in the women's peloton
Paternoster is not a household name in women's cycling but she has already made her mark at a young age.
The daughter of an Italian mother and Australian father, Paternoster is one of the increasing number of riders to flourish under Italy's junior programme both on the road and track. She took her first elite European title on the track in the team pursuit in 2017, and finished third in the junior road race at the 2017 World Championships and in the under 23 road race at last year's European championships. She also won the overall classification and the opening stage of the GP Elsy Jacobs.
Cycling is in Paternoster's family – her grandfather and father both rode – and she was on a bike almost as soon as she could walk and was racing by the age of five. Soon she started racing for Maurizio Fondriest's team Cristoforetti Fondriest Anaune.
Fondriest is from the same town as Paternoster – Cles, in the Trentino Val di Non – and first met her when she was just six years old. The 1988 World Champion is a family friend and has played a significant role in her development as a rider.
From early on, Fondriest could see that Paternoster had something within her. He believes that she has the potential to do well on the track at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year but he doesn't want to get too ahead of himself.
"It's better to keep your head down and work hard, one step at a time," he told Gazzetta dello Sport in an interview this week about Paternoster. "Of course, I'm sure that she's going to impress us all. She's got a great engine and she can hold a high pace without going into the red.
"She's also really good at understanding the tactics of a race considering her age. She and her team are rightly ambitious about the upcoming Olympics. I think the omnium is the specialty where she can really shine."
Asked whether Paternoster had the ability to match himself and win a world title on the road during her career, Fondriest was affirmative.
"She's got the potential to win the rainbow jersey," he said. "Of course, everything has to go right on the day as it did for me. [Claude] Criquielion and [Steve] Bauer clashed, making my win a lot easier."
Fondriest says that it is her climbing that needs the most work but adds that she shouldn't do it to the detriment of her sprinting. On the road, Paternoster's success has come from bunch sprints and her win at the Tour Down Under shows that she can go toe to toe with some of the strongest in the bunch. With a bit, but not too much, work on her climbing, Fondriest believes that she can find success in the Classics.
"It's important to be patient and do things one step at a time, without changing her style or strengths too much," said Fondriest. "Climbing is her weak point and can get better but that has to be done without losing her strength. So, I think it's better not to focus on stage races, it's not her natural thing. Of course, I do think she can do something in the one-day races and the women's calendar is becoming as packed with Classics as the men's calendar."
For now, Paternoster will look to defend her lead at the Women's Tour Down Under – though stage 2 to Mengler Hill is better suited to her teammate and compatriot Elisa Longo Borghini – before she takes part in the next two rounds of the Track World Cup in Cambridge, New Zealand and Hong Kong.