Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank) has already spent years upsetting the race plans of Australia’s top professionals when they return home and now one of the nation's most promising young riders is stepping on to the world stage. The two-time Australian time-trial champion starts her first solid season of international racing this year, making her 2021 European debut on Sunday at Women's WorldTour race Trofeo Alfredo Binda.
The excited anticipation of just what Gigante has the potential to deliver once she becomes entrenched in the world’s top echelon has been growing since the Brunswick Cycling Club member delivered the clean sweep of the U19 titles at the Australian Road Championships and then the next year won the elite road race title in her first year out of the junior ranks. Though the level-headed 20-year-old rider isn’t letting herself get caught up in that, knowing all too well how difficult the switch to European racing can initially be after she started her short stint with a DNF last year and finished the next two races well away from that familiar position at the front of the field.
“I think I’ll just have to see how it goes,” Gigante told Cyclingnews from her Victorian home-base before travelling to Europe. “I just want to make sure that I keep enjoying it, so definitely I won’t stress too much about the results this year. I’ll just try and be a good teammate and give it my best shot. I definitely always like lining up in a race and giving it my best go, but I think it is a year of learning for me.“
It’s the second year Gigante has been signed up as a professional cyclist at TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank but her plans to ease into the intensity of European racing didn’t quite work out in 2020, with limited opportunities to build on the experience of the three early European races she managed to squeeze in before the COVID-19 situation saw her heading back to Australia for the rest of the year.
“I was looking forward to spending some time in America because it is a bit of an intermediate step between Australia and Europe. That would have been nice but we can’t have all the things we want, obviously, particularly not with a pandemic going on," said Gigante who will now instead leap straight into a solid six month European stint.
“This will be my first time going overseas for such a long chunk of time and COVID definitely makes it a little bit trickier for my first real season, because last year I won’t really count. I feel like I am a neo-pro this year because I was only overseas for about three weeks last year.”
Even though it may feel like her first go and she may not have been a threat when she dipped her toes in the water in Europe last year, it is unlikely fellow Australian riders in the peloton will be prepared to give her much latitude, as they’ve seen what she can do when given the slightest chance.
The opportunities may have been limited this year in Australia, with the COVID-19 situation taking out all the international racing, but Gigante certainly made the most of them.
First there was the Santos Festival of Cycling, which was put on as a National Road Series level replacement for the cancelled Santos Women’s Tour Down Under. Gigante came out on top against riders who have stood on WorldTour podiums, such as Team BikeExchange's Grace Brown and Lucy Kennedy, taking overall victory at the four-day tour and two emphatic stage wins. One of those wins was with a solo break of more than 40 kilometres and the other was the much sought after victory on top of the iconic climb of Willunga Hill, which was included in the women’s event for the first time. The Australian Road Championships also went ahead and at that Gigante added another time trial title to her accumulating list.
After such a strong start to 2021, Gigante is now looking forward to having the opportunity to build her European experience, hoping to find a place on the start line at the Ardennes Classics and maybe even the Giro Rosa if her team gets an invitation to the only women's Grand Tour. It’s an opportunity she would relish as her combined time trial and climbing strength, plus the ability to back up on consecutive race days, marks her out as a potential GC contender in the future.
The rider, who is also squeezing in a Bachelor of Arts with majors in linguistics and geography, will finish her season of learning in Europe as the race calendar starts to thin in early October.
"I’ll probably do my hotel quarantine over my 21st birthday,” said Gigante, of the mandatory two-week quarantine that awaits all arrivals to Australia.
Although, if the opportunity arises, there’s no doubt the rider who often comes out of a race with the widest of grins on her face would consider it an excellent alternative plan to spend her birthday, on October 6, racing a rescheduled edition of The Women’s Tour instead.
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