Australia’s female road cyclists have been making their mark all over Europe this year, chalking up an impressive 16 international victories from nine different winners. These collective results have seen Australia jump up from ninth to fifth overall in the UCI nation rankings, which are hugely important in this Olympic year. Ranked ninth, Australia would only be allowed three bike riders in Rio. Ranked fifth, Australia can bring four riders.
Kimberley Wells, Rachel Neylan and Loren Rowney have each added wins to the collective pot this last week at Trophee d’Or. Riding for the Subaru High5 Australian National Team, the Australian trio made their mark on the four-day, five-stage French race. All three won stages, and Neylan was able to parlay her stage victory into the overall win. They combined forces with Jessica Mundy, Shannon Malseed and Jenelle Crooks to win the team prize. It’s an impressive list of accomplishments achieved by a development team that flew over to Europe in mid-July.
While Neylan and Rowney have been racing in Europe for the last three years and are on loan to the national team from their trade teams to lend expertise and leadership to the team’s younger riders, Wells, Munday, Malseed and Crooks are showing depth and poise far beyond their experience. Perhaps the most important takeaway from Trophee d’Or is this: the present and the future for Australian cycling looks bright.
DAY ONE – STAGES ONE + TWO
Kimberley Wells sprinted to victory on the second stage of Trophee d’Or. The Amy Gillett Foundation scholarship holder arrived in Italy in July and lined up for her third European race of the season last Sunday. While she had high hopes of climbing to the top step of the podium, she never truly believed that she would find a win so quickly in Europe.
— Kimberley Wells (@Kimbers_Wells) August 23, 2015
“I wanted this, and I dreamt about this, and I told myself it was possible,” said Wells. “Did I actually believe that five weeks into my trip to Europe that I would manage a stage win? No – probably not. It adds to my belief and my confidence in what I can do as a sprinter in Europe.”
“In sprint life, establishing an early win can add so much momentum to what comes next,” Wells added. “At the end of a race, a sprinter has be aggressive and take risks. It’s important to think about the times when you’ve won – when you pulled it altogether and crossed the line first. I have that moment to recall at the pointy end of future races.”
DAY TWO – STAGE THREE
The day after Wells secured her first European race, Rachel Neylan followed suit. She went on the attack over the category one climbs that punctuated the third stage of the Trophee d’Or, and her efforts eventually forced a selection. The four-rider leading group cooperated to put time into the peloton, and Neylan won the four-up sprint. With the stage win, came the overall race lead. It was Neylan’s first UCI win, and her first leader’s jersey.
“The race was hard, but that’s the perfect opportunity for a rider like me,” said Neylan. “When it’s hard all day, that suits me. We had a plan, and every rider on the team was fully focussed and fully committed to that plan. It was a really incredible feeling.”
“I love embracing the opportunity to help develop Australia’s young riders, and it doesn’t get much better than experiencing riding for the race lead,” added Neylan. “I think what Rochelle [Gilmore] has done in backing this national team has been absolutely spot-on. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have commercial opportunities with development teams, especially when they come to Europe and win races and provide exposures the way these girls have.”
DAY THREE – STAGE FOUR
The Subaru High5 Australian National Team rose to the challenge that yellow provides and successfully defended Neylan’s jersey on the penultimate day of racing. A five-women breakaway contested the stage, and Neylan finished on bunch time to maintain her 12-second advantage.
“The day didn’t look like much on paper, but there were cross-winds and some technical sections along with two climbs on the circuit that we raced three times,” Neylan explained. “The other teams were pretty aggressive and tried to put us on the back foot. I’m not used to being in this position, but I think I handled it well.”
“It’s a pretty special feeling when you’re in the yellow jersey and you have five other green and gold jerseys looking out for you, looking after you, riding in the wind for you,” Neylan added. “My teammates were amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything more from them.”
DAY FOUR – STAGE FIVE
With her team’s backing, Neylan sealed the deal on Wednesday winning the Trophee d’Or general classification. Loren Rowney gave the team a second reason to celebrate as she outsprinted Marta Bastianelli (Aromitalia – Vaiano) and Roxane Fournier (Poitou-Charentes.Futuroscope.86) to the stage win. The Australian National Team edged out Lotto Soudal Ladies by two seconds to win the team classification.
“The overall win means a hell of a lot,” said Neylan. “It’s no secret that I’ve had a lot of highs and lows over the last few years. I had a break-through at the start of the year with second at the National Championships and winning Cadel’s road race, but when I came on with Orica, I was so focussed on working for my teammates that it’s been a quiet year for me in terms of personal results.”
“This is a huge step up in my career,” Neylan continued. “It’s the first time I’ve ever won a UCI race – even a stage. The best I’ve done previously is third at Ardeche. I’ve always believed I can win European races, but it’s never all aligned before. You need to have the right opportunity, the freedom from the team to pursue that opportunity and the legs to make the most of opportunity and freedom you’ve been given. That all needs to align.”
“For me, that’s never happened previously in Europe,” Neylan added. “I’m extraordinary grateful to Rochelle to be able to put me in the team and to be able to share this victory with my Aussie teammates and to help with the development of the young riders along the way.”