Annemiek van Vleuten pulls off victory for Orica-Scott at an attack heavy women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race

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GEELONG, Australia (CT) – Annemiek van Vleuten took the win at the 2017 women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race for Orica-Scott, in an exciting attack filled competition that deviated from the expected script to finish off the Australian summer season of women’s racing on a high note.

There couldn’t have been a better day for the peloton to keep the racing lively and unpredictable from start to finish as this was the first international women’s race on Australian shores broadcast live on television in more than six years, with the World Championships in 2010 being the last.

There were frequent attacks, splits in the cross winds, a solo break by Emma Pooley (Holden Women’s Racing) that enlivened the finish and had fans on the course yelling out support to the women who won the world time trial champion in Geelong in 2010. Then to finish it off there was that final dash to the line between an unexpected group of five non-sprinters for the win.

In the sprint from the break of five it was Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare) who took second behind Vleuten in the UCI 1.2 classified race, titled the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race, while Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle High5) came third and then it was Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dream Team) and Pooley.

The 113 kilometre course, which takes in views of the iconic Bells Beach, had enough hills to provide plenty of launching points for attacks and it was no surprise that it was a small group at the end, but few would have predicted it’s composition. The pre-race favourites like last year’s winner Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott), Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott), Peta Mullens (Hagens Berman-Supermint) and Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) were all absent from the small lead group.

Instead it was an unpredictable bunch, surprisingly with only one rider from Orica-Scott near the front, and probably not the one most would have expected.

“I target actually the beginning of March to be in really good shape, so I said I would like to help my team, my teammates and be a domestique,” van Vleuten told reporters. “So I did some work already in race but in the end I was still there.”

However, no one would have doubted that van Vleuten was up to the task of taking the win for Australia’s only UCI registered women’s team as she has come back strongly since she had that horrific crash at the Rio Olympics when she looked to be on the way to a gold medal.

“For me it (Rio) had a bad ending but … to be in that shape inspired me for next season and it’s really nice to already show it with a win for this season.” said van Vleuten, adding that it was especially important for her to finish it off for the team at one of its home races.

Here’s a short highlights video from Velon:

The victory topped another 2017 Australian summer season of winning form for Orica-Scott, who took a clean sweep of the Australian elite women’s national road titles at the start of January and then went on to win the overall for the Santos Women’s Tour with Amanda Spratt. The competition to take those wins, however, has become stiffer as only two years ago Orica was a rare international team largely surrounded by domestic racers, but this year the international teams have come out in force to dominate the start list.

How the race played out

The headwind was at play in the early stages of the race, not helping the early attackers make the moves out the front stick. Then at around the 95 kilometre mark as the course turned the cross winds kicked in and Canyon-SRAM worked to split the group.

About 30 riders, packed with pre-race favourites, got off the front in a bunch stacked with Orica-Scott, Canyon-SRAM and a strong contingent from Ale-Cipollini. It contained some of the strong hill riders, like Amanda Spratt (Orica-Scott), Katrin Garfoot (Orica-Scott), Peta Mullens (Hagens Berman-Supermint) and Lisa Brennauer (Canyon-SRAM), as well as the top two sprinters in the field, Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) and Kirsten Wild (Cylance).

A chase group also joined on the back and then Ellen Skerritt (Rush Women’s Team) and Rachele Barbieri (Cylance) took off but by the time it was 76 kilometres to go the lead group had swelled to form a peloton again and the attack out the front had been chased down. With the race back together the attacks kept coming, and just as quickly kept being hauled in by one team or another who weren’t happy with the composition of the break.

It wasn’t until around the 36 kilometre to go mark that the group allowed a lone rider Kristy Glover (Rush Women’s Team) to carve out a gap of over 40 seconds, but again it didn’t last.

The next break to gain traction was Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dream Team) and Gracie Elvin (Orica-Scott) with a gap of around 20 seconds around the 14 kilometre to go mark. They were swept up and the group swelled to around 10 and with less than ten kilometres to go former world time trial champion Pooley charged out the front on a climb and knuckled down to try and ride solo to the end. She describes the move in the video below:

Kennedy led the group that had now dropped to five that was attempting to pull Pooley back, but the bunch dwindled further as Janneke Ensing (Ale-Cipollini) suffered a mechanical. Around the 2.5 kilometre to go mark Pooley’s solo break was over as she was now joined by Kennedy, Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare), Mayuko Hagiwara (Wiggle High5) and van Vleuten. This was the group that ended up sprinting for the win.

The race was the final event in the Australian summer season of racing for the women, which included the Australian National Road Championships for the locals and then moved onto the four day Santos Women’s Tour in Adelaide, then Thursday’s curtain raiser criterium Race Melbourne and finally today’s women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Now many of the riders head back to winter in Europe and the United States, hoping to jump into the season with a head start on their rivals after some early season racing. The peak of competition kicks off a little later this year, with the Ladies Tour of Qatar cancelled, so the first Women’s WorldTour race back will be the Strade Bianche in Italy in March.

For full results of the 2017 Deakin University Elite Women’s Race click here.

The men’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is still to come on Sunday so for a guide on what to look out for check out the CyclingTips report here.

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