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GEELONG, Australia (CT) – Sweeping up an impressive victory on a hilly course and a spot on Australia’s Commonwealth Games team, Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) sprinted to victory at the women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on Saturday.
It’s usually a race won by a small group or solo breakaway but the bunch was determined to pull back a late break of Sabrina Stultiens (WaowDeals Pro Cycling), Katrin Garfoot (KordaMentha Real Estate) and world number one Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott).
There were plenty of motivated riders chasing them down as the stakes were even higher than usual this year. For a start the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, known as the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race, had many more UCI points on offer with the increase in ranking from 1.2 to 1.1. Then there was also a bevy of Australian riders angling for that automatic spot on the Commonwealth Games team that would be granted to a home country winner.
In the end the bunch swallowed up the final break survivor, Stultiens, in time to deliver a sprint. Hosking kicked determinedly off the group of about 20 and no one looked close to being able to hold her wheel. Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) crossed the line second and two-time world champion Giorgia Bronzini (Cylance Pro Cycling) was third.
Hosking had been clear that she was working hard to target this race. Australia’s top-ranked rider’s nutrition and training was focussed on making the shift from a flat loving sprinter to a rider that could haul herself over the hills, but still finish with a ferocious kick.
It’s been obvious from the very start of the Aussie season that the work had been paying off. In the early races word of her hanging onto select groups on the hills kept crackling through on race radio. This was the day for her to deliver on that promise and start building the foundation for a tilt at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“You know there’s all this change happening in Cycling Australia and it’s all Olympic focused and for me, actually I welcomed it. It’s enabled me to step back and say what is my three year plan,” Hosking told reporters. “This is just the beginning of it.
How the race played out
It was a warm day out on the road, with temperatures climbing to about 30°C. While it was about 10°C less than the men are expecting tomorrow, the ice cube filled stocking were still one of the most popular start line accessories.
There were some early digs at the start of the race with many of the smaller teams, such as Sydney Uni-Staminade, taking the opportunity to head to the front of the field. Then only 13 kilometres into the 113 kilometre race that there was a nasty crash, with Roxane Knetemann (Ale-Cipollini) hitting the road hard and ending her race.
The first break to gain any real traction was Georgia Whitehouse (Sydney-Uni Staminade) who, with a little more than 80 kilometres to go, had established a gap of over one minute. Morzenti (BePink) leapt out of the field to try and join Whitehouse but as Morzenti got close Whitehouse had a rear wheel flat. The two riders reversed positions before finally coming together to form a duo out the front, which at times had a lead of over three minutes.
Clearly neither were overly confident about their chances of surviving for the long haul given the importance placed on the Torquay intermediate sprint. The pair nearly came to a standstill, looking more like track riders jostling for position as they approached the line. Ultimately Whitehouse held her spot on the rear wheel and jumped out to take the biggest chunk of points. The peloton closed a little at that point but the pair kept holding on.
As the kilometres ticked down to 50 then 40 to go, the peloton looked content to let the pair hang out the front while they stocked up on ice cube filled stockings, food and drink to so they were ready for the onslaught to come.
The bunch swallowed the break when there was less than 30 kilometres left to race. Then as the approach to the Challambra Crescent climb started looming the action really kicked off. Australia’s only UCI women’s team, Mitchelton-Scott, were the key aggressors but the field ultimately entered the climb all together.
The first to attack at the base was Dutch rider Stultiens. It wasn’t long before Garfoot and defending champion van Vleuten joined Stultiens. For a while the group formed a lead trio out the front, but with just under 6km to go the Stultiens went out on her own and neither Garfoot or van Vleuten looked keen to chase.
However the reduced bunch behind was. The break was ultimately caught and it came down to a group of about 20 heading into the line. The reduced lead bunch included a swag of heavy hitters, from new Australian champion Shannon Malseed to two of Australia’s Road Worlds silver medallists, Garfoot and Rachel Neylan (KordaMentha Real Estate).
However, with the two formidable sprinters of Hosking and two-time world champion Bronzini in the mix it was hard to look past the pair. But classics focussed rider Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott) stuck determinedly with Hosking to get between the fiesty sprinters.
“I was having to really think about how can I win this race, but I trusted Annemiek and Spratty (her lead out). We don’t have to talk too much now we’ve all raced together so much,” Elvin told reporters.”I like a bit of pressure at the end and nearly pulled it off, but Chloe just got the jump on me and I just had to power through to the finish.”
Elvin is targeting one of the remaining three spots on the Australian women’s Commonwealth Games team. Garfoot, Malseed and Hosking have now all delivered results which entitle them to automatic qualification.
The race started and finished in the coastal city of Geelong, just over an hour from Melbourne. The 113 kilometre course, takes in views of the iconic Bells Beach and this year was the first time it included the challenging Challambra Crescent climb. Last year Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) won in a sprint from a break of five. Both previous editions of the race were won with a solo run to the line: Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) in 2016 and Rachel Neylan (Movistar) in 2015.