BUNINYONG, Australia (CT) – Hometown rider Shannon Malseed (Team TIBCO-SVB) has won the 2018 FedUni Road National Championships, with the freshly minted pro outsprinting the rest of a small group that managed to reel in defending champion, Katrin Garfoot (QAS), just before the line.
The 23-year-old Malseed held off Lauren Kitchen (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), who mustered a fierce sprint to come in second despite being out in a break right from the first lap. Malseed’s former teammate and relative newcomer to cycling, Grace Brown (Holden Team Gusto), snuck into third, edging out two-time national champion Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott).
It’s been a breakthrough year for Malseed, winning Australia’s National Road Series, taking her first European race podium while overseas with the High5 Australian Women’s Development Team and being signed to her first pro team, Team Tibco-SVB.
However, shifting to the US-based team meant leaving the Holden squad – where she’d spent five crucial development years – right before Road Nats. As a result Malseed was flying solo. But while the winner of the 2015 under 23 national title was outnumbered, she wasn’t outclassed.
“I knew that I had the physical form coming into the Nationals this year,” Malseed told reporters. “I’m riding the best that I’ve ever ridden and I knew that if I could hang on up that climb I have a decent sprint on me. I’m a little bit sneaky, so I definitely knew that I had a chance, and that’s all I needed.”
The young Australian rider will now start her professional career with the green and gold stripes and an automatic nomination for the Australian Commonwealth Games team. She also gets to walk away with the confidence that comes from having trumped the best cyclists Australia has to offer, including a World Champion silver medallist.
Aggressive from start to finish
The race was on right from the start with Kate Perry (Specialized Women’s Racing), Kitchen and Jessica Allen (Mitchelton-Scott) launching off the front in the very first lap. They quickly established the gap, which by the end of the second lap wasn’t far off four minutes.
I held about that level until the sixth lap with National Road Series rider Perry doing plenty of work at the front, helped out by Kitchen, and Allen policing the break for her team. Then the pace in the peloton started to pick up and it all changed.
Mitchelton-Scott began driving and then the bunch was torn to shreds on the climb of Mt. Bunninyong, leaving a chase group of about 20. Not surprisingly Mitchelton-Scott had a big contingent in the group so Australia’s only registered UCI women’s team used their strength in numbers to keep launching attack after attack. The one that finally stuck was by Amanda Spratt, with Malseed along for the ride. They caught the leading trio to make a group of five.
After a few comings and goings from the group it ended up being seven srong with Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope), Brodie Chapman (CBR Women’s Cycling), Garfoot, Brown, Spratt, Kitchen and Malseed together as the line loomed just kilometres away.
Then, with a big move from the defending champion, it looked like Garfoot would time trial off the front to win for a second year in a row. But the group chased hard reeling in the nation’s best time-trial rider with about 50 metres to go and making it a furious sprint for the line. Ballarat local Malseed let out a loud excited shout as she took the win and then Kitchen rolled in with Brown and Spratt close behind.
It was a tough ask for Kitchen to pull off a podium place winning sprint, given she had been out the front since the very start of the day. Both her breakaway companions had fallen by the wayside but she fought to stay in the final group. With new teammate Gillow having been among those who worked hard to reel Garfoot in, and a chance to top her second place of 2014, Kitchen dug up the last of her reserves to take second in the dash to the line.
“It’s a little bit bittersweet,” said Kitchen. “I know that it’s a good start and I’m really happy with my level. But it is also a bit disappointing when you’re that close, but Shannon rode really well.”
The only European-based professional on the podium said its a performance that boded well for the year ahead as it showed what a good duo she and Gillow, who came seventh, were.
“It’s a really good start. We’ve both got a medal here this week and I’m hoping we can build on that and get some more victories in the next few weeks,” said Kitchen, She also hopes the podium at the National Championships will help her stake a claim for the nation’s Commonwealth Games team.
Mitchelton-Scott walks away empty handed
The action filled race was a win for Australian women’s cycling in that the first ever live broadcast of the Road Nationals was packed with excitement. It’s also a result that reflects well on the strength of the domestic racing scene, with two riders who performed well in the National Road Series standing on the podium.
But it wasn’t a win for Australia’s only UCI registered women’s cycling team Mitchelton-Scott, which has only been without the green and gold road race jersey on the team once before. Last year, when Katrin Garfoot was still part of the squad, Orica-Scott (the previous name of Mitchelton-Scott) even took a clean sweep of the elite women’s national titles. This year they have none.
In the earlier stages of the race it looked like there was every chance things would fall into place for Mitchelton-Scott. Allen was out the front policing the break and then they had the power of numbers in the chase group after the peloton was split. However when it came down to the final seven ultimately Spratt was on her own and in the end just missed the podium.
“We went in with a plan, we wanted to be in the break and Jess did an awesome job of getting that happening on the first lap,” said Spratt. “The time gap went out to four minutes, we didn’t panic, we had a plan with four or five to go and we executed that.”
“We did everything we wanted to do, it would have maybe been good to have more numbers in the last two laps but I really don’t think anyone could have done anything more,” said Spratt. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go the way you want.”
Alex Manly (Mitchelton-Scott) did manage to deliver the Under 23 road race win for the team, even after working hard to support the squad in its bid for the elite title. The Under 23’s and Elite Women race together.
The Under 19’s raced on Saturday, with Sarah Gigante (Holden Team Gusto) taking the win to deliver a hugely impressive clean sweep of the titles in that category.
The 104.4 km road race is run on an 11.6 kilometre circuit near the central Victorian town of Ballarat. The course centres on the climb of Mt. Bunninyong and usually favours the a small group. The elite women’s winner has come from a breakaway pairing the last three years.