‘Lesson learnt’: Vos wins again at the Giro Rosa as Kennedy celebrates early

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The heartbreak is clear on Lucy Kennedy’s face. As her front wheel crosses the finish-line tape, her mouth hangs agape in something akin to surprise mixed with horror. A metre ahead of her, and about the same distance to her left, is Marianne Vos, the greatest of all time, doing what Vos does: win big bike races.

Kennedy had stage 3 of the 2019 Giro Rosa won. And then she didn’t.

“Lesson most definitely learnt,” Kennedy tweeted, roughly four hours after the finish. “Always sprint beyond the line and never celebrate early.”

It was hardly an extravagant celebration. Kennedy briefly lifted one fist to the sky, acknowledging what would have been her first Women’s WorldTour victory, in the biggest stage race in women’s cycling. Certainly an achievement worth celebrating.

But that split-second of hesitation was all Vos needed.

It’s hard not to feel for Kennedy. She looked around twice in those final 100 metres, making sure it was safe to celebrate. Her first glance would have shown that Vos and the bunch still had too much ground to cover. In the second, Vos would have been harder to see, positioned directly behind Kennedy. It might have been hard to see exactly how fast Vos was closing.

In the end it all happened so quickly. Kennedy, exhausted after attacking 2.7km from the line, was slowing down. Vos, who had waited until 200m to go, was still powering through. Even if Kennedy hadn’t celebrated, Vos might still have won, such was the speed she crossed the line. We’ll never know.

That it was Vos who denied Kennedy her breakthrough victory is perhaps some small consolation for the Australian. While Vos’ days as a GC contender at the Giro Rosa are almost certainly behind her, her class is still beyond question. At 32, she’s lost nothing in the sprint finishes, particularly when the road tends uphill as it has done the past two days.

The footage of Vos breaking clear of the peloton to win Saturday’s stage 2 is nothing short of remarkable. In a technical final kilometre, Vos hits the front just before a bend, using her considerable handling skills to open a five-metre gap in the blink of an eye. And once she gets that gap, the race is over.

Vos’ jump on stage 3 is no less incredible. On the narrow, pockmarked streets of Piedicavallo, Vos hovers ominously near the front of a reduced peloton, biding her time. With 200m to go, just before the road kicks up and rough tarmac turns to concrete and cobbles, Vos squeezes her way past the bunch and bursts free.

Just like in Viu 24 hours earlier, a gap opens quickly. And just like in Viu, no one is able to close that gap from behind.

“When I launched the sprint, I actually thought it was going to be too late,” said Vos. “It was still such a big gap to Lucy. But then we entered those final steep 100 meters on the cobbles, and when Lucy put her arm in the air, I just had more speed and came around.

“It was crazy, and heartbreaking for Lucy.”

The finish was crazy not just for those final metres, but for what followed immediately afterwards. “Your winner is @lucyjkenn [Lucy Kennedy],” announced the UCI’s official Women’s WorldTour Twitter account, in a now-deleted tweet, sparking a flurry of retweets from around the globe (including from CyclingTips). Thirteen minutes later, the UCI account issued a correction, stating Vos had taken the win, with Kennedy in second, and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig in third. “Wrong information on race radio,” said the tweet.

By that stage, video of the finish had already been published online by Mitchelton-Scott, showing a dejected Kennedy after being pipped by Vos on the line.

Sunday’s stage win was Vos’ 23rd at the Giro Rosa, a record that puts her five wins clear at the top of the all-time leaderboard. She won’t win the race overall this year — others, like her compatriot (and Kennedy’s teammate) Annemiek van Vleuten, are far more proficient against the clock and in the mountains. But one suspects Vos will be happy with the three Giro Rosa titles she already has (equal-second on the all-time list), and the fact that, even after all these years, she still seems able to accumulate Giro Rosa stage wins at will.

Another might be just around the corner. Monday’s stage 4 is another uphill drag to the line and while it’s not as steep as the previous two, it’s challenging enough that, barring a mishap of some kind, Vos will again be in the frame.

As for Kennedy, it will likely be some time before thoughts of Sunday’s finish don’t induce a wince. But despite her frustration, she’s rightly able to see the bright side.

“Obviously I am very very disappointed to miss out but it is still my best result,” she said. “I haven’t had a WorldTour podium before so I can be really happy with that.”

She can indeed. The 2019 season has been her best to date, delivering victories at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and the Durango one-day race in Spain, plus podium finishes at the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under and Cadel’s Race. Now, in two road stages at the Giro Rosa she’s been on the attack twice, very nearly winning with the second of those.

For Kennedy, a Women’s WorldTour win now seems more a question of “when” rather than “if”. Indeed, it would be little surprise if the answer to “when” is “this week”. Seven stages remain in the 2019 Giro Rosa, many of them lumpy or outright mountainous. Kennedy is suited to just about all of them.

Sunday’s disappointment will only leave the 30-year-old more motivated for success at this year’s Giro Rosa. And if another opportunity does present itself, you’d have to imagine Kennedy will wait until after the line before throwing her hands in the air.

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