Crosswinds split Sun Tour opener as Arlenis Sierra sprints into yellow

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SHEPPARTON, Australia (CT) – Australia has proved to be a happy hunting ground for Arlenis Sierra (Astana). The Cuban national champion won Cadel’s Race last year, she was second there this year, and today, in regional northern Victoria, she won the opening stage of the 2020 Herald Sun Tour.

It came down to a sprint from a group of 20 after crosswinds split the race. Sierra was strongest in the lead group, outkicking Anna Trevisi (Ale BTC Ljubljana) and Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) as the lead group thundered back into Shepparton.

The stage began in rather sedate fashion with the peloton together for virtually all of the first 55 km. But when the bunch turned east at around 40 km to go, Tibco came to the front and changed the complexion of the race entirely.

“We wanted to have an aggressive race,” said Tibco’s Nina Kessler after receiving the jersey for most aggressive rider. “In the race we saw that it was not really windy. We hoped [we’d have] a little bit more wind, but then we went up to the front with the whole team and then there was a corner to the right and we saw that the wind turned and then we thought, ‘OK, we just give it a go and we will try and we’ll see where it ends.’”

It ended with the whole bunch in the gutter, hanging on for dear life.

“I said over the radio to my teammates, that it was getting a bit blowing and I was a bit concerned,” Roseman-Gannon said. “And then when we turned that corner, it just fully lined out.

“I think it was Tibco on the front at that point. And then Mitchelton[-Scott] went to the front and I saw Gracie Elvin’s wheel going to the front and I was like ‘This is my last chance’ because on the wheels it was just fully lined out. And then I got in the echelon.

“Unfortunately, my teammates didn’t make the split, but I had to roll through on the echelon because it was so hard just lined up. And from then on, Mitchelton really just dominated the race.”

When the dust settled, around 25 riders had made it into the front group. All four Mitchelton-Scott riders were there, protecting the GC ambitions of defending champion Lucy Kennedy. Also there: Sierra; Roseman-Gannon; Peta Mullens and Emily Herfoss (Roxsolt-Attaquer); plus gun climber Jaime Gunning and fast finisher Matilda Raynolds (both from Specialized Women’s Racing). Among those to have missed the split: Sarah Gigante, whose Tibco teammates had forced the issue; and Justine Barrow (Roxsolt-Attaquer), the climber who could be in the hunt for a stage win on stage 2.

At times it looked like the chase group would catch back on. Indeed, with just 5.7 km to go, they were only 12 seconds from making contact. But with Mitchelton-Scott drilling it up front, the catch never happened.

Roseman-Gannon was among the favourites for the sprint from the lead group, but the 21-year-old found herself a little out of position when it mattered.

“I was just surfing the wheels and I saw the 1 km to go and I thought we had a bit more time on my Garmin,” she said. “So I was like, ‘Better get to the front!’. So I just sort of squeezed in in front of Arlenis, I think, and then she got the perfect springboard off my wheel. But I didn’t want to open up too early and then I kind of got boxed [in].

“So I dunno. Sprints — what can you say?”

Sierra took the win comfortably in the end, while Trevisi yelled out in frustration as she crossed the line. The chase group came home 49 seconds in arrears.

Speaking through an interpreter, Sierra acknowledged that Mitchelton-Scott had been the strongest team, despite only fielding four riders.

“She’s very happy for this victory,” the translator said. “She had a lot of support by the team and she knows the strongest team was Mitchelton-Scott because they are four strong girls. But with a united team we can do good things, she thinks.”

Sierra’s victory moves the 27-year-old into the overall lead of the two-stage race. She’ll be hard-pressed to defend it tomorrow — the stage ends with a 30 km climb to the Falls Creek alpine resort — but she’s vowed to try.

“Well, tomorrow is a very hard stage,” she said via an interpreter. “But we have the leader jersey so we try to defend. We will work as a team and see what happens because it’s a very long climb.

“We will see how the legs will respond too.”

Follow the link for full results from stage 1 of the 2020 Lexus of Blackburn Women’s Herald Sun Tour.

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