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GEELONG, Australia (CT) – The weather forecast warned of a wet and wild day for the women’s Cadel’s Race and that’s exactly what it was. Strong winds and heavy rain lashed Geelong and the Surf Coast, creating treacherous conditions for the first Women’s WorldTour event of the season.
Race helicopters were grounded with 30 km to go due to the inclement weather, leaving just one source of video from within the race— a patchy Skype feed from in-race moto commentator Robbie McEwen. When that also cut out, it was a case of waiting until the race reached fixed cameras on the finishing straight, to see who might have a shot at victory.
As heavy rain fell on the Geelong waterfront, Liane Lippert (Sunweb) came into view with nothing but the race director’s car for company. The 22-year-old German crossed the line with both arms in the air, rightfully celebrating the biggest win of her career. Fifteen seconds behind her, defending champion Arlenis Sierra (Astana) crossed the line in second, followed by 2016 winner Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) and Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo).
“I still can’t believe that I won my first WorldTour race and I’m now in this jersey and it’s just amazing,” said a beaming Lippert after donning the purple jersey of Women’s WorldTour leader.
Lippert was excellent at last week’s Women’s Tour Down Under, finishing an impressive second overall after reaching the podium on two of four stages. Justifiably, she started today’s race full of self-belief and with the full support of her team.
“I was really confident going into this race and the whole team had a lot of trust in me,” she said. “I did a risky attack because it’s still long [way to go], especially when you’re alone. But yeah, I felt really strong and I kept on going and yeah, I made it!”
As Spratt explained, the race really began in the final 30 km, on the outskirts of Geelong. The day-long break was over and the race was about to explode.
“We turned at kilometer ninety seven into a crosswind section and the pace was really going up and up there,” said the Australian champion. “And then we started going towards the two rollers before Challambra [Crescent, the race’s toughest climb with 10 km to go] and we knew that’s where it was gonna be really hectic.”
She was right.
“On the really fast downhill, there was a crash that basically only 25 people in the peloton missed,” Spratt said. “So I was the only Mitchelton-Scott rider who missed the crash. Most of my team crashed; some of them held it up.
“So from that point on, it was quite a bit surreal to start with and then it was just realising, ‘OK, I’m the only one from my team left here. I have to try to play it smart.’”
Trek-Segafredo had a handful of riders up front — including Wiles and Tour Down Under winner Ruth Winder — and Sunweb had even more, including Lippert and Leah Kirchmann. Also in the lead group were defending champion Sierra, 2018 champion Chloe Hosking (Rally), and Brodie Chapman (FDJ), winner of Thursday’s Race Torquay — a race contested in decidedly different weather conditions.
The race split even further when it hit Challambra Crescent, but not permanently.
“It came back together on the bridge and going into the final climb,” Spratt said. “And that’s where Liana … she attacked really hard from behind. And I just missed that jump, actually. I’m a bit disappointed I missed the jump, but she was really strong.”
Lippert had earmarked the race’s last climb as the perfect launching pad. And so it turned out to be, with the German setting sail with around 6 km to go.
“I had a really good look [at] the course before already and I’m really explosive and I can do efforts like this pretty good — three minutes full gas,” Lippert said. “So I knew that I may be ending up alone or with one or two riders, but in the end I was alone and it was OK because I could handle it until the finish line.”
Behind Lippert, Spratt and others scrambled to get across.
“I had to wait for a moment to get out of the bunch and try to get across to [Lippert],” Spratt said. “I couldn’t quite get there, but then I had Tayler Wiles for company. So Tayler and I were chasing really hard to get to Liane.
“And then Arlenis Sierra jumped across from behind to the two of us and then there were three of us working to try and bring back Liane but she was just too strong there in the final.
“In the end we were racing for second.”
Spratt had to settle for third, beaten by Cuban champion Sierra on the line, but she was far from disappointed.
“Honestly, I’m happy with this third place,” she said. “I was really, really outnumbered there once the crash happened. There were five Sunweb, three or four Trek. So, I mean, it was really up to them to make the race and I really had to use my energy wisely.
“I knew if I did one attack and it didn’t work, then there was just going to be a counter[attack] and I’d lose any chance of a podium. So I think in the end, it was sort of Sunweb’s race to lose once they had their whole team there. So I’m proud to be on the podium.”
Spratt’s Australian campaign is now over. She’ll soon head back to Europe where she’ll start to build towards her next major target: the Ardennes Classics. She’s likely to run into Lippert there too — the rising German star is also targeting the lumpy one-day races in April.
“I think the Ardennes are really my kind of races because these short, punchy climbs fit me really well,” she said.
After her ride today and at the Tour Down Under, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.