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FALLS CREEK, Australia (CT) – Emotion is pouring from Ella Harris. She’s sitting on the tarmac atop Falls Creek, legs splayed out in front of her and head bowed, sobbing loudly and gulping in big breaths of air. The remnants of her breakfast are still visible on her left shoulder. That’s how deep she’s gone.
The tears are a combination of joy, relief, satisfaction, exhaustion, disbelief, pain — all of it. She’s just taken the first victory of her professional career, and boy was it a good one.
In the 30 km of climbing that ended the Sun Tour’s final stage, the 21-year-old Kiwi was dropped from the lead group four or five times. “I lost count,” she says later. But each time she put her head down, took a deep breath, and “diesel-ed” her way back on.
And then, somehow, after fighting back so many times, Harris found the strength to put in a surge of her own. Just one surge, for 300 metres, all the way to the line, hoping it would be enough.
“With every pedal stroke [the finish line] kept getting closer and closer,” she says later. “I just couldn’t believe it, that I’d actually crossed the line and no one had overtaken me.”
It takes a few minutes for Harris to compose herself; to both catch her breath and to understand the enormity of what she’s just achieved.
When she fronts up for a TV interview moments later, she’s still overcome with emotion. She wipes tears from her eyes; she half-speaks and half-cries her answers, frequently gasping for air mid-sentence. It’s a beautiful thing.
You can understand the emotion. There’s the fact she’d had a summer of strong finishes for Canyon-SRAM but never quite got the result she was after. There’s the fact she just beat so many quality riders, on the longest climb professional women’s cycling has seen in years, to take her first ever win. And then there’s the way she took that win. The tenacity, the never-say-die attitude, the ability to ride her own tempo in the face of multiple stinging attacks from the favourites.
Half an hour after crossing the line, and after a couple visits to the presentation podium, Harris is much more composed. She’s got a clean jersey on now — the polka dot jersey of QOM winner — and she’s seemingly had a chance to process her achievement; to make sense of what it all means.
“Just complete disbelief,” she says, summing up the emotion as she crossed the line. “It’s been a goal of mine for the year to actually just win a race — I haven’t really won a race before. And to win my first professional race is just crazy.
“It’s not a weight off my shoulders, but it’s just nice to tick that box. And it’s Waitangi Day as well — to win on New Zealand’s national day in the national kit’s pretty cool.”
Pretty cool indeed. But much more than that too. A beautiful victory, with the emotional response to match.