Sarah Gigante has smashed Melbourne’s 1 in 20 QOM … and she’s not done yet

by Matt de Neef

On Wednesday morning Australian time trial champion (and VeloClub member) Sarah Gigante (Tibco-SVB) went on a rampage in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, setting new climbing records on two of the city’s most well-loved climbs.

On the 1 in 20, Melbourne’s most well-known ascent, 20-year-old Gigante rode a lightning-quick time of 14:27, more than 30 seconds faster than the previous record held by Gigante’s fellow pro (and former Aussie TT champ) Grace Brown (Mitchelton-Scott). Gigante followed that up with a new Strava QOM on The Wall, her time of 15:12 nearly 30 seconds faster than the previous mark, set by former pro Miranda Griffiths.

CyclingTips caught up with Gigante to learn more about her amazing ride, to find out how she tackled the 1 in 20, how she handled Melbourne’s coronavirus lockdowns, and what might come next. Spoiler alert: If you’ve got any of the few remaining QOMs in the Dandenongs, prepare to get a bunch of those dreaded “Uh oh!” emails from Strava soon …

CyclingTips: Congrats on the new QOMs! You obviously went out to the Dandenongs with a plan to set some new records?

Sarah Gigante: I’ve been missing racing a ton. I haven’t raced since March … well I’ve been doing a lot of Zwift racing … but now that we can actually get outside and there’s still no real racing, I just decided to make my own races.

So I was doing it first in my 5 km radius [ed. dictated by the coronavirus lockdown]. I tried to hunt down all the QOMs in there and then in my 25 km radius [ed. when lockdown eased] I just went on this epic spree. I tried to get Mount Pleasant and Bonds and ‘Pony Club’ and Menzies and Pigeon Bank — I did all of those ones and just even just like random [ones] … I’d be like ‘Oh yeah, here’s a segment!’ I just put the live segments on my Wahoo and starred like 25 segments before I went out for a ride. And every time my Wahoo would tell me the segment was coming up I’d just fully sprint for it.

And then once the 25 km radius was gone on Monday, then it’s been even better. So I did Flat Rock Road, I got that, and then I had the ‘Nongs [ed. the Dandenongs] yesterday. I actually had a really epic ride planned, but I was so cooked after doing the 1 in 20 and The Wall. I was way too ambitious.

So these are the [QOMs] I wanted to get: The 1 in 20, The Wall, then Devils [Elbows], then The Crescent, then Gembrook Road, then Montrose to Sky High, and then Inverness. And after the very first two, I went to Devils and I started off and it was like ‘OK, you’re five seconds behind.’ And I’m like ‘It’s alright, I can do it’. And then it was like ‘You’re 10 seconds behind’, ‘You’re 30 seconds behind.’ I was like ‘OK, maybe I’ll just do endurance from now!’ That was a bit ambitious. I’ll have to go back.

There are multiple Strava segments for both the 1 in 20 and The Wall. Whichever way you slice it, she’s now got the QOM on the Dandenongs’ two most popular climbs.

I’m going to [Mt.] Macedon on Friday. My coach, Dylan Lindsey, he’s been great over lockdown. It’s kind of hard obviously not racing for so long and being confined to home. So he helped me keep the motivation really high and I’ve come out stronger.

I think he rolls his eyes a bit when I’m like ‘Ooh, can I have a day on my programme where I could just go QOM-hunting?’ But he lets me sometimes.

CT: I saw on Instagram that you had your time trial helmet on for the 1 in 20 effort. Were you on a TT bike as well? Or just your regular road bike?

Road bike but I put in race wheels. I won’t lie — I took it very seriously. I wanted to fully get in the mood. It was pretty fun. I actually felt like I was doing a real race. I haven’t driven to go riding since March, I guess. Mum came with me — she went riding in the ‘Nongs too — but it really felt like a full-on race.

I’ve done the Blackburn [Cycling Club] 1 in 20 time trial there the last two years so it felt almost the same. We pulled up in the same car park, I did one lap to warm up and then I came back. I was hoping no one would see me because I was kind of embarrassed wearing all the aero gear.

So I did the warm-up just in normal stuff and then I put on my TT helmet and I put in the race wheels. And I was like ‘Ok, it’s only 6 km wearing this aero stuff — hopefully no one sees me.’ I decided to just own it because unfortunately, in the 14 minutes and 27 seconds it took, I managed to see the whole of Melbourne, or they managed to see me. So yes, I did take it way too seriously and I put in race wheels, I was wearing a skin suit and an aero helmet.

You took almost two minutes off your 1 in 20 PB — did you do anything different this time in terms of pacing?

Yes, I was 1:55 faster than last year. So that was about 15 months ago. I did a higher power and I didn’t go out as hard. I think last time I got like a one-minute power PB almost at the start, and five-minute PB. I’m studying at uni [ed. Linguistics and Geography as part of a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Melbourne], but I still have more time than normal because I’m not leaving to go racing and stuff. So I did way too much Strava analysis [of the climb].

I was like ‘OK, so the first 3.3 km you have to go this speed and then the false-flat, back off the power, and then the last k or so it’s actually the steepest part of it.’ I was like ‘OK, just make it to 3.3 then have a rest.’ I looked at my power after and I did quite well dropping the power for the false flat and then the last part I didn’t die too much. I think when I did it last year it just went downhill from the start.

Gigante’s two QOMs were part of a 120 km, four-hour ride with 2,700 metres of climbing.

What sort of power-to-weight were you putting out for your 1 in 20 effort?

I think it was like 5.8 watts/kg or something? It was 289 watts. It was pretty hard. Oh that’s one thing I did have that you wouldn’t have in a race — I had the Strava live segment. You can switch it between showing you the QOM or vs your own time — where you’re coming compared either to you or someone else. I didn’t think I would get the QOM because it was a bit gusty and it was a north-northeasterly so not the best wind and the day before was like 35ºC, I did Tour de Burbs [ed. a hard, hilly group ride in Melbourne’s north east] and some time-trial efforts in the morning. So I wasn’t super confident [and] I didn’t want to have Grace’s time on my Wahoo, just telling me I was behind because once you get in that negative mindset then it’s all over.

So I decided to put it on my PB because I knew I would beat my PB. I was just looking at that … and then when I started to see I was like 50 seconds ahead I’m like ‘Hmm …’ I was doing my maths — it was like 1:24 I had to beat it by [to get the QOM].

At this point in the conversation Sarah is distracted briefly by her mum, Kerry.

What Mum just told me to tell you was I went past my old teammate Neve Bradbury on the climb just by accident — that’s what I mean about everyone happened to be on the climb while I’m there, full aero equipment; so embarrassing. Anyway I went past her and she was riding kind of near this guy and she told me after that went she went past him, then he said to her ‘Gee, he was going fast wasn’t he?!’ Which is pretty funny.

Do you reckon you could improve on your 1 in 20 time?

Yeah, I want to plan it. I’ll have to talk to Dylan but I want to look at the wind forecast. It says on my Strava [that the wind during the effort] was like 20 km/h and north-northeasterly — that would be a cross/cross-head. So I want to go back with a strong tailwind and then I want to try it with a draft as well.

Lionel Mawditt he’s pretty fast — I think his time’s in the 12’s [ed. Mawditt rode a 12:50 solo in February 2019 — the second fastest time on record, behind Freddy Ovett’s 12:24. That same day Mawditt did a motorpaced lap in 11:14 as well.] I’m not sure what I could get but I think it would be interesting to see how fast I could go with a tailwind and a draft. And also, I can also just get stronger, hopefully.

Was your PB on The Wall as big an improvement for you as you managed on the 1 in 20?

No, The Wall — I wasn’t going flat out. I was just trying to get the QOM. So I had it starred on my Wahoo and I was just going hard enough to get it but it wasn’t like a full-out race attempt. I took off my race wheels and stuff. And I was planning on going for the eight QOMs.

Before I exploded I just wanted to do enough to get each of the QOMs rather than going full gas for them. But I knew I had to go full gas for the 1 in 20 to get that. And that was really hard. So I have to go back. I need to get Devils for sure …

So besides QOM-hunting, what’s next for you?

Well, I’m really targeting Nationals. I’m so excited that they’re happening and in Buninyong too. I know a lot of people are a bit sick of the courses, but understandably, I’m very glad and I love both the road race and the time trial course. I just so excited that that’s happening. And it will be almost a year between my big races, so the last ones I did in Belgium and then Nationals.

But yeah, I’m just so pumped. I’m glad I made it through lockdown. And it was pretty challenging mentally sometimes — I had a lot of FOMO watching the races in Europe. It was exciting to watch, but it was also kind of hard sometimes because I wished I was over there.

Now it’s summertime I can do ‘bunchies’ [ed. bunch rides]. I’m back to doing Tour de Burbs which is the best thing ever. I missed it so much. The first night I did it, I just came home and I just couldn’t stop grinning. So bunchies and racing — I’ll do any racing that’s on. I’m hoping to do the National Road Series in two weeks, but I’m not really sure how that all works because they have COVID bubbles. I’m not allowed to guest ride for a team, but I’m also not allowed to stay as an individual. So I’m trying to ask teams if I can stay with them … but it’s a bit hard because I’d be their competitor.

But yeah, hopefully that and then maybe the Tour Down Under and literally any race I can get my hands on, I will do. I’m so keen.

And then back to the US and Europe next year with Tibco-SVB?

Yeah, hopefully. We have a really strong team for next year. It’s quite a different team. We have six new signings which is like half our team, but it’s really exciting. We have people from like Boels-Dolmans and Canyon//SRAM and we have Eri [Yonamine] from Japan going to the Olympics next year. So we have such a strong team. And they did really well this year, the second half of the season when I wasn’t there. Wow, Lauren Stephens was just so strong but also Kristen Faulkner and Leah [Dixon] and Emily [Newsom] — everyone was so good. So I’m just so excited to get back over there.

Yeah, I’m disappointed that they can’t come to Australia for summer, but I’m not really surprised. Hopefully we have a great summer here and then head over. Hopefully the vaccine comes out and everything’s a little bit back to normal.

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