Watts sprints to surprise win in Santos Festival of Cycling opener

Pre-stage favourite Ruby Roseman-Gannon had to settle for second.

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Emily Watts (Knights of Suburbia) has outsprinted her more fancied rivals to take victory on the opening day of the Santos Festival of Cycling.

Watts, last year’s Australian U23 road race champion, beat pre-stage favourite Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco) and newly crowned Australian champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) in a bunch sprint into Williamstown.

The opening stage of the three-stage National Road Series race was a rather compact affair, with the bunch staying together for much of the day’s 85 km. There were a handful of attacks throughout the stage, the most promising of which came from Watts’s teammate Georgie Howe, Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) and Ruth Corset on the final climb of the day, just 6 km from the finish. But ultimately the stage was destined to end in a bunch sprint.

Roseman-Gannon started the final sprint early but faded late as Watts powered past to take victory. But after winning the day’s two intermediate sprints, and the bonus seconds that came with them, Roseman-Gannon ended stage 1 in the overall leader’s jersey.

The Santos Festival of Cycling is a domestic-level stage race that, for the second year running, is replacing the COVID-affected Santos Tour Down Under. The women’s race is being contested over three stages, from Sunday to Tuesday, while the men’s three-day race will be held from Thursday to Sunday next week.

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