Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) spoiled the Mitchelton-Scott/Amanda Spratt party, taking the stage win and the Tour Down Under lead by powering to the line in Stirling first.
The 109.1 kilometre route from Nairne to Stirling promised to be an interesting one, with a one kilometre dirt section and finishing circuits around the well-known Tour Down Under finishing town of Stirling set to make it a hard race.
The opening kilometres saw some sparring from teams off the front of the race with an eventual six-rider break going clear containing Tanja Erath (Canyon-SRAM), Lotta Hentalla (Trek-Segafredo), Anna Trevisi (Ale BTC Ljubljana), Heidi Franz (Rally Cycling), Josie Talbot (UniSA) and Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing).
Riding on the front to protect the race lead of Spratt, Mitchelton-Scott gradually dragged the breakaway back until it was swallowed up as the race entered the gravel section. While bumpy and dusty, there wasn’t any significant split in the peloton, though a crash brought down Jessica Allen (Mitchelton-Scott) and Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women’s Racing) had to fight her way back after a mechanical.
The first ascent of Stirling saw the Australian WorldTour squad continue to turn the screws on the ever-dwindling peloton, with the tough but not brutal run up to Stirling proving a test of attrition. Winder was able to win the intermediate sprint over Spratt and Liane Lippert (Team Sunweb), an important result as it ensured that if the American champion was able to take the win at the end of the stage, she would move into the ochre jersey.
A short-lived attack soon after from national time trial champion Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) with 34 kilometres left was shut down quickly. Attacks from Brodie Chapman and Lauren Kitchen (both FDJ Nouvelle Aquitane Futuroscope) were neutralised, until Leigh-Anne Ganzar (Rally Cycling) jumped away solo after the penultimate ascent of the climb into Stirling.
The American rider was able to push out her lead to just under a minute, when Trek-Segafredo and Mitchelton-Scott began to ramp up the pace behind. Ganzar’s lead evaporated in the final kilometres as the peloton prepared for the final uphill sprint.
Surging and half-attacks from the main group saw a constantly shifting dynamic at the front of the race and in the end it was perfect timing from Winder and her Trek-Segafredo teammates that saw her secure the victory.
“We were hoping for an aggressive race,” said Winder, resplendent in her ochre jersey, “that really suits the style of riders that we have on our team. We knew it was a really hard finishing circuit and setting ourselves up for the bonus sprints was really important. We didn’t want to kill myself for that as it is such a hard finale but I managed to take that.”
“My teammate had been trying to set a decent pace into the final climb with seven kilometres to go and also Lucy Kennedy from Mitchelton-Scott was setting a strong pace on the climb which kept it strung out.
“Tayler was really good, I was right behind her and she was listening to everything I had to tell her, not to go too soon or anything like that. She set me up really well, I saw the finish line and put my head down and went as hard as I could.”
Liane Lippert had to come the long way round after finding herself poorly positioned coming into the final metres of the race, but came second and could be a threat with three intermediate sprints and the final sprint offering time bonuses on Stage 4 street criterium circuit. Winder was asked what the plan for the final stage, with her holding a slim lead of just seven seconds over Lippert and Spratt.
“Win again,” said Winder. “How do we win? It’s a criterium so it’s a different style of racing, but we have a really strong team.
“There’s some bonus seconds during the race up for grabs, so we’ll have to use our sprinter (Lotta Hentalla) to see what she can do to go against the other sprinters. Chloe’s (Hosking) up there in the GC and she has a good sprint as we all know and then hopefully try and win with her (Hentalla) at the end of the day.”
Spratt was understandably disappointed after the stage, giving up her leader’s jersey and looking unlikely to continue her general classification of the past three editions.
I honestly don’t think we could have done too much more. We had a good plan and the girls committed 100 per cent. I was a little bit far a couple of kilometres out and used some energy to move up, but even so, you saw how punchy Ruth was in the finish there. She had a really incredible rider and sometimes you have to realise when someone has an incredible ride.”
“I was behind Arlennis Sierra (Astana) and she started dropping the wheel, so I had to go around her and was maybe positioned third or fourth wheel into the final kick. Ruth went, and my legs exploded. I finished totally empty I couldn’t have given any more.”
The race continues with the final stage, a technical criterium course around Adelaide CBD that should suit the sprinters.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger