Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour
A tense battle to the top of Falls Creek saw Ella Harris (Vantage NZ National Team/Canyon-SRAM) unleash a powerful final surge to secure her first UCI level win while Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) finished third and claimed the overall Jayco Herald Sun Tour race win.
With nearly thirty kilometres of climbing to finish a shortened Stage 2 of the Herald Sun Tour, it was always going to come down to a battle of the climbers. An absorbing fight in the final ten kilometres saw multiple Kennedy attacks answered by her opposition, with race leader Arlenis Sierra (Astana) hanging tough until she blew up in the final 400 metres.
Harris slingshot around the Cuban and seemed to find her second wind as she passed Kennedy and held off Gigante to claim a dramatic win.
An emotional Harris collapsed to the line after the finish crying at the realisation that she had successfully taken her first ‘real’ win.
“I’m speechless. I can’t believe it,” said Harris. “At TDU and Cadel’s I felt I was really close to getting a result. I thought I didn’t have the legs today, Astana did such a good job and every time they accelerated I got dropped as I have zero punch, kept dieseling my way back on.
“I felt in the final few hundred metres that everyone was really tired and I had a bit more power than everybody else. I actually had the same feeling at the stage into Stirling at the TDU and I got swamped there so I was expecting the same thing to happen today. I’m just ecstatic to win, I’ve been wanting it for so long.”
Harris’ result was the result of a fighting display as she was yo-yoing behind the front group, getting dropped five or six times in the final kilometres before struggling back on terms in the final kilometre and then surging to secure the victory.
“I’ve got a bit of a mantra ‘above and beyond’,” said Harris. “I was thinking that to myself a lot on that climb, every time I got dropped and fought back.”
“It’s been a goal of mine to win a race, I haven’t really won a race before. It’s nice… not a weight off my shoulders but to tick a box. It’s Waitangi day, so to win on New Zealand’s national day in the national kit is pretty cool.”
Kennedy claimed the overall win with a ride that was complicated by a number of factors, including the limpet-like presence of Arlenis Sierra, the previous race leader and Jaime Gunning who was equal on time coming into the stage.
“I won’t say I was nervous, but there was certainly a bit of pressure on me. I was absolutely a marked rider, I couldn’t move the whole way up without someone trying to follow me. A big relief to have it done and a big satisfaction.”
The stage was shortened prior to the start of the race with the proposed descent skipped due to a storm warning for the upper slopes of the Falls Creek climb with race officials concerned for rider safety.
Peta Mullens (Roxsolt-Attaquer) was part of a from-the-gun attack, then launched from a long way out to try and take the first intermediate sprint. Only Ally Wollaston (Velo Project Women’s) was able to follow and the New Zealander came past to claim the maximum points in the sprint competition.
A flurry of attacks followed, with Kate Perry (Specialised Women’s Racing) launching one of her traditional solo moves off the front of the peloton. She took out the second intermediate sprint, with Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) jumping out to claim second position and put herself on equal points with the leader of the classification. Arlenis Sierra (Astana) secured the classification on countback, with her GC position the tiebreaker.
Perry continued her solo mission onto the ascent, maintaining a 40-second gap during the early stages of the climb before being dragged back by the pace-making of Mitchelton-Scott with 16 kilometres left.
Bree Wilson (Rosxolt-Attaquer) used a lull in the pace to launch an attack, surging away from the peloton with 13 kilometres remaining.
Anastasiia Chursina (Ale BTC Ljubljana) launched a move to try and bridge over to the escaped Queenslander with 10 kilometres left to climb.
Kennedy made her first move with nine kilometres left to run with the yellow jersey of Sierra able to respond along with most of the strong climbers.
Wilson held a lead of 42 seconds with six kilometres remaining, with Kennedy largely driving the pace back in the chase group. After a few testing attacks from the chase group, Kennedy launched her own assault with five kilometres remainig, bringing Wilson back into sight as the chase group slimmed down to an elite selection of Sierra, Gigante, Barrow, Chursina and Jaime Gunning (Specialised Women’s Racing).
The group caught the solo attack of Wilson, who then dropped her chain with four kilometres remaining.
Kennedy tried another massive attack with three and a half kilometres left, with another depletion of the front group with Chursina and Barrow being dropped. Despite the surges, Sierra wasn’t being dropped and Kennedy slowed the pace to a near crawl with just one and a half kilometres remaining. This allowed the likes of Harris and Barrow to return and upped the pace to a point where Kennedy could drift to the back and try another haymaker of an attack in the final kilometre. Again Sierra was the first to respond, but as the Australian kept the pace on the race leader cracked dramatically with 400 metres remaining to the finish.
Gigante, Gunning and Harris nearly had to swerve to avoid the rapidly slowing Sierra, but Harris continued her momentum to launch a prolonged surge towards the finish, passing Kennedy and maintaining a high enough tempo into the finish line to hold off Gigante.
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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger