Kennedy weathers Cuban missile crisis to claim Jayco Herald Sun Tour crown

Credit: Con Chronis / Jayco Herald Sun Tour

Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) had a very tough job to defend her Herald Sun Tour of 2019, but she managed it dramatically in the final 400 metres as she managed to drop Cuban sprint and climbing sensation Arlenis Sierra (Astana) and outlasted Jaime Gunning to claim victory.

Finishing third on the stage proved enough for Kennedy to secure the overall win, with top two stage finishers Ella Harris (Vantage NZ National Team) and Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) coming into the stage behind the Mitchelton-Scott rider on the general classification.

Kennedy came into the race as the unbackable favourite for the overall title and she duly delivered after her Mitchelton-Scott had helped eliminate a number of key climbers from general classification contention.

“I won’t say I was nervous,” said Kennedy, “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.”

Sierra in particular was Kennedy’s constant shadow, using her sprinter’s punch to respond respond with seeming ease to the Australian’s attacks.

“It was a bit tricky,” said Kennedy. “It was a really long climb, but it wasn’t particularly difficult at any point and there’s no real steep ramps for me to attack on.

“It’s the kind of climb where people like Arlenis, who are powerful riders, can survive on. I just had to keep going and make it as hard as possible in those final kilometres.”

Kennedy’s performance on the Falls Creek ascent varied from following a steady pace, driving the tempo on the front, launching massive attacks and even nearly coming to a standstill with one and a half kilometres remaining in the race.

“Yeah, it was getting a bit frustrating,” said Kennedy of the moment where she nearly came to a stop on the side of the road, “not being able to move with no one willing to work. Obviously, it wasn’t their job to, but it was getting frustrating. I think that if I unclipped, we might have all unclipped on the side of the road.”

Kennedy paid credit to the teamwork that ultimately secured her overall victory as stage-winner Harris and runner-up Gigante both missed the front split on the previous stage after strong work from Mitchelton-Scott to drive out the gap.

“There were only three or four left in that last selection that were still on the same time as me and those were the ones I had to watch out for,” said Kennedy. “When I saw that it was Sarah and Ella that were in front of me, I looked round and saw I had a bit of a gap and I knew I had the tour sewn up.”

Sierra put in a superb ride to very nearly defend the yellow jersey she had taken on the prior stage, climbing very nearly with the absolute best riders in the race to the end of a 30-kilometre long climb. The Cuban exploded in the final 400 metres, conceding 31 seconds in only a brief stretch of road as the pure climbers accelerated away from her.

“I’m happy because I got third in the general classification,” said Sierra. “I did what I could, I responded to the attacks from the major contenders and in the end my legs were just empty in the last three hundred metres.”

Kennedy joins just a handful of riders to successfully defend a Herald Sun Tour crown, with women’s race director John Trevorrow on the exclusive list.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger