Sophie Edwards has made it back-to-back victories for ARA Skip Capital in the Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Classic, winning the bunch sprint on Raglan Parade today.
The 22-year-old South Australian stayed well-hidden throughout the 160km race, even as attacks rained from the front of the peloton.
A nagging headwind and motivated teams kept the field together until the final straight, poised for an uphill sprint.
The teams of ARA Skip Capital and DRG Knights Liv did their best to assemble lead-out trains, but the bunch was fanned wide across the road without any clear organisation.
Two-time Warrny winner Matilda Raynolds (Lochard Energy) was the first to strike out with just under 200 metres to go. But there wouldn’t be a third today, as the seated acceleration of Edwards powered her clear of Raynolds and across the line for an emphatic win.
Behind, Australia’s most successful sprinter Chloe Hosking (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) beat Raynolds into second place, coming past in the final metres.
After her recent success on the track, including a gold medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games, the Warrny is surely Edward’s biggest win on the road.
“To be honest, I’m shocked,” Edwards said after the race. “I hoped it’d happen today, but I didn’t really believe it until I was over the line.
“I have to thank every single girl in this team. I did not touch the wind the entire race. I was in the bunch, saving my legs. The girls rode super aggressively and set up the finish exactly how we wanted it, so I’m super impressed and proud to be part of this team.”
A peloton of 47 starters, minus former Warrny winner Peta Mullens, set out from Colac with some light drizzle about.
As predicted, the headwind wasn’t as strong as it was for yesterday’s men’s race, but it was still enough to make its presence felt. Those conditions, combined with the distance, deterred attacks until 112km to go, when Nicole Wilson (Cycling Development Foundation) set out on her own.
Wilson’s solo move lasted for the best part of 50 kilometres, but her recapture with 65km remaining sparked waves of attacks that barely halted until the outskirts of Warrnambool.
The two biggest teams, Team Bridgelane and ARA Skip Capital, were particularly keen to send riders up the road. Matilda Raynolds was also active in trying to force a split – a risky tactic given she was riding with limited team support on a composite squad.
However, such was the interest in the breakaway that no move was given any leash, and the headwind helped keep the peloton together.
The most significant split featured Rachael Wales (ARA Skip Capital), Lillee Pollock (Team Bridgelane) and Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) in a group of three. But with the latter refusing to work, and teams chasing hard behind, their lead never grew beyond a handful of seconds.
The biggest casualty of the surges was Katie Banerjee (DRG Knights Liv), who crashed out the race with two suspected wrist fractures.
The bunch entered the suburban streets of Warrnambool with a mass sprint looking likely. Raynolds tried once more, and still Bridgelane and ARA Skip Capital wanted to shake up the race, sending Emily Watts and, once again, Rachael Wales on the attack within the last 5km.
Cervelo-Ziptrak shut down that move, setting up a bunch sprint on Raglan Parade, in stark contrast to the small breakaway that contested the win last year.
The washing machine effect was in full swing as riders jockeyed for position, yet no team was able to take control of the lead-out.
Raynolds struck for home first, but a fresh-legged Sophie Edwards bounded out of the bunch to follow last year’s win by former teammate Maeve Plouffe.
Edwards was full of thanks for her ARA Skip Capital teammates.
“As a team, we often like an aggressive race,” Edwards said.
“So, it took a lot of patience to sit in there and back our team plan. Because this race is so long, we knew that we’d have the fitness at the end and we had to trust our team tactics, and trust the race would pan out the way we wanted it to.”
It was a timely early-season result for the Sunshine Coast-based outfit, whose male riders couldn’t deliver the goods in the men's race.
“It’s unreal. After the boys didn’t have the best race yesterday, we knew it was our turn to get our team on the podium, and I’m glad we’ve done that.”
The win marks a successful comeback after Edwards broke her wrist in a training crash before Christmas.
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Photos: Con Chronis