Nineteen-year-old Lucinda Stewart (ARA Skip Capital) has soloed away from her breakaway companions to win the Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Classic today.
Stewart was part of a quartet that broke away 40 kilometres into the 160-kilometre race from Colac to Warrnambool. She was joined by Amanda Poulsen (Team BridgeLane), Josephine Pepper (Butterfields Racing Team) and Sophia Sammons (Cycling Development Foundation).
The leaders held a healthy gap on the peloton as they entered the outskirts of the finishing town. With six kilometres remaining, Stewart decided to go on the attack, even though she would have been fancied to win the sprint.
The young Melburnian opened a small gap that she was able to maintain until the finish on Raglan Parade. She crossed the line comfortably ahead of Pepper, who had jumped away from Poulsen to snatch second place.
“I’m just in absolute disbelief,” Stewart said in her post-race interview, noting she had spent much of this summer injured.
“I didn’t have too much confidence going into this race. I’ve sat out all of January with a broken collarbone. But the team had confidence in me once I was in that break, and I had Henk and David [sports director] in the car saying, ‘you’ve got this.’”
ARA Skip Capital hadn’t aimed to put Stewart in the race-winning breakaway, instead counting on the sprint prowess of Lucie Fityus and 2023 winner Sophie Edwards.
“It wasn’t really the plan for me to be away that early. I was following moves for the team, with such good sprinters in the bunch,” Stewart explained.
“I’m sort of more of a sprinter but I didn’t want to wait until the end for a sprint. So, I just dug the heels in and gave it everything and held on.”
Sammons, who earlier had dropped out of the breakaway with cramp, fought on to finish fourth. Lauren Thomas (Lochard Energy Composite Team) completed the top five after attacking from the peloton in the last 20 kilometres.
How it unfolded
It had been a messy and frustrating race for the main peloton, given that the two strongest teams – Team BridgeLane and ARA Skip Capital – each had a rider up the road.
The breakaway’s lead grew out to over four minutes. However, with 60km remaining and a sniff of wind in the air, Team BridgeLane nevertheless decided to put the hammer down at the front of the bunch.
WorldTour rider Grace Brown (FDJ-SUEZ) also joined in the pace-making, knowing that without teammates, a split was her only realistic chance of victory.
Similar to the men’s race yesterday, splits began appearing in the crosswinds and the gap shrank to three minutes.
However, with 40km to go, the pace went out of the chase after a large crash on a narrow road brought half the peloton to a standstill. Ella Simpson (ARA Skip Capital) came off worst in the pile-up and was taken to hospital for scans.
Although the peloton eventually regrouped, their motivation was gone and the leaders were able to retain nearly three minutes’ advantage going into the last 20 kilometres.
Even as the breakaway attacked each other – Poulsen and Pepper being the first instigators – there was no danger of them being caught.
With the fatigue heavy in her rivals’ legs, Stewart made her only attack – a winning one – with six kilometres remaining. Sammons was dropped and the tired response from Poulsen and Pepper was not enough to get back to the front of the race.
“I knew it would always be a bit of cat and mouse coming into it,” Stewart said about her move.
“Yesterday, everyone was on the ropes when Marko [Mark O’Brien] hit it. I sort of did the same thing. I could hear them all hurting behind me, and I though ‘it’s all or nothing’, so I gave it a go and held on.”
ARA Skip Capital has now won all three editions of the Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Classic. Maeve Plouffe took the inaugural edition in 2022, while Sophie Edwards won the bunch sprint last year.