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Sophie Edwards won the second edition of the Lochard Energy Warrnambool Women’s Cycling Classic, taking victory on Raglan Parade after the 160km race came down to a bunch sprint.
The 22 year old ARA Skip Capital rider and her team played the run in to perfection, putting Edwards in position so she could bide her time on the final uphill run into the line before she overtook the early launch of Matilda Raynolds (Lochard Energy) and held off the fast finish of Chloe Hosking (Roxsolt Liv SRAM).
Hosking took second place in her first time racing the event while Raynolds was third, adding to last year’s podium place and her two victories in the women’s category of the combined Melbourne to Warrnambool. Edwards place on the top step also provided a repeat of sorts, as although it was her first time at the race, it was the second year in a row an ARA Skip Capital rider had secured the top step, with Maeve Plouffe – now signed with Team DSM – winning the 2022 edition.
“I stayed in the saddle as long as I could,” said Edwards, who was quickly surrounded by her teammates after the line. “Seeing the other girls already starting their sprints I felt confident that as soon as I hooked out of the saddle and really gave a kick, that I’d be able to finish it off to the line.”
Edwards had returned to racing at the Tour Down Under, coming back from breaking her wrist after a training crash at the velodrome in December, and demonstrated that she had well and truly found her feet again post injury at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race by venturing out in the break. Still, making it to the top step in her first attempt at the Warrnambool Women’s Cycling Classic in the sprint at the end of the four and a half hour race was another thing entirely.
“To be honest I am just shocked,” said Edwards. “I hoped it would happen today but I didn’t really believe it until I was over the line. I have to thank every single girl on this team. I did not touch the wind the entire race. I hid in the bunch, I saved my legs.
“The girls rode super aggressively and then set up the finish exactly how we wanted it so I am super impressed and proud to be a part of this team.”
It was also a successful day for the team at the men’s criterium – which ran in Warrnambool while the women made their way to the coastal city from Colac – with ARA Skip Capital’s Kane Richards taking the win and Declan Trezise coming second.
How it unfolded
The 160km National Road Series race, the first of the top tier domestic competition for 2023, set out from Colac with a field of around 50. The riders had mild conditions, but a headwind to contend with as they worked their way inland through the Victorian countryside, through to Timboon before taking a left hand turn toward the coast and then swinging toward the Warrnambool finish line.
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The wind from the west didn’t help those on the attack and while plenty tried the moves were hard to make stick. Nicole Wilson, a guest rider for the Cycling Development Foundation, was one that got away but with over 110km still to go some company may have helped. Still Wilson managed to stretch the gap beyond two minutes at times and held an advantage right through toward the Great Ocean Road but as the race took in the spectacular vista’s it was all together.
There was a short lived break from with the ever active Rachael Wales (ARA Skip Capital), Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) and Lillee Pollock (Team BridgeLane) at 35km to go but once that too was reeled in a sprint finish started to look increasingly likely. The event was clearly taking a different path to the 267km men’s race of Saturday, won solo by Tristan Saunders (Team BridgeLane), after a large early break left those back in the peloton out of contention.
It was at the 5km to go mark that the action began to unfurl, with attack after attack but they were all pulled back so as the final kilometre approached the teams and sprinters were getting set for a bunch finish as they first rolled down toward the line and then up through the dip for the final uphill run to the Raglan Parade finish line. ARA Skip Capital were the most prominent team up the front, with Raynolds and Hosking alone in their fight for position.
Raynolds went early, Edwards then came to terms and Hosking tried to jump out from behind her wheel but couldn’t overcome the ARA Skip Capital rider on the uphill finish. Though Hosking did skip past Raynolds who held on for third. It was then Edwards’ ARA Skip Capital teammate Lucinda Stewart in fourth, a result that secured her the best young rider jersey.
The next event listed on the NRS calendar is the Tour de Brisbane on April 1 and then it is the Grafton to Inverell on April 29.