Chilly, inclement weather and mud was the setting of a dramatic 1-2 for High5 Dreamteam as Rebecca Wiasak and Kendelle Hodges did an impressive job to finish off the iconic Strade Nero stage. Race leader Lisen Hockings (Holden) fought off concerted attacks from High5 Dreamteam riders on her overall position to finish the stage in the leader’s jersey.
It was a cautious start to the day’s racing with only Ruby Livingstone (Roxsolt) able to make much of a gap early, taking her lead out to 30 seconds at one point before being reeled back in as the peloton wound up the pace to contest the first sprint point.
The fight for bonus seconds was fought out in earnest amongst the top riders as there was only an 11-second advantage for leader Lisen Hockings at the start of the stage and a host of riders enviously eyeing the top step of the podium.
There was a lot of action over the Queen of the Mountain (QOM) climbs, with all the strong climbers kicking clear of the rest of the peloton to fight it out for the bonuses on offer at the top of the climb. Lucy Kennedy (High5 Dreamteam) was the first over the top at both and although she finished better than Lisen Hockings (3rd and 2nd on the QOMs respectively) she couldn’t drop the Holden climber or take enough bonus time to overhaul the gangly rider’s lead.
The race slowed down after the second QOM, as it became clear that none of the important riders on the general classification had been dropped and a headwind on the run back into the finish at Sam Miranda King Valley winery was going to stifle any attacks.
Kendelle Hodges, who had been the team’s chosen sprinter for the stage, had a mechanical issue with her gears over one of the final dirt sections and had to change onto her team-mate Rebecca Wiasak’s spare bike. The height difference between the two is significant and Hodges no doubt found it difficult to put the same power down on the overlarge frame.
With Wiasak leading out the sprint, Hodges was unable to come around the wheel of her team-mate Wiasak, which worked out well for High5 as they took 1st and 2nd position, with Kristy Glover (Bikebug-NextGen) next over the line for third.
Wiasak was understandably ecstatic about her victory, praising the work of her team-mates throughout the stage.
“That was incredible! I’ve won this stage before when it had the different approach in,” said Wiasak, “I knew my legs were strong, I climbed with the front bunch up the second climb and I was up there on a couple of the rolling hills. I got second on the first sprint and won the second sprint so I knew that my team were there for me coming to the line and I was pretty confident I could deliver the win.
“The girls were incredible, I had Sam (de Riter) on the front with just under a kilometre to go driving it and I had Kenny (Kendelle Hodges) on my wheel, and Kendelle ended up coming second so it’s a 1-2 for the High5 Dream Team which is a brilliant start for the rest of our NRS campaign.
Wiasak had been part of the track endurance team that was set for the Rio Olympics, but was the unfortunate one to miss the flight to Rio as she was made the emergency reserve for the team.
“I knew that I had incredible form so Sutto (National Women’s Track Endurance Coach Garry Sutton) suggested I take a break and when I came back from California we had had an incredibly hard and tough training camp but I knew I had the form so I wanted to keep on going and ride for the High5 Dream Team as I hadn’t raced with them yet this season so I thought I’d come and have a race! I didn’t know how my legs would be up the climbs but I’ve definitely got the strength to be able to compete with the climbers today so I’m thrilled.”
Race-leader Lisen Hockings spent the day fending off attacks with the help of the Holden team and was happy, not just with the result and the performance but how much she enjoyed the experience of racing in only her third NRS event.
“Lucy rode really, really well on the QOMs,” said Hockings, “she absolutely floored it so I was just happy to hang onto her wheel. The team rode absolutely superbly to the plan and each and every one of the guys on the team did a brilliant job and I was just sorry that I couldn’t do a better job at finishing it off at some of the key points. They put it all on the line in what were some pretty wet, muddy and miserable conditions at times.”
“I love the gravel, so I was pretty comfortable on that surface but it was a tough climb (the Strade Nero climb) and a couple of the teams did a good job riding the climb on the front. It was good fun and a nice challenge.”
Going into the final stage Hockings holds a 6 second lead over Rebecca Wiasak with Lucy Kennedy, Ruth Corset (Total Rush) and Kate Perry (Specialized) 18 seconds in arrears, tied for third overall. The final stage of the Tour will be run over the Ryan’s Taminick Gap route with some tough climbs that will give attackers a springboard to try aggressive moves.
“Yeah it will be really interesting and good fun,” said Hockings. “Hopefully I’ve ridden my climbing legs in chasing Lucy up those hills. The High5 team rode really well, with Lucy taking bonuses on the climbs and Beck winning the sprints, it was really interesting racing and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
James Finch-Penninger, Freelance Cycling Journalist
BrakeDown Podcast founder