A decision to take up cycling as a hobby on the advice of a friend four years ago has paid dividends for unheralded Wagga cyclist Sophie Mackay as she claimed the biggest win of her career in Ballarat today – the national criterium title.
Mackay, who races domestically in the Subaru National Road Series with Specialized Racing, upset Lizzie Williams (VIC) and former champion Lauren Kitchen (NSW) to win the women’s criterium at the 2016 Mars Cycling Australia Road National Championships.
“When I realised I had won, it was more disbelief to tell you the truth,” said Mackay whose previous career bests came in 2013 when she claimed the NSW road race crown and finished second in the criterium.
“Being able to wear the national champions jersey is an amazing feeling. Now I guess I will have a name to live up to so I better lift my game.”
After a relaxed start to the opening laps, the action picked up ahead of the first sprint with Kitchen launching a concerted effort to take maximum points in the sprint.
From here on it was on in earnest with attack after attack forcing the pace with riders being dropped off the back. Reigning road champion Peta Mullens (VIC) and Amanda Spratt (NSW) countered the acceleration of Kitchen.
With attacks continuing the lead was constantly changing with Australian Orica-AIS the main protagonists. Rachel Neylan (NSW) was the first rider to achieve a significant gap. Reaching close to 15 seconds at the half way point of the race.
Sensing the danger it was Mullens who again took to the front and despite several false starts in the chase the gap quickly fell and a strong group formed. Williams, Kitchen, Mackay, Chloe McConville (VIC), Ruth Corset (QLD), Miranda Griffiths (VIC) and Minda Murray (VIC) presented a dangerous move with Sarah Roy (NSW) bridging across.
Despite attempts to bring it back the move was able to hold on to contest the finish.
“It is a long sprint, uphill is tough. Felt like I had to hang in there, tried to have a good position heading into the last corner, and I think I was third or second last which wasn’t ideal,” said Mackay.
“But I just tapped onto someone?s wheel and from 250m to go, I could see Lizzie and Sarah in front and I was thinking hunt them down, hunt them down. I was just hoping really,” said Mackay who had an emotional phone call with her mother ahead of the podium as she wasn’t able to attend the race in person.
“My mum, in Wagga, who had a few choice words to say when she found out I had won because she was fairly disappointed she wasn?t here to see it.
I don?t think I will sleep very well at all tonight. There will be lots of phone calls, lots of hugs and hopefully I might be able to have a celebratory beer!”
In the battle for the first ever under 23 women’s green and gold jersey Jessica Mundy (SA) emerged victorious in a close finish narrowly beating defending champion Shannon Malseed (VIC) and Tayla Evans (VIC) in the sprint.
“I’ve never been able to get on the top step so a special moment today,” said Mundy on her first national title on the road.
The achievement was made even more special as Mundy became the first under 23 women to pull on the green and gold jersey. “Being able to wear the jersey makes you feel extra special, it’s a great moment when you put it on and have the Australian green and gold bands around you.”
The women’s field now turns their attention to the individual time trials in Bunninyong on Thursday January 7th.
Follow The Action
Follow all the action via the exclusive live race updates through Cycling Australia’s Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram accounts, and follow hashtag #RoadNats