It was hot, tough and windy for the women out at Portarlington today, with the field absolutely shredded by a combination of the difficult conditions and the aggressive racing. With a big crowd by the side of the road to watch the elite women of the Australian peloton battle it out over the hilly course, the racing didn?t disappoint the gathered fans. The third stage jam-packed full of action as the wind and the hilly course ripped the peloton to shreds, leaving plenty of top riders struggling to follow wheels once the pace was pushed. It took a certain type of rider to succeed on a day like the riders faced and in the end it was the toughness of Valentina SCANDOLARA (Al? Cycling) that proved the decisive factor as she beat out the overall leader of the race, Gracie ELVIN (Orica-AIS), in the uphill sprint to the finish.
There was a sedate pace to the first few laps, but that belied the storm that was about to break. As the riders headed through the first intermediate sprint, the intermediate sprint jersey wearer, Lauretta Hanson (Total Rush Hyster), went off the front to collect the points, with Valentina SCANDOLARA (Ale Cycling) and Amanda SPRATT (Orica-AIS) trailing on her wheel. Spratt and Scandolara, the former teammates, then continuing on to form a 2 woman move off the front. They quickly gained a big advantage, getting out to a 30 second gap. Valentina SCANDOLARA spoke to Peleton Caf? after the race, and described this section.
?The wind is always a big factor on this course, and I was looking forward to it, as I knew it was the race that suited me the best. But this would mean also, if it was windy with the hard course, it would mean that Orica would be there with big numbers, and that?s what happened today. When I was riding with Spratty, I noticed she wasn?t putting one hundred percent in, which is understandable (protecting Elvin?s leader?s jersey).?
The Orica-AIS squad then decided to split the race up, launching a number of furious attacks up the main climb, and splitting the race to bits as they drove the pace. A five woman group emerged from the splintered bunch, with leader?s jersey wearer Gracie ELVIN joined by her teammates Sarah Roy and Lizzie Williams, and Wiggle-High 5?s Chloe HOSKING and Peta Mullens to form an elite selection. They still had a 30 second gap to close down to Scandolara and Spratt, but Spratt began to sit on, becoming an anchor for Scandolara to drag around the course, which allowed the group to catch back on with only a few laps remaining.
?As soon as they got us back they started to attack, first it was Lizzie (Williams), then Gracie (Elvin) and I managed to get on her wheel. Then she attacked me again, so I stopped working with her, then Roy joined us and began working for Gracie, so I just sat on the wheel and tried to take the sprint. The last corner was always going to be crucial (coming with 200 metres to go), and Gracie tried to anticipate the sprint by going on the right from the second last corner, but I sprinted down the left on the inside, I got the lead and it was just full-bore from there to the finish.?
Scandolara emerged triumphant with arms raised aloft in an exuberant salute, showing everyone what the win meant to her. The win comes with added meaning as she is racing in Australia, a country that has come to mean a lot to the Italian. ?The first two years I was forced, well forced is a bad word, but I had to come down for the team training camp with Orica. This year I wanted to start with good shape, not top shape, but because the Olympics are on, it is good to get some results early to make sure you get in the team. My team is coming down for the Tour Down Under, so it made sense for me to race here. But most of all, my best friends are here. I was in Adelaide with Nettie (Annette) Edmondson and Carlee TAYLOR, and here in Melbourne I train with Lizzie Williams, it?s a second home for me. I joke sometimes and call Nettie?s family my second family as well. I really love Australia and Australians, so it?s always great to come back.?
Scandolara is joining the American team Cylance Pro Cycling next season, and will be given a lot more responsibility to lead the squad as they try to take results in the top races. ?I really like the project from the beginning, we only have a few girls, but we are strong and talented and they choose us, yes for the ability on the bike, but also the characters as well, to build a really good group dynamic. I really like the vibe, like after this race I came back to my phone and I have three messages from future teammates which is just awesome. I feel they are all excited to start racing, and 2016 should be a great year.?
The Michelton Bay Cycling Classic continues tomorrow in Williamstown with Elvin holding a convincing lead over Scandolara and Kimberley Wells (High 5 Dream Team), meaning that she will only need to finish 4th to ensure that she wins the series.
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