• Tristan Ward (Bennelong Swiss Wellness) and Nick White (Oliver's) throw to the line on Stage 3 of the NRS Tour of King Valley (Con Chronis)Source: Con Chronis
It was a triumph for a coach-athlete duo at the Sam Miranda Tour of King Valley, with Kate Perry (Specialized Womens Racing) claiming victory in the women's event and her protégé Tristan Ward (Bennelong SwissWellness) claiming two stages and the overall in the men's race.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

3 Sep 2018 - 5:01 PM  UPDATED 4 Sep 2018 - 12:56 PM

The northern Victoria-based Natoinal Road Series (NRS) race has become renowned for its dirt and gravel sections part of a varied course providing a wide spectrum of riders a chance to perform. That proved the case again as the faster riders were given the opportunity to dominate the early stages.

Women's Tour of the King Valley

Stages 1 and 2

In wet and windy conditions, track-star Ashlee Ankundinoff (Specialized Womens Racing) drew first blood on a short 1.6km opening prologue, just beating out Georgia Baker (St Lukes Health) and Sophie Edwards (SASI) in the explosive effort. 

Baker was able to reverse the order of the top two places in the criterium later in the day, rounding the final corner in first position and holding off the challenge of Ankudinoff to continue the good form she displayed at the Battle Recharge. Matilda Raynolds (Rush Womens team) rounded out the podium on a stage featuring a number of crashes among the peloton on the racetrack course.

Stage 3

The third stage contained the infamous Strade Nero dirt sections but was dominated by an early move initiated by Jemma Eastwood (Holden Team Gusto) and immediately jumped on by Perry. The duo built a massive advantage mid-way through the stage of just under eight minutes as they began the main gravel climb of the day. 

Race leader Georgia Baker punctured in the peloton delaying the chase somewhat, allowing the strong pair of riders a long leash that proved impossible to bring back. 

An attack from Grace Brown (Holden Team Gusto) to collect mountains points and some bonus seconds brought the gap down, but as the race turned back into the traditional start/finish hub in Sam Miranda winery, it was clear the stage win and battle for the general classification would be fought between Perry and Eastwood. 

Perry emerged the strongest, attacking Eastwood and soloing to the win by 54 seconds, the peloton a further four minutes in arrears.

Kate Perry spoke to Cycling Central after taking the win.

"Ash (Ashlee Ankudinoff) took out the first stage for our team and was good in the the crit as well," said Perry. "and coming into the third stage we were riding for her again. It was my job to mark moves before the first sprint and when Gemma jumped away I followed. We didn't know that the break would get away that far so we had to change the plan on the road a bit."

Perry's modus opperandi in many of her wins involves taking a long-range breakaway and using her phenomenal time-trialling and climbing ability to make the move stick, taking wins at events like the Amy's Otway Tour and the Tour of Bright in similar fashion.

"I am, I guess, used to those hard days," said Perry. "It's never the intent to just get up the road with one other person or go solo so early, but I guess when you look at best results in the NRS, that's what ends up happening.

"Gemma was a strong companion in the breakaway, she did most of the work with my job being to mark it. That played in my favour when it was clear that it wasn't coming back."

Stage 4

The final stage was a more controlled affair, with Specialized Women's Racing not keen for a repeat of last year, where Kate McIlroy went into the final stage with the race lead but an ill-timed puncture turned the race on its head with McIlroy ultimately losing the overall lead to Macey Stewart.

Specialized did enough to limit the damage of a mid-stage attack by UCI Road World Championships-bound Brown, while the NRS leader did enough to take the stage win and move herself up to third overall. The chase by Specialized ensured Perry took out the Tour from Eastwood in second.

"It's a special one for me," said Perry, "it wasn't one that I planned for or expected. It's one of those fortunate times that you can look back upon and think that it was a complete team effort. Anyone on paper could have won that Tour, but depending what position we are in we support the best person as a team to win.

"I'll probably look back on that last stage, where we were all swapping off as a team to chase Grace Brown, that's something you don't forget in a hurry!"

Perry also has a strong connection with the men's racing scene, working as a long-time coach for FTP Coaching, run by Mark Fenner.

Men's Tour of King Valley

One of Perry's athletes is Tristan Ward, who made it a unique double for FTP training as the former mountain-biker took his maiden NRS win.

"It was quite surreal having us win the same Tour," said Perry. "It's not necessarily a feeling of pride as a coach, but more as a mentor and a friend, I help him out, he helps me as well.

"I'm stoked that he's really gotten something great out of putting his head down and achieving this target. It was almost a proud 'big sister' sort of moment."

Ward himself was similarly complimentary about his coach's role in his win and her own performance. 

"My first coach was Mark Fenner when I was with Torque on the mountain bike," said Ward, "we decided mutually around when I was making the shift to road that I'd give Kate a go, she's got all the qualifications and is a smart cookie, while Fenz (Fenner) could take more of a mentor role. It's worked ever since, she's a smart coach and has brought out the best in me."

"We're both pretty positive people and good mates. She's a weapon in herself, going out in a two-person break 7 kilometres into a race then hanging on to win, I can't do that, that's incredible. We've seen her do results against World Tour riders at nationals in the past and I think she's right at that World Tour level."

Ward built his Tour of King Valley win on a consistent string of performances over the weekend, never finishing lower than fourth on a stage and taking wins in both the road stages. 

Stages 1-3

The opening prologue was won by young surprise packet Jensen Plowright (Total Rush), 18, who shocked the field by just beating track star Sam Welsford (Australian Cycling Academy) and Ward.

A second stage criterium was marred by a few falls, but Welsford weathered the conditions to make amends, powering clear to another NRS win after claiming a stage victory a few weeks ago at the Tour of the Great South Coast. 

An exciting Stage 3 was blown apart by a very strong pace from Bennelong Swiss Wellness on the climb, with the intention of dropping their main rival for the overall classification, Welsford. The stocky track athlete did manage to survive the ascent, but was isolated and had to draw on his deepest reserves of energy to cover all the moves going off the front and even launch his own. 

In the end, it was too much for one rider to cover and a group containing Ward and enough of the top contenders from other teams went free, working together well into the finish. Attacks flew off the front of that group as they approached the finish line in the Sam Miranda winery, with the late foray of Tom Kaesler only brought back in the final 100 metres as Ward emerged first through the final corner to take the win from Nicholas White (Oliver's Real Food Racing) and Jason Lea (Bennelong SwissWellness).

Stage 4

The final stage was more restrained, with the climbs of Tamnick Gap seeing a four-man break get away. The move contained strong riders, dangerous on the general classification like Liam Magennis (Drapac EF), Ryan Thomas (Raffle.Club) and Jesse Coyle (Mobius Bridgelane) but was marked by Tim Roe (Bennelong SwissWelness). 

The break's advantage was pegged back within a minute for most of the stage and in the end it came down to a sprint finish back in the winery, with Ward rounding the final corner first and taking his second win and locking up the general classification, with White again consigned to second place, youngster Jarrad Drizners (SASI) finishing third.

With the win, Ward secured the overall Tour victory, with White in second and Welsford in third on the general classification. A happy Ward reflected on the path he took to reach this point in his career where he's taken his first NRS stage and overall win.

"Obviously I'm rapt, it's pretty cool to win the dirt stage, coming from the mountain bike," said Ward. "I've had some decent success on the mountain bike, winning Port to Port and doing well in the national series and national championships. It's a different thing to win on the road and it feels nice to finally get up there."

"I did my first road race in the NRS with Phoenix Cycling Collective back in 2015, it's a great team to start with and I'm still friends with those guys. That year I got 4th at Canberra Tour and 14th overall, which was cool and gave me the taste of racing on the road."

"I was lucky enough to score a contract with Bennelong this year. Riding for Bennelong, it's quite different. Going over the top of the main climb on Stage 3 we had all our guys there with the peloton down to 30 or so riders, so we've got a lot more options to win from there.

"There's no animosity within the team, anyone's happy for someone else to win and they back that. Today for instance (Stage 4), Ayden Toovey was on the front working and he's won the last two tours and is wearing the overall leader's jersey for the NRS."

Toovey kept the lead of the men's NRS overall, with Grace Brown maintaining her stranglehold on the women's jersey. 

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