From living in a single room with three generations of her family in Cuba, struggling through international embargoes and finally into success against elite competition, it has been a long journey for Deakin University Women’s Race winner Arlenis Sierra (Astana).
A solo win is unusual for Sierra, who can normally rely on her powerful sprint to secure good results, but on the roads of Geelong, the Cuban was too powerful for the rest of her competitors and took off to leave no one in doubt who was the best rider.
"It's a win, I won't say it was impossible,” Sierra said after the race, “because I started with the ambition of winning, and I am grateful that I had the legs to win.
“And I am thankful to all the people who support me. I was ahead with (Lucy Kennedy) and I told her to pull, but I don't know if she was waiting for her team.
“That's when I decided to go alone and I knew it would be difficult to win against two from the same team, so I went all or nothing."
It was clear from that surge that it was going to be impossible for Kennedy to follow the Astana rider, and even with Mitchelton-Scott team-mate Amanda Spratt bridging across to join forces, it was clear the Cuban was too far ahead.
Writing in De Velo last year, Sierra described the circumstances that preceded her first season in the women’s peloton. Not only sharing a single room of her home with three generations of her family. Sierra also used her mother’s nursing gowns in the absence of other clothes but was able to get a chance to shine when she was accepted to a local sports school.
The school only had two bikes, which Sierra had to share with the male athletes, but she proved her worth and was selected to represent Cuba at a national level.
Despite top-level worthy results, including three victories at the Pan-American Games, international politics and embargoes slowed Sierra’s progression. That was until Astana spotted the talented rider training in the UCI facilities in Switzerland.
"I spent a month in the UCI centre,” said Sierra, “because one of the UCI's vice presidents is Cuban. I was there training before the Olympics Games in Rio, and Astana saw me there. I signed with them in 2017.
“Until 2017, we couldn't sign with a foreign team, but now we can, and that's how I joined Astana. One of the coaches at Astana follows the Latin American athletes, and they approached. I had various teams who were interested, but it's complicated because we cannot have a contract with American teams."
Political problems aside, the practical aspects of adapting to life as a WorldTour professional are demanding, but Sierra has been faster than most to rise through the ranks. The Cuban also seems to take a heightened appreciation of her results, most notably seen when she celebrated second place behind Coryn Rivera in Trofeo Binda with an enthusiasm that matched the race-winner.
For Sierra, beating a rider of the calibre of Spratt carried a special significance, with the Cuban humble to her own rising stock within the women’s peloton.
"It's very important and I am very happy to have won this race,” Sierra said. “I felt that I was a bit tired and I hope it's something to help me win more this season. I know that Spratt is very good, and to beat her in these circumstances is something special.
“I've won some big races, but I never want to underestimate my rivals. They're all so good, some are a bit better than others, but the level is so high now in women's racing."
A career that has already seen Sierra take WorldTour wins with a mixture of climbing and sprinting prowess, upstage riders from well-established cycling scenes and battle her way past economic and political barriers is more than impressive. On her current trajectory, she may yet achieve even loftier heights.