A strong sprint by Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) in perfect conditions around Phillip Island topped off a fine effort from her team to take out the first stage of the women’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour.
Hosking emerged from a split of seven riders that went off the front in the final few hundred metres, taking the win narrowly over Rachele Barbieri (BePink) and Lotta Lepisto (Trek-Segafredo).
The Commonwealth Games road champion was happy after the stage win, which confirmed her status as the dominant early season sprinter on the women’s scene.
“I am (happy), particularly because I feel like it was a really good team effort,” Hosking said, “so I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing all the girls contribute to the win. I think we can take a lot of confidence from that going forward to Europe.
“Still, I know there’s a lot of work to go, it was a nice surprise to come away with some wins this summer. John, my coach, will be happy that I’ve been able to build slowly but also maintain some speed.”
The race was animated by Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), with the early laps seeing little interest from the peloton in trying to chase down the dangerous American. Ale-Cipollini were notably absent from the front of the race until the final few laps when they ramped up the pace with Japanese road race champion Eri Yonamine at the fore.
“It’s Mitchelton’s job,” Hosking said. “Ruth Winder is a GC rider and they want to win the GC. We don’t have hill climbers here and we’re probably not in contention for GC so it’s not our job. I think our team always comes in as an underdog here.”
The start of the race was a managed one, with the big teams keen to control the race into the first intermediate sprint and claim valuable bonus seconds. Hosking took out the first sprint from Barbieri and Gracie Elvin (Mitchelton-Scott).
Winder was the first rider to make a move in the race, getting away on lap six. The well-credentialled American was allowed some leeway from the peloton, pushing out her advantage to a maximum of two and a half minutes with 54km left to run in the race.
“Being alone for that long is going to be hard for anyone,” Winder said, “but I was trying to stay focused on what I was doing in the moment and keeping the pressure on the other teams.
“It was the plan to have a bit of a go and see what we could do. It wasn’t the plan to do 80km on my own out there, that’s just the way it worked out.”
Mitchelton-Scott and Ale-Cipollini took the responsibility to chase down the lone rider, and after sustained pressure at the front, Winder was reabsorbed into the peloton with seven kilometres left to race.
A fall in the bunch saw a number of riders caught up, but all the big-name sprinters survived and the pace was ramped up for the lead out with TIBCO-SVB, Ale-Cipollini and Mitchelton-Scott all battling to place their riders first into the home straight of the Phillip Island course.
A rapid final sprint saw Hosking emerge around the side of Lepisto and hold off a fast-finishing Barbieri to claim the victory.
Hosking will wear the leader’s jersey into the second and final stage of the Herald Sun Tour, but won’t be favoured to keep it with some tough climbing in the back half of the second stage into Churchill.
Splits in the final few hundred metres saw a number of general classification candidates lose time to their rivals. Amanda Spratt, Grace Brown (both Mitchelton-Scott) and Emily Roper (KordaMentha Real Estate national team) avoided losing time, but all the other riders keen on taking the win, including Brodie Chapman (TIBCO-SVB), will be at a seven-second disadvantage heading into the final stage.
The Men's Race
A mid-race chat, a powerful sprint and some key teamwork were the recipes for Dan McLay (EF Education First) to claim a sprint victory on the windy opening stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour around the Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit.
On a course more used to bikes with motors, it was the fast men who came to the fore as the race culminated in a mass bunch finish down the home straight.
With the race red-hot on the final four-kilometre lap, it was anyone’s to win and McLay showed himself to have the most staying power of the fast men as he overcame a last-gasp push from Kristoffer Halvorsen (Team Sky) to take the victory.
“We always knew the end was going to be difficult with the wind,” McLay said. “Mitch (Docker) came up halfway through the race and said this is exactly how we’re going to do it and we did it exactly how he said.
“We weren’t going to take it from the front. It looked in the finish that Mitch may not have done a lot, but he was on the left-hand side in the wind pushing the way around that whole last corner… other teams are using two guys.
“Tom Scully launched me down the last straight. I took a gear – my eyes were stronger than my legs – a gear too big and I just hung on to the line.”
McLay was relieved after the stage to have won, after frustrating himself at the Santos Tour Down Under and not quite having broken through to the top-tier sprinting ranks in the past few seasons.
:I’ve been coming against a brick wall all week at Down Under, I soaked all that racing up and came out with a bit of form," he said.
“It was time to pull my finger out. Down Under we had a GC goal as well. I didn’t get the ball rolling on Stage 1 and GC was the focus. I still got my chances, but they didn’t come off.”
McLay has been on the edge of the sprinting elite in the past, finishing on the podium behind Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) at the 2016 Tour de France.
He is still without a World Tour win despite a number of victories in Europe and said after the race he hoped this would provide some new impetus for his career.
“I feel I’ve not had an exponential rise and I’ve still got a lot to give and I’m pretty quick. I need to get my head in the right place.
“My biggest problem isn’t the finishing speed, it’s being in the red for the five to ten minutes before it and how much legs you’ve got left.
"Some of that’s a mental thing, being able to sprint when you’re a bit cooked. I hope the win helps and gets the ball rolling.”
The early action in the men’s race saw a lot of action, with a large group of 17 riders going off the front of the peloton. There were a number of dangerous riders for the general classification contained within the group, and eventually, Trek-Segafredo decided that the move was too dangerous and worked hard for a few kilometres to shut down the escapees.
A group of three splintered off the front of the breakaway, with Ayden Toovey (Bridgelane), James Whelan (EF Education First) and Christian Knees (Team Sky) were given a bit off leeway from the peloton. The trio contested the first sprint point, with Toovey taking the points and bonus seconds on offer ahead of Knees and Whelan.
Toovey spoke after the race about how the action played out at the front of the race.
“I think a few guys were a bit on-edge with seeing how the wind was going to play a role and a big group went away," he said. "Then I went, tried to split it before the intermediate and get a few time bonuses, they can be crucial at the end of the tour.”
Knees and Whelan dropped back to the peloton, leaving Toovey by himself on a forlorn mission to avoid the inevitable catch. He was joined by Karl Michelin-Beard (Oliver’s Real Food Racing) and Dylan Newberry (Futuro-Maxxis) with 45km left in the race, with the trio holding a three-minute advantage over the chasing main field.
"I wasn’t too disappointed," Toovey said. "It was a little bit harder definitely, but the bunch was happy with me sitting around that two-minute mark and I was sort of sitting about 250 watts, so it wasn’t too hard really.”
Toovey was part of the team at the Tour Down Under that assisted Jason Lea in claiming the KOM jersey but said he doesn’t have aspirations to continue to fight for the sprint classification, with his eyes set on bigger goals.
“Maybe not the sprint jersey or the most aggressive,” he said. "But I’m going to see how the week pans out and maybe I can grab a stage or go for GC.”
Toovey sat on the other two riders’ wheels after claiming the points at the second intermediate sprint, securing the sprint jersey for some podium time at the end of the race. He then had little to ride for and conserved energy for later stages, sitting on Newberry and Michelin-Beard, before Michelin-Beard attacked with 10km left in the race and left his former companions behind.
Trek-Segafredo had been doing the majority of the work at the front of the peloton and brought back the break’s advantage to a manageable level, though it took until five kilometres to go for them to bring Michelin-Beard back into the fold.
From there the sprinter’s teams swarmed the front of the race, with Irish Continental team EvoPro Racing leading the race, only to be swamped by the trains of EF Education First, Sky and Mitchelton-Scott as the bunch headed around the final lap of the Phillip Island circuit.
McLay struck away from the race up the inside of the finishing straight and held on to secure a narrow win over Halvorsen, with Wouter Wippert (EvoPro Racing) edging out Theo Yates (Drapac-Cannondale) for third.