It's been a long time without racing for elite-level riders within Australia, aside from most of the WorldTour professionals that run with the major teams and were allowed out of the country to go and compete overseas, it has been a lean spell for the Continental and National level riders who compete in .1 and .2 UCI races in Asia, Europe and the US and National Road Series (NRS) races in Australia.
A late staging of the NRS 'National Tour' in the Tweed Region gave the opportunity to riders and teams starved of racing to compete again before 2020 is done and certain riders have clearly been putting in the hard yards in the racing lockdown to emerge with terrific condition.
Sarah Gigante, the reigning national time-trial champion, was far from a surprise winner of the opening day's time trial, but the manner in which she did it was impressive, overcoming over-shooting the first U-turn significantly before powering through a headwind that only sprang up to delay the late-finishers to win the time trial by 38-seconds.
Gigante spoke of her road to racing, with her typical overwhelmingly positive outlook in the face of what has been a tough year for many.
"It's been a long 266 days," said Gigante. "This feels so amazing to be here, seeing everyone and giving my all with a race number on my back... it's pretty special. It's nice to see all that Zwifting and hard work through the lockdown paid off."
'That Zwifting' includes top-tier performances against some of the best in the world in the virtual Tour de France and the Tour of the Gila, a level that Gigante is showing more and more that she will and is currently very competitive at. Her lockdown was spent hard at training, studying at university and coming up with funny social media posts of her restricted regime.
"I did training for everything basically," said Gigante. "It was a great time to work on my weaknesses, I won't say that my sprint got much better though. All the Zwift races are pretty much like time trials, you start off hard, go hard in the middle and then finish with whatever you have left, which is good training for this. I've been working hard with my coach, Dylan Lindsey, for the nationals time trial in February and it's really special to get to wear my green and gold for the first time here."
Gigante wore the green and gold at national level last year after shocking the National Championships professional with her road race win while riding for Roxsolt Attaquer. 2020 was supposed to be her introduction to the WorldTour scene with American squad TIBCO-SVB, but the Australian champion is again back at NRS level.
She's riding as an individual at the National Tour against the top Australian teams, and while that didn't hurt her in the individual time trial, team tactics and the expectation of her as the strongest rider in the race may play against her on the road stages to come.
"It will be weird, I'm riding as an individual against just teams, Josie Talbot is the only other individual," said Gigante. "I'm just excited. The courses look amazing and I'm just grateful to all the organisers and everyone who've helped pulled this together with the late notice, the border closures and everything. I'm just so excited to rip into it."
Her time trial dominance in less than ideal circumstances sends a warning notice to teams for the Day 8 (December 5) 27.9-kilometre Team Time Trial, when Gigante has opted to ride as an individual against the up to seven-rider squads.
SBS will feature daily video highlights of the action from the National Tour, with a hour-long highlights show from the racing to be broadcast on SBS on Saturday December 19 from 3pm.