• Sarah Gigante on her way to winning Stage 3 of the Santos Festival of Cycling (Santos Festival of Cycling)Source: Santos Festival of Cycling
The elite and U23 women will take to the roads of Buninyong with the question on everyone's lips 'is Sarah Gigante unbeatable'?
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

6 Feb 2021 - 1:58 PM 

The Mt Buninyong course is well-known within the Australian cycling community, the three-kilometre climb that is the main feature has ramps of up to 10 per cent, but is mostly difficult due to the repeated efforts round and round the course over the race.

The wind up Mt Buninyong is normally a decisive factor. A tailwind on the steep, second section of the climb puts the race in favour of the climbers and breakaway artists. A headwind plays into the hands of sprinters and heavier riders who gain that extra benefit from hiding in the group behind the slowed-down climbers.  

The wind is set to be a south-westerly, switching to a westerly around the time of the race, it's looking like a tailwindthat will shift to a cross tailwind for the second part of the climb. That factor should put the race in favour of the climbers and Gigante in particular.

The women's race gets underway at 8.50am AEDT with some chilly conditions of 11 Degrees and rain predicted at the start of the day.

You can watch the race live on SBS from 10.00am AEDT, with the race also streamed live on SBS On Demand.

Contenders

The premier honour at a national level, the road race championships jersey, is up for grabs and Sarah Gigante will be attempting to win her second one already in her young career.

The 20-year-old is going to be very hard to stop, she might already be the best Australian climber and time-triallist, and she's on top form at the moment. It's hard to fully articulate how dominant she's been without declaring her one of the best riders in the world. Certainly, it's a more impressive series of races that she's put together than anything we've seen in the Australian summer in recent memory, win or lose here.

The hardest aspect of the race for her will be that she's the lone TIBCO-SVB rider in the field, and the rest of the field, particularly the teams will look to try and exploit that vulnerability.

There are a few ways they could accomplish this, getting riders up the road is going to be a must, but the main teams will have to compromise on their 'perfect' break most likely. If Gigante is forced into a place where she has to chase and can't get away solo, it will tough for her to win.

There could be some 'dead flies', riders who just sit on Gigante if she does get away and not contribute at all, but that's playing with fire as the pint-sized climber has shown that she's got the ability to drop her competitors at will.

Team BikeExchange will have the benefit of a few more weeks training in the legs since the Santos Festival of Cycling, and clearly that was well used by Grace Brown, who came out firing in the time trial. Lucy Kennedy was second to Gigante on Willunga Hill, and is the strongest climber present.

The BikeExchange favourites are soon to return to Europe for a resumption to WorldTour racing, they'll be in better form than they've shown thus far this summer.

Jessica Allen and Sarah Roy might be options for the breakaway, Allen in particular looks like she's up for a good ride.

Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) is going to be the rider all the climbers will be intent on dropping if the race comes down to the final few laps with the peloton. Gigante found the task difficult at the National Road Series events and she's got a sprint that should easily account for most of the riders present after such a hard day in the saddle. She'll be disappointed after her second place in the criterium, but she's arguably perfectly suited to the Mt Buninyong course.

Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni-Staminade) showed at the time trial that she's very strong at the moment, getting stuck in just two gears and still riding to third in the time trial. She was bitterly disappointed after the finish, suggesting she's got really high ambitions for herself at these national championships. She was a bit optimistic trying to follow Gigante on Willunga Hill at the Festival of Cycling but if she can find herself in a position where she's free of the field, she'll be very hard to stop.

Specialized Women's Racing bring a squad of riders that all look like they've peaked specifically for this race. Jaime Gunning has been almost unsighted in competition for a while now, but she has set her sights intently on the nationals road race. She had a hit-out at the crit to clear the cobwebs out at the criterium, she looked very comfortable there.

Matilda Raynolds used to be a very solid sprinter who you'd tip on the harder, longer days as well, and maybe to muscle her way over some climbs. She's changed a lot as a rider since those days and now climbs regularly with some of the best on the ascents. On top of that, she can still sprint, she'll be a favourite if it comes down to a reduced bunch sprinting for the win, maybe even a group of the five best climbers or so.

Roxsolt Liv SRAM bring a strong team to challenge the field, with silver medallist from last year Justine Barrow their main hope for the race. She's coming off a broken collarbone that kept her out of the Festival of Cycling, but she apparently didn't miss a day of training and is still pushing out massive numbers with that grinding riding style of hers. Whether she's recovered enough to handle the bike properly is more of a question, lack of race form is another concern, but the 41-year-old doesn't lack the motivation.

They've got a few more riders that will get round the course, former national champion Peta Mullens is in her normal good form at present, but did crash on the final corner of the criterium. Coming back from retirement, Carlee Taylor has aimed herself at the road race and from her performances to date, this is a very serious bid from the former professional.

Bree Wilson and Madeline Wright will enjoy the climbs and will be important teammates in the tactical battles in the early part of the race.

Former Roxsolt Liv SRAM member Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) is a live chance, not just for the Under 23 podium, but also for the elites, as she's shown good form and a lot of maturity in recent racing. She's heading to the WorldTour and will have bigger goals later in the year, but she's among the best climbers here despite being just 18.

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Pros Rachel Neylan (Burgos Alimenta) and Lauren Kitchen (FDJ Futuroscop Nouvelle Aquitaine) have been unsighted in racing as yet for this summer but rarely put in a poor performance around the Mt Buninyong circuit. Both will revel in the fact that it looks unlikely to be a Team BikeExchange stranglehold on the race and will likely have a better shot at the win than previous years.

If any of the Australian Cycling Team ie. the track endurance riders, make it round, it will be Alex Manly, who looks to be in some sneaky good form at present.

SBS Cycling Central contributor Kirsty Deacon is of course a favourite of ours here, and she'll be racing in her normal attacking fashion after coming back from some fatigue issues that have hampered her training. She writes as well as she rides, check out her piece below that takes you inside the experience of the first lap of the Mt Buninyong course.

Into the Unknown – a look inside the first lap of the Nationals road race
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Under 23 Women

Gigante, Bradbury and Sewell are all Under 23 riders, and it wouldn't be a surprise if they filled out the podium positions in the race within a race.

Emily Watts (KOM-Knights) is also a strong contender after finishing second in the Under 23 time trial, she's been a regular at National Road Series races, on the track and in virtual racing and is one of the more keen riders around, in a similar positive mindset to Gigante.

Anya Louw (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) has similarly been impressive in recent racing. She's been the workhorse in the past for some of the more experienced riders on her team, but she should get a chance to ride for herself here. She skipped the criterium after finishing third in the Under 23 time trial and looks well-set for the race here. 

You can watch the women's race live on SBS from 10.00am AEDT, with the race also streamed live on SBS On Demand. It kicks off a grand day of cycling on SBS, with a show hosted by Mike Tomalaris at the conclusion of the women's event, with the men's race to get underway from 12.30pm.