• Emily Watts of KOM-Knights in the time trial, where she rode to silver in the Under 23 category. (AusCycling/Con Chronis)Source: AusCycling/Con Chronis
Emily Watts (KOM-Knights) won the women's Under 23 road race, confirming her ability as one of the best young riders on the domestic scene.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

7 Feb 2021 - 3:18 PM 

Watts came into the Under 23 category with some formidable opponents to best in Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB) and Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) who'll be riding some of the biggest races in the world during 2021.

The KOM-Knights rider got a march on her rivals with the six-rider breakaway containing eventual elite women's race-winner Sarah Roy (Team BikeExchange) up the road, joining an attack of Amber Pate (SASI) and Gina Ricardo (Sydney Uni-Staminade). Watts was very consistent throughout the race, hoovering up the riders dropped from the lead group and continuing to power on.

"I saw two riders up the road and thought there was no harm in bridging over," said Watts. "I positioned myself where I needed to be in front of the climbers."

On the final lap, while Roy was well up the road, the pressure was on from behind as the attacks started to flow from the peloton, with Gigante and Bradbury looming behind Watts.

"I knew I had a shot," said Watts, "didn't know I'd have a good enough shot to win as Sarah Gigante and Neve (Bradbury).

"The last lap was a case of my legs hurt, they're behind me, just ride. One of the girls asked me how far the bunch was back and I said 'it doesn't matter we're going to this f**king line'."

She rode into an impressive finish of fifth and as the only Under 23 rider up the road, claiming the title with Bradbury and Gigante filling out the podium.

"I feel pretty stoked, I've never felt like this before," said Watts. "As I crossed the line I didn't know I had Under 23s and when they told me I did... it was crazy."

Watts made a comeback from a nasty crash to be riding again at pre-injury form at the 2020 nationals, where she took bronze in the time trial, and from her performance at the 2021 race, it's clear that she's taken another step in her development and is now one of the better riders in Australia.

"It's been the best preparation I've ever had for the nationals," said Watts, who rides for the National Road Series team KOM-Knights. "The NRS is looking good this year!