Gigante produced the ride of her life to win the title but WorldTour squad Mitchelton-Scott will no doubt be wondering if they played the tactics right.
The riders spoke after the race and confirmed they followed the tactics laid down by the team, but it appeared to be a weird half and half tactic where they didn’t commit to winning from the break or with a late attack from the peloton and in the end, neither worked.
“Of course we came here to win,” said second-placed Spratt after the race, “but we had to acknowledge that she had an absolutely incredible ride. I think we were really happy with Sarah Roy in that break, she’s a rider who just works so hard for the team all season and she does perform well on these sort of courses and in this event in the past.”
The early break was allowed to get away, with just one Mitchelton-Scott rider in Sarah Roy present in the move. Roy is an accomplished rider, but she wasn’t the best climber in the move with Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope) present, plus she was significantly outnumbered, a lone rider among seven.
Mitchelton-Scott refused to create the pace at the front of the peloton from there, clearly backing Roy for the chance to win, despite having the best climbers in the race in Amanda Spratt, Lucy Kennedy and Grace Brown behind.
Meanwhile Specialized Women's Racing maintained the pace in the peloton with Kate Perry doing the lion’s share of the work to keep some form of momentum for the main group but the gap stretched out to five minutes with 60km left to race.
At that point, Mitchelton-Scott gave the first sign they were keen to get some of their other riders closer to the action.
There was still a four-minute gap when Grace Brown launched the first big attack from the peloton. The apparent plan was to give riders like Gracie Elvin, Lucy Kennedy and Spratt a target to bridge over to. Spratt then accelerated over to Brown a lap later, but the in-form riders were able to follow her and all the attack seemed to accomplish was tire Brown out, drop teammate Jessica Allen, along with riders that weren’t going to win the race anyway.
The plan was clearly to get the gap down without dragging too many riders with them but seemed to result in an inefficient chase of the breakaway and burn out a rider like Brown who could have potentially taken the win.
The surge saw the break’s advantage cut slightly before Kennedy tried exactly the same move, with much the same result. The riders up in the break worked well together and it hadn’t been a super hard race to that point, which meant it would be near impossible for a lone rider to hunt the front of the race down.
With Kennedy coming back to the peloton, there was a bit more cohesion from Mitchelton-Scott, with Brown and Kennedy helping out on the front of the race as it became clear Gillow and Gigante were giving Roy trouble up the road in the break.
But the issue was the gap to a tiring peloton - depleted by numerous attacks - was still at two and a half minutes with 20km left to run to two strong riders, happily working together even with Roy sitting on.
Spratt was valiant in her surge on the final climb of Mt Buninyong and managed to claw her way onto Gillow on the back half of the course, but it was far too late to capture a flying Gigante.
Roy flashed home late to take third off Gillow in bizarre circumstances and Gracie Elvin was also impressive in her ride for fifth, but it wasn’t the result Mitchelton-Scott surely expected before the race.
Roy took a lot of the blame upon herself after the race, but probably shouldn’t have been placed in the position of racing one against six given the depth of talent available to the squad.
“I’m really thankful that the team supported me for the break to go to the finish especially with riders like Shara Gillow and Michaela Parsons there,” said Roy.
“Everyone knows that I’m not a climber and for the team to give me that chance was really awesome, but that’s what hurts as well. I think I let the team down a bit, it was up to me to go for the win because that’s what we’re here for. I’m a bit disappointed and I feel bad.”
Roy described the moment when Gigante slipped away, as the two WorldTour riders proved unwilling to cede any advantage to each other.
“Shara and Sarah seemed to be sharing turns nicely but I wasn’t,” said Roy, “knowing there were some Mitchelton-Scott riders coming. Sarah got a little gap through the corner and Shara wanted me to fill the gap and I said ‘no’.”
At this late stage, the rest of the team was in no position to win and despite a heroic effort from Spratt there was no catching Gigante.
“We got word with about a lap and a half to go that she wasn’t so good so we went into Plan B,” said Spratt. “I don’t think we could have done too much more, to be honest, I think that break was a bit too strong for us in the end.”
Certainly, there’s wasn’t much more Spratt could have done personally, but perhaps Mitchelton-Scott could have themselves in a better position to fight out the race with all the talent available to them.
They now go into the time trial without a win so far at nationals, though they will have the favourites going in.