Tiffany Cromwell (SA) was the top Australian finisher in the elite women’s road race at the 2015 UCI Road Championship in Richmond, Virginia on Sunday in seventeenth in place. Rachel Neylan (SA) finished one spot further back while Lizzie Williams (VIC) rounded out the top twenty.
“The team as a whole raced a very good race,” said Cromwell. “We put ourselves out there. We showed ourselves against the world’s best, and ultimately, the best rider won. [Lizzie] Armitstead (Great Britain) has been so strong all year.”
Australia fielded an eight-strong team for the women’s race – the maximum allocated to the top five nations in the world. Gracie Elvin (CAN), Katrin Garfoot (WA), Lauren Kitchen (NSW), Loren Rowney (QLD) and Amanda Spratt (NSW) joined forces with Cromwell, Neylan and Williams to take on a eight laps of the challenging 16.2 kilometre city circuit course around Richmond.
The women’s peloton faced wet roads and intermittent rain as they tackled cobbled climbs, constant corners and one particularly fast descent.
Although the course was technical and the conditions slick, the first half of the race was relatively quiet. Despite the calm, the Australians remained attentive toward the front of the peloton over the triple threat of Libby Hill, 23rdStreet and Governor’s Hill during the first three laps.
“There was stress in the early laps that was mainly about positioning,” Cromwell explained. “It was hard to hold your spot because of the washing machine effect. Obviously the key was to get into the first climb in good position because that set you up for the next climbs. I think we did that well.”
Garfoot and Williams each launched solo moves on lap four over the wide, flat roads that dominated the first half of the circuit. Both attempts were quickly neutralised. Garfoot went again on lap six on the back end of the course and carried a small gap on the fourth ascent of Libby Hill. The Dutch led the chase, shutting down Garfoot over the climbs.
“The action didn’t heat up until mid-way through the race,” Cromwell added. “The Dutch came to the front before Kat’s last move. That saw a lift in the pace, but it didn’t really change the dynamic of the race.”
Williams, Elvin and Neylan picked up where Garfoot left off, throwing themselves up the road on the sixth lap, but it wasn’t until Neylan jumped on lap seven that a move truly established.
“As we entered two laps to go, we had a team plan to get someone up the road before the favourites went,” said Kitchen. “Rach attacked, which was perfect, and she got away solo. I followed the next girls that made it across.”
Kitchen bridged up to Neylan with Audrey Cordon (France), Emilia Fahlin (Sweden), Malgorzata Jasinska (Poland), Romy Kapser (Germany), Amy Pieters (The Netherlands), Coryn Rivera (USA) and Valentina Scandolara (Italy).
“It was the right combination of nations, “ Kitchen noted. “All the major nations were represented. We were the only nation that had two.”
“It was a great situation for us, but we had to work out what we were going to do,” Kitchen added. “I think we were a little unsure for a few kilometres until we established that we needed to attack and take control again.”
It took Kitchen several attempts but her persistence proved fruitful. In the final lap, ten kilometres from the finish, Kitchen jumped and Scandolara followed. Fully committing to the move, the duo held off the fast-closing peloton until 23rd Street.
“It was pretty cool while we were away,” said Kitchen. “We were both all in. It was a few kilometres too long for me, but I’m really happy with how I rode.”
While the peloton that caught Kitchen and Scandolara had been greatly reduced, Australia still had numbers. Hoping to avoid a sprint, Cromwell noticed a brief lull on the descent leading to Governor’s and took her chances.
“I know I can be there with the major players, but this finish didn’t suit me for an out-and-out sprint,” explained Cromwell. “Maybe I could run a top five or top ten but the aim was always to take a risk and go for the win.”
Armitstead covered Cromwell’s move, setting the scene for a spectacular finale. A group of nine came to the line together with Armitstead outsprinting Anna van der Breggen (The Netherlands) and Megan Guarnier (USA) for the win.
“It’s a pity Tiff’s attack didn’t work out, but it was a good move,” said Kitchen. “We had numbers all day, and we really gave it to them. The big nations were Holland and Italy, and we were always there, always with more girls than they had. That shows the growth of the Australian women’s program. Having eight starters shows our growth.”
“I’m really proud of how we raced today,” Kitchen added. “It makes us all hungry for more.”
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