A largely controlled stage saw the race come down to the 80.7 kilometre Stage 1 from Seppeltsfield Winery to the centre of the township of Tanunda, with Peta Mullens (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) taking the win in the sprint.
Mullens spotted her chance in the final sprint and took it, powering away to the win from a much-reduced peloton. The multi-discipline Australian champion had hung in over the climbs with the best, and was able to outfox a rapidly closing Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) in the finish to take the win.
“We’ve been wanting to get back to racing for a really long time, I think this was pretty much the last time we had a really big bike race,” said Mullens. “We wanted to come here and try and animate the race a bit and thank Kimberly and the team for putting on such an impressive race in trying circumstances.
“I haven’t come in here with GC ambitions, to get the stage is really cool. We’ll try and protect Carlee Taylor when we get to Willunga so she can show us how she’s coming out of retirement.
In hot Barossa Valley conditions that touched 34 degrees, the women’s peloton set off to begin the Santos Festival of Cycling in earnest.
Australian Cycling Insider contributor Kirsty Deacon (Veris Racing) was the first to attack, jumping off the front of the race as the teams rolled along in the early kilometres of the stage. Deacon quickly pushed out her advantage to a maximum lead of two minutes and 10 seconds, as the peloton lacked impetus with no one team looking to take control of the race.
The peloton showed increased interest at the queen of the mountains and sprint points, with the bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint a major incentive for riders looking to compete for the overall win.
Ruby Roseman-Gannon was the fastest from the bunch scooping up the two bonus seconds for second, with Grace Brown (Team BikeExchange) taking a single second in third.
Alana Forster, riding as an individual, launched an attack after the first intermediate sprint with 52 kilometres left to the finish, with Erin Bertram (Velofit) hanging onto Forster’s wheel initially before being dropped as they tackled the ascent of Mengler Hill.
Forster surged across to Deacon, taking out the top points at the Queen of the Mountains prime, with the Veris Racing rider crossing in second. Forster then dropped Deacon despite seeming to be keen to cooperate with the Victorian, a sign of her strength as she continued her push away from the peloton.
Forster had a 2’00 gap with 27 kilometres remaining, taking out the second intermediate sprint ahead of Deacon, with Annette Edmondson (Garmin-Australia) stopping others from taking the bonus second remaining.
Team BikeExchange set a high tempo heading into the final climb of Mengler Hill, the reverse, easier side from the normal Tour Down Under ascent. They quickly reeled in Forster, with Lucy Kennedy trying a few testing attacks to see if it was possible to get away.
Over the top of the climb, Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni-Staminade) and Sarah Gigante (Garmin-Australia) attacked away from the peloton for the mountains points, but behind the peloton had broken into bits, with pre-race favourite Grace Brown surprisingly dropped from the select lead group of 13.
Specialized Women’s Racing had the numbers in the front group, with sprinter Matilda Raynolds one of the fastest remaining in the lead, along with Roseman-Gannon and Peta Mullens (Roxsolt Liv SRAM).
Brown led a chase group behind, but a combination of Anya Louw (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) and the Specialized Women’s Racing team saw the gap extended as the race came into the finish.
Specialized led coming into the final few hundred metres, but the sprint started in earnest as Neve Bradbury and Sarah Gigante launched their sprints early and from deep in the group. Mullens bided her time on Roseman-Gannon’s wheel, before jumping when an opening appeared with 200 metres to go, launching clear of the group, with Roseman-Gannon emerging too late from the group to chase her down, with Frain finishing third on the stage.
With the win, Mullens takes the overall lead of the race, with Roseman-Gannon two seconds in arrears and Frain six seconds back.
By Jamie Finch-Penninger