Australia’s junior women have rallied on home support to prove their mettle in the UCI Road Race World Championship this morning in Wollongong.
Talia Appleton, from Mansfield Mt Buller Cycling Club in Victoria, was Australia’s highest finisher in 21st place.
The result belied the climbing strength she displayed throughout the 67.2-kilometre race: Appleton held position among the main peloton all race long until a lapse in concentration in the final kilometres.
The race was won by British phenom Zoe Backstedt, who rode most of it solo after breaking away on the opening lap of the four-lap race. Eglantine Rayer (France) and Nienke Vinke (Netherlands) completed the podium after attacking on the last lap.
The pace was high from the gun, with Backstedt’s British team splitting the field on the first ascent of Mount Pleasant (1.1km at 7.7%).
“It was a really insane race; it was on from the start,” Appleton said.
“Because of the relatively short distance and small field, everyone was really going for it off the line, especially the first time over the hill. It was just insane.”
Behind Backstedt, the field kept splitting and reforming as riders were dropped on each successive climb.
However, Appleton was the constant green-and-gold presence among the contenders in the main bunch.
“I was really happy to be climbing at the front,” the Victorian said.
“It did surprise me a bit, but the course suited me and I know I’m good on those kind of steep hills.
“I had a good race. Unfortunately, on the last time up the hill I just overlapped the wheel in front of me because I was just dying, and I hit the ground and had to get going again on the really steep part.
“So, I was a bit disappointed there to lose the front of the race a bit, but happy with my performance.”
Bronte Stewart, from Tolland Cycling Club in Wagga Wagga, was one of those riders who spent much of the race shifting from group to group.
She improved as the race went on, eventually finishing in the same group as Appleton, in 28th.
“We all knew it was going to be hard, but that was unreal,” Stewart said.
“If I’m being honest, I didn’t feel great at the start. It actually took me until the last lap to feel half-decent up the climb.
“That’s why you saw me going back and forth. I was a bit like a washing machine – I was literally everywhere.”
“It was a good day out for us all because we all fought pretty hard.”
Racing in Australia’s new green-and-gold kit, the junior women said they were buoyed by cheers from family, friends and home fans on Wollongong’s roadside.
“Everyone was cheering me on and they really helped,” Appleton said.
“Everyone was like ‘go Aussie’ all the time, and you could really hear them, so it was an awesome day.”
Stewart said, “I knew this was going to be insane, but lining up on the start line I heard a few people from home yelling out ‘go Wagga Wagga’ and I kind of just went like, ‘Wow we’re here, everyone is here watching me and let’s go – let's do this.’”
1. Zoe Backstedt (GBR) 1:47:05
2. Eglatine Rayer (FRA) +2:07
3. Nienke Vinke (NED) +2:07
21. Talia Appleton (AUS) +2:46
28. Bronte Stewart (AUS) +2:46
38. Lucy Stewart (AUS) +6:22
43. Isabelle Carnes (AUS) +6:22
52. Belinda Bailey (AUS) +8:37
To learn more about the green-and-gold campaign at Wollongong 2022, read the Australian guide to the 2022 UCI Road World Championships.