ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast’s Danielle De Francesco has wasted no time on her return from Belgium, cashing in on a blistering run of form to win her maiden AusCycling National Road Series stage race at Tour of the Tropics.
The overall win comes almost a year to the day after she clicked off her first NRS one-day race win at the 2021 Tour de Brisbane and continues a terrific 2022 season for the Gold Coast-based rider.
The 29-year-old grabbed hold of the leader’s jersey after completing a perfect double stage win day on Saturday in Stage 2’s road race and Stage 3’s individual time trial.
De Francesco looked uncrackable in the final stage criterium around Cairns Esplanade, finishing second behind Sydney Uni-Staminade's Gina Ricardo to stretch her tour-winning margin to 29 seconds ahead of Knights of Suburbia Racing teenager Keely Bennett.
“I’m over the moon to grab my first NRS tour win,” De Francesco said.
“I didn't really know what to expect after getting off the plane from Europe a few days before racing, but I was really happy with how my body pulled up after Stage 1 and a good night of sleep.
“After racing in Belgium for one and a half months with ARA I've definitely improved as a rider I believe –both physically and mentally.
“Coming from UCI races of 160 girls, technical cobbled courses and a very high level of competition, I was a lot more relaxed in the bunch at Tropics.
“After getting over the jet lag, I also felt I’d brought over some fitness from all the Belgian racing and although we had reduced numbers at this tour, we've definitely brought home more skills and confidence as a team that we were able to utilise over the weekend.”
Ricardo’s final stage win ensured she would travel home to the Gold Coast with the Tropics Sprint Classification reward.
Bearing bandages from a crash pre-Tour of the Tropics, Townsville’s NRS stalwart Ruth Corset (VA Pro Racing) was still at her aggressive best over the three days of racing and picked up another #NRS22 Mountain Classification win for her troubles.
Bennett was the surprise of the tour, claiming the first NRS stage win of her career at a challenging Millaa Millaa course to open proceedings in far north Queensland.
The 19-year-old backed that result up with two second-place finishes behind De Francesco on Saturday and was the clear winner of the Young Rider Classification.
A consistent showing from InForm TMX MAKE’s squad led by former professional Carlee Taylor and youngster Chelsea Holmes earnt them the Teams General Classification.
Maeve Plouffe (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) continues to lead the NRS overall standings on the same points as Sydney Uni-Staminade's Josie Talbot.
De Francesco’s Tour of the Tropics win has closed her gap to the top to 85 points.
A brutal Millaa Millaa circuit played host to the opening race of the women’s NRS Tour of the Tropics, with VA Pro Racing’s Ruth Corset attacking the race as expected on the hilly terrain.
However, a main bunch of close to 20 riders remained intact as the bell lap sounded.
On the final uphill drag to the finish, it was Knights of Suburbia Racing that controlled the sprint, providing a faultless lead-out for Keely Bennett to claim the first NRS stage win of her career.
“It was a pretty forced effort from my girls, we all kept in there till the last lap,” Bennett said.
“And yeah, just a pretty good finish.
“Cel (Celestine Smith) drove the front and I just came around at the then so it was almost yeah, not too easy, but easy enough.”
Saturday’s road race in Malanda was a cat and mouse affair for the women’s NRS, with most teams happy to sit in and hedge their bets on a bunch sprint victory.
At the end of the 84.3km road race, it was Danielle De Francesco (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) who launched out of the pack in the final straight, winning by a comfortable bike length ahead of Bennett.
“I felt a lot better than yesterday; I think I just needed that one more sleep to get over the jetlag,” De Francesco said.
“It was still a tough course (today), but not as tough as yesterday.”
A powerful time trial performance from Danielle De Francesco in Stage 3 of Tour of the Tropics saw her complete a perfect day of racing in far north Queensland.
The 29-year-old stormed up the 9.9km Malanda course to finish in 15 minutes and 10 seconds, putting her 23 seconds ahead of her closest rival in Bennett.
The stage win meant De Francesco leapfrogged Bennett into the leader’s jersey with a 19-second advantage.
“I think I actually picked up a bit of form in Belgium even though I got unwell over there,” De Francesco said.
“But yeah, I think I just needed a couple good nights of sleep and I seem to have come good today which is lucky I guess.”
The women’s Tour of the Tropics finale on the Cairns Esplanade was everything great about the current crop of NRS riders, with multiple attempts at breakaways being launched out of the main group.
InForm TMX MAKE’s Carlee Taylor put in a surge that was strong enough to go solo for several laps, before eventually being reeled back in by a fast-moving peloton.
Three riders attacked late in the race, but it was altogether for a bunch sprint dominated by Sydney Uni-Staminade and Gina Ricardo.
De Francesco sprinted to second on the stage and the overall victory.
“It was unreal,” Ricardo said.
“Lillee (Pollock), she’s a 19-year-old, so first time riding for the team and three laps to go we were all together and she did a whole lap on the front to take us fast into the last few corners and Jess Pratt finished it off.
“And no one could come around us, it was awesome.”
|1.||Danielle DE FRANCESCO (ACA)||6h24:39|
|2.||Keely BENNETT (KOS)||+29|
|3.||Ruth CORSET (VAU)||+48|
|4.||Celestine SMITH (KOS)||+58|
|5.||Chelsea HOLMES (ITM)||+1:07|
|6.||Ella SIMPSON (BRT)||+1:17|
|7.||Sophie MALOWIECKI (GRT)||+1:25|
|8.||Carlee TAYLOR (ITM)||+1:26|
|9.||Katelyn NICHOLSON (BRT)||+1:37|
|10.||Eloise SANDOW (ITM)||+1:38|
|1.||Gina RICARDO (SUS)||14||pt|
|2.||Danielle DE FRANCESCO (ACA)||11|
|3.||Keely BENNETT (KOS)||6|
|1.||Ruth CORSET (VAU)||11||pt|
|2.||Keely BENNETT (KOS)||6|
|3.||Carlee TAYLOR (ITM)||3|
|1.||Keely BENNETT (KOS)||6h25:08|
|2.||Chelsea HOLMES (ITM)||+38|
|3.||Ella SIMPSON (BRT)||+48|
|1.||InForm TMX MAKE||19h18:10|
|2.||Knights of Suburbia Racing||+2:23|
|3.||Giant Racing Team||+5:39|
|5.||ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast||+15:45|
|6||Butterfields Racing Team||+20:25|