Team BridgeLane’s dominance of the AusCycling National Road Series has continued with Emily Watts winning her first NRS stage race at the Tour of Gippsland.
The general classification was a fierce battle between Watts and Georgia Whitehouse (ARA Skip Capital), with Watts carrying just an 11-second lead over Whitehouse heading into the fourth and final stage.
Whitehouse had won Stage 1 and 3 outsprinting Watts on the line, but Watts had gained 24 seconds over the ARA Skip Capital rider in the Stage 2 individual time trial, won by Butterfields Racing Team’s Katelyn Nicholson.
But on the final stage, Team BridgeLane showed its strength sweeping up vital intermediate bonus points and sealing the GC victory for 22-year-old Watts.
“There was always that thought in my mind, ‘Georgie’s got me covered everyday what am I going to do?’, and I got her in that intermediate sprint and that boosted me a bit,” Watts said.
“I said before we wanted to get the win and wanted to get the GC and its pretty cool to get it the way we did. We nailed it the whole race. I don’t want to say we are going to be SD Worx perfect but I’d call it pretty perfect.”
Nicholson finished second overall (+9 seconds) in a breakthrough tour, while Whitehouse finished third overall (+12 seconds).
The win puts Watts into the top position of the NRS with 525 points over Whitehouse and Sophie Edwards (ARA Skip Capital) on 325 points.
Two rounds remain of the 2023 NRS season, with stops at Cycle Sunshine Coast on October 19-22, and Tour of Tasmania from November 8.
Team BridgeLane took advantage of having a full squad of six riders starting the Tour, and with two sprint options in Emily Watts and Keely Bennett, the team went out hard early.
They attacked early sending rider after rider up the road, with Mia Hayden chasing back any counterattacks and hold position for the final leadout.
Cycling Development Foundation rider Mackenzie Coupland, fresh from an impressive top-10 result in the Under 19 World Championships, also shut down any attempts at a break to protect her sprinter, Lucie Fityus, who was on patrol all day looking for time bonuses available in the intermediate sprints, racing to third position overall.
However, it was ARA Skip Capital who took home the win, with a three-woman skeleton crew who relied on the strength of Rachael Wales to chase back breakaways. Georgia Whitehouse had positioned herself perfectly in the bunch all race to save her energy for the final sprint, where she won by a bike length against Team BridgeLane’s Watts.
The battle established in Stage 1 between Emily Watts (Team BridgeLane) and Whitehouse (ARA Skip Capital) continued into Stage 2.
But, a breakout performance from Katelyn Nicholson (Butterfields Racing Team) took the leaders by surprise as she flew under the radar and surged ahead to take the win by five seconds in the Individual Time Trial ahead of Watts in second place. Whitehouse finished in third 24 seconds back on Watts.
The Women’s Racing Project Team dominated the first half of the race aggressively chasing points in the Adroit QOM competition. Disa Dyson (WRP) stayed out the front solo for much of the first part of the race, and won the Adroit QOM Jersey for Stage 3.
In the final laps of the race, Team BridgeLane and ARA Skip Capital neutralised a late but powerful attack from solo rider Amanda Poulsen.
Coming into the final straight, Watts launched the sprint early, with Whitehouse (ARA Skip Capital) and Lucy Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) following in a drag race to the line. Whitehouse proved the stronger rider, taking the stage win and re-asserting her dominance after her Stage 1 win.
Time bonuses gained throughout the stage meant that Watts was able to retain the Pakenham Mazda Leaders’ Jersey, seven seconds ahead of Stage 2 winner Katelyn Nicholson. Meanwhile, Whitehouse reduced her deficit to 11 seconds going into the final stage.
An early breakaway of Gina Ricardo (Team BridgeLane), Mackenzie Coupland (Cycling Development Foundation) and Rachael Wales (ARA Skip Capital) looked dangerous and caused some serious damage to the Pakenham Mazda GC ambitions of Georgia Whitehouse.
The break took crucial bonus seconds away from Whitehouse, who needed the points to reduce her 11 second deficit to race leader Watts. The breakaway trio extended their gap to 35 seconds until it was slowly reeled back in by the Women’s Racing Project Team by a strong pull from Maddison Taylor.
With four laps to go, Team BridgeLane sent their young rider, Keely Bennett, up the road on the attack.
The chase was led by ARA Skip Capital’s Alex Martin-Wallace and Rachael Wales, assisted by the Cycling Development Foundation’s Nicole Wilson and Mackenzie Coupland.
But Bennett’s bold move paid off, as she was able to stay away and win Stage 4 comfortably. In a coup for Team BridgeLane, Emily Watts retained her overall Pakenham Mazda GC win, and Lillee Pollock (Team BridgeLane) took second in the bunch sprint over Ella Sibley (Cervélo-Ziptrak).
Main photo: Con Chronis