In an enthralling return to racing after breaking her collarbone only a month ago, Lucy Stewart emerged from the day’s breakaway to claim the Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic.
It was the perfect response from Stewart, who missed important races on the Australian summer calendar as she recovered from injury.
Despite still being a teenager, Stewart was a major force in the breakaway today and on paper was easily the fastest in a sprint.
Stewart didn’t wait for sprint though and rolled the dice with 6km remaining, she attacked her breakaway companions.
She held a slender lead as eventual runner-up Josephine Pepper (Butterfields Racing) chased relentlessly but Stewart had enough of a gap to win the Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic.
“I am just in absolute disbelief,” Stewart said.
“I didn’t have too much confidence going into this race, I’ve sat out all of January with a broken collarbone.”
“I’m sort of more of a sprinter but I didn’t really want to wait to the end for a sprint so I just dug the heels in and gave it everything and held on.”
“The team had confidence in me once I was in that break, I had Henk (Vogels) and Dave (Manton, team director and mechanic) in the car ‘saying you got this’.
Amanda Poulsen (Team BridgeLane) rounded out the podium today after being outsprinted by Pepper.
Stewart was shocked after the finish, but her sports director Hank Vogels, a professional cyclist for 13 years wasn’t surprised by today’s result.
“She’s a super star of the future and she’s just arrived today, last year she did the lead-out for Sophie Edwards to win and run fourth herself.”
“Today I said if you (Stewart) get in the breakaway you’re gonna be the fastest and you’ll win but she took that advice to the next level,” Vogels said.
Earlier this morning, foggy conditions greeted riders at Colac Velodrome as they prepared for the third Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic.
Once the flag dropped there was immediate action and a flurry of attacks.
It took until 110km to go that a group of four containing Stewart, Josie Pepper (Butterfields Racing), Amanda Poulsen (Team Bridgelane), and Sophia Sammons (Cycling Development Foundation) clipped off the front.
The four immediately worked well together, opening a four-minute gap over a content peloton.
Pepper made the most of her time out in front, clean sweeping the KFC Queen of the Mountain Classification while her breakaway companion Poulsen claimed the Lochard Energy Sprint Classification.
The peloton surged with around 50km to go as World Tour Rider and pre-race favourite Grace Brown alongside Team Bridgelane upped the pace.
Brown doubled down with 40km to go and was able to split the peloton, but a large crash in the front group stalled the chase.
It was around the 15km to go mark that the break of four realised that it would be their day and soon started marking each other closely.
Pepper attacked first but was brought back, the move than countered by Stewart which proved to the deciding moment of this year’s Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic.
Poulsen and Pepper combined to chase Stewart, but she proved to be too strong on the run into Warrnambool, keeping the pair at bay with enough time to celebrate on Raglan Parade.
Sammons was distanced by Stewart’s attack but battling cramp she bravely limped to line securing fourth place.
Stewart also won the KFC best young rider classification whilst her team ARA-Skip Capital also secured the Teams Classification, rounding a fruitful Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic for the Sunshine coast outfit.