|History was made this afternoon with 22-year-old Maeve Plouffe (ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) becoming the inaugural winner of the Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Classic, the longest one-day road race in the world for women this year with the riders covering a gruelling 160 kilometres.
Plouffe unleashed a lethal sprint from a breakaway boasting some of the biggest names in the sport, including Australian Road Race Champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM), defending champion (when the women raced in the men’s race) Matilda Raynolds (Inform TMX MAKE) and last week’s Mitchelton Tour of Gippsland winner Georgie Howe (Knights of Suburbia)
Plouffe was the strongest in the final sprint from the elite group that made the decisive attack with 50 kilometres to go in the race, scything her way clear in the famous finish to win.
The race has become a legendary event with Australian cycling over the course of its 127-year-old history, but this was the first time a women’s exclusive event had been staged under the ‘Warrny’ banner. It was an event that delivered on the hype surrounding the first edition, with attacking racing in the winds in the traditional style of the longer Melbourne to Warrnambool.
“That was incredible, that was so much fun,” said Plouffe, “I don’t think that I’ve done a race that hard before. It was on from the start, then there was a little lull and then girls really put it to me on those little climbs… they weren’t too long, but they were definitely going hard. I had a lot of nervous Energy towards the end with the break there.”
“It was a bit of a dream break, we had four or five of the strongest riders in the whole peloton in that breakaway, everyone with different strengths. Everyone had a crack at that finale there, which I thought was really cool.”
The enormity of the occasion of the first-ever women-only event wasn’t lost on Plouffe, the Law & Science student referencing the competitive attitude the riders brought to the first running of the instant Classic on the Australian calendar.
“I was really looking forward to being part of this first Warrnambool, every woman out there wanted to be part of that history and animate the race, I think everyone put their nose in the wind at some point to make a move and attack, but clearly my teammates were the ones the brought the most back and they were the ones that worked the hardest out there.”
It was a chilly sunrise start to the Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic, with the starting pistol fired by event patron and 2 x Olympian Tracey Gaudry to get the racing underway from Colac Velodrome.
The initial racing was controlled and steady, with the riders tackling the hills around Colac and the peloton largely staying together. Nicole Frain took on the mountain sprints for the SRAM Queen of the Mountains competition, winning the first climb and then taking second on the second ascent to wrap up the title.
Fans lined the road to witness the inaugural Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic, with groups of locals a regular sight out on course cheering the riders onwards in the historic beginning to the event.
The race heated up on a sharp climb approaching the 1.2-kilometre gravel section, with a large group of ten led by Emily Watts (Knights of Surburbia) and Amber Pate (Inform TMX Make) leading the attacks and going clear briefly before the gravel climb was the catalyst for bridging attacks from the peloton.
The attacks continued briefly before the race reformed with a large group of 40 as they hit the Great Ocean Road. The spectacular scenery wasn’t foremost on rider’s minds however as the attacks began to flow off the front of the bunch with Inform TMX Make particularly active in trying to force a move clear.
After a number of surges clear at the front of the race, all neutralised, there was a big attack with all the team leaders of the major squads. Matilda Raynolds (Inform TMX Make), Georgie Howe (Knights of Suburbia), Maeve Plouffe and Anya Louw (both ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Megan Armitage, Josie Talbot (Sydney Uni-Staminade) and Australian national road race champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) were all present and worked well together to steadily increase their advantage over the chasers behind.
The gap stretched out to a minute and a half before the pace steadied, with 25 kilometres to race and the riders thinking about how to go about fighting for the win.
Seven riders became six with the first major attack as Raynolds attempted to jump away, with all but Louw able to scramble and stay on her wheel.
The leaders had a gap of over two minutes to play with, and they came to a virtual halt on the road within the final kilometre, no one eager to concede any advantage to their rivals and most possessing a good sprint. In the end, it was Plouffe who launched the final sprint, and the track star showcased her power to take the victory up the incline on the straight of Raglan Parade in front of a rapturous crowd.
Josie Talbot led the rest home, the sprinter short several lengths on her rival.
“To be honest, Maeve was in a league of her own,” said Talbot. “It turned into a bit of a track sprint there with all the cat-and-mousing around, I was hoping that after Nicole’s attack at the end there that I’d be able to come off Maeve’s wheel but she was just way too strong.
“I was absolutely devastated coming second, but all credit to Maeve, she was the best sprinter on the day.”
Third-placed Raynolds had won the past two editions of the Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool as the first woman across the line, racing alongside the men, but said the new women-only race was a big step forward both for the event and women’s cycling.
“This is a much better race and I’m really pleased the women put on a show as it was a really strong race. I’m just so glad that everyone took it really seriously. There were attacks all day, I think we really showed the level of the peloton.”
“What was nice was that it wasn’t just a group of strong riders but great people. Rolling smoothly and I think there was a lot of respect within that group. I’m relieved to be on the podium, but I was really aiming for the win. It would have been a fairytale for me.”
Maeve Plouffe completed a magnificent weekend for ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, doubling up in ‘Warrny’ wins with Cameron Scott having taken out the Melbourne to Warrnambool the previous day with a late attack.
Full Results from the Lochard Energy Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic available here.