Team Bike Exchange’s Sarah Roy, 34, stole the show on Sunday with a phenomenal victory in the women’s elite road race at the 2021 Federation University Road National Championships in Buninyong.
Roy’s teammate Grace Brown secured a one-two for Australia’s Women’s WorldTour outfit Team Bike Exchange, with Trek Segafredo’s Lauretta Hanson completing the podium with bronze.
“I am feeling a sense of disbelief because I didn’t expect this today,” said Roy, who claimed the national criterium crown in Ballarat in 2014. “But I think that’s what makes it more exciting and makes you more emotional, I can’t believe it.”
Beginning in near-freezing conditions, a field of 94 women set out on the 104.4km race, with the action warming up from the first of nine laps when Hanson attacked as the peloton hit the Mt Buninyong climb.
Joining her was Roy, 2015 champion Peta Mullens (Roxsolt Liv SRAM), Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women’s Racing), Kathryn McInerney, and Georgia Baker (Australian Cycling Team).
The group opened a gap of nearly five minutes on the peloton before Roy attacked over the top of the climb at the midway point of the race.
As the lead group splintered, Roy and Hanson moved to a lead of two minutes to the main chasing group, before Roy then shook clear of Hanson with three laps remaining and rode solo to a maiden road crown.
“I still can’t believe it, I honestly didn’t expect this coming here today especially with the summer I’ve had, it just wasn’t a consideration for me at all to take the jersey,” said Roy, who will now wear the green and gold champion’s jersey in 2021.
Despite the Team Bike Exchange car letting their rider know the title was hers inside the final kilometre, Roy never let up.
“You can never have confidence on this course, anything can happen. You can just get pipped on the line so it’s not one to ride around feeling like you’ve got it.
“So, I never felt that way even when with one kilometre to go when my car came up and said ‘you’ve got it’. But with 200 metres to go, I’m still checking my shoulder just in case. I never thought I had it in the bag until I crossed that line,” Roy added.
After winning the Australian criterium championships in 2014, Roy was signed by Orica-Greededge, now Team Bike Exchange. Despite collecting several wins on the women’s tour over the past few seasons, Roy had spent previous women’s road national championships in support roles to former winners such as Amanda Spratt.
“People have just presumed this course doesn’t suit me, but I’ve always thought it can suit me,” Roy said. “But I’ve always had this quiet little self-belief with this course that one day I want to crack it.
“I didn’t think it was going to be today, but I took advantage of my team role and that was to be in the break. I pushed the breakaway out a bit further and it paid off.”
Team Bike Exchange made it a gold and silver double after a brilliant supporting ride from Grace Brown who stayed in the peloton with Lucy Kennedy and marked the dangerous riders such as 2019 champion Sarah Gigante (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) and ARA Pro Racing Sunshine Coast young gun Ruby Roseman-Gannon.
After a successful team effort to protect Roy’s lead, Brown dashed the podium as she outsprinted Lauretta Hanson, Emily Watts (KOM Financial Knights of Suburbia) and SASI’s Amber Pate in the battle for the podium.
“It’s always awesome to be up on the podium with your teammate,” said Brown, the 2018 and 2020 bronze medalist. “I’ve come third here twice, so it’s nice to increase that too. Hopefully, one year I can actually be on the top step, but I’m pretty stoked for my teammates to have won this today.”
Third-placed Lauretta Hanson (Trek-Segafredo) was surprised but ecstatic with her podium appearance.
“This a really tough course. Buninyong is a challenging climb and I’m not necessarily known for my climbing,” Hanson said. “My tactic was to get ahead of the race, and my teammate Chloe Hosking and I both wanted to be aggressive and see what opportunities unfolded.
“I’m really excited to get a medal today. It’s not something I expected from a race like this.”
A superb effort from rising star Emily Watts saw her cross the line in fifth place to claim the under 23 national title.
“I feel pretty stoked because I’ve never felt like this before,” Watts explained. “As I crossed the line, I had no idea I had won the under 23s category, so when I notified of it, I was pretty shocked.”