|The High5 GoExPro Australian Women’s Road Development Team could not have asked for a more fitting way to close out its European campaign. The five-strong squad lined up on Saturday with a clear mission: put Rachel Neylan on the top step of the podium to secure maximum UCI points at the 1.1-ranked Grand Prix de Plumelec-Morbihan.
Mission accomplished. Twelve hundred metres from the finish line, Neylan made her move and had enough in the tank to hold off a fast-closing peloton all the way to the line.
“The way the girls rode today shows how they have grown and matured in Europe,” said Neylan. “I couldn’t have won without them. The team tactics today were invaluable to my win, and I’m so proud of the way they were able execute all the way up until the point I launched my attack. They raced with such heart and such commitment. I couldn’t be any prouder or more grateful.”
Sport Director Donna Rae-Szalinski expected the Grand Prix de Plumelec to be a race of attrition. The peloton faced a 109 kilometre circuit race with five longer laps (13.9km) and five shorter laps (7.7km). Both laps included an ascent of the Cadoudal for ten times up the punchy climb.
“We were lucky because the circuit had some similarities to our national championships in Buninyong, so we know how to pace over a course where you do a climb like that 10 times,” noted Rae-Szalinski. “The French team was determined from the start, and they attacked out of the block. It was good for us because we could cover selectively rather than be the aggressors. We wanted to save most of our matches for the end of the race.”
Despite the non-stop attacks from the French national team, a larger than expected group started the second to last lap together.
“We thought the course would sort out a lot of the race,” noted Rae-Szalinski. “That didn’t really happen.”
Neylan didn’t like her chances from a big bunch so her teammates went on the attack.
“Just before two laps to go, Jessica Allen covered an attack,” said Rae-Szalinski. “When she came back, Shannon Malseed launched a counterattack. Four got off the front. It was really good for us because it let everyone else sit in.”
“I had asked my teammates to be smart and calculated with their attacks,” said Neylan. “It’s exactly what they did. It wasn’t in my favour that there was still a big peloton, and they did everything they could to reduce the field.”
Malseed’s quartet returned to the peloton just before the bell rang for one lap remaining. With two kilometres left, the Oceania champion jumped again.
“She was alone with a 15-second lead when we turned right into the finishing climb,” noted Neylan. “I basically looked around me and saw that there were still far too many girls in the peloton for my liking, and I knew I had to do something.”
“I had it in the big ring. I dropped it down a few. And then I put my head down and launched the absolute biggest attack I could,” Neylan said. “This was all or nothing. I was either going to win the damn bike race or blow spectacularly trying.”
Neylan’s jump was powerful enough to immediately open a sizeable gap, and a slight hesitation behind furthered her advantage. The calculated risk paid dividends.
“I came here with a clear and simple objective in mind, and the way my teammates were riding around me inspired me until the last moment,” said Neylan. “I knew I had the legs. I know that kind of power climb suits me. It was just a matter of backing myself and trusting my instinct. It was a very long and painful kilometre, and I’m so happy I could finish off the work my teammates had done for me all day.”
Rae-Szalinski echoed Neylan’s sentiments.
“I can’t say how incredibly proud I am of the commitment the development riders showed today to help Rachel,” she said. “They’ve done this through their entire trip – giving their absolute all to help Shara [Gillow], Spratty [Amanda Spratt] and Lauren Kitchen. I had goose bumps today to see them again putting it on the line. It’s awesome for them because they can learn how to race effectively with true purpose. It’s made me so proud to see them race so selflessly.”
“It’s an Olympic year, and we want to qualify four spots for Australia,” Rae-Szalinski added. “If these development girls can contribute, it’s an honour for them. And they have made a contribution. It’s shown how far the team has progressed and how committed they are to the Australian cycling program.”