Photocredits: sprintcycling

Gigante Wows on Willunga Hill

Written by: Owen Rogers
Posted 4 weeks ago

The Australian’s win at the Santos Tour Down Under is surely a sign of things to come.

It might have been a while coming, but Sarah Gigante’s victory on Willunga Hill was the ‘wow’ moment of the Santos Tour Down Under.

The 23 year-old Australian appeared at the front of a much reduced peloton looking every inch the seasoned pro as the day’s final climb reared up ahead. Rocking side to side as she thrashed the pedals, the AG Insurance-Soudal rider was clearly working hard, but not as hard as her competitors. As the gradient began to bite only Nienke Vienke (dsm-firmenich PostNL) and stage two winner Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ) were able to hold her wheel.

Then, with 2.3km of the day remaining, the young Australian checked over her shoulder just once, then lit the afterburners. It was brutal, a killer move executed with complete conviction, instantly dropping her rivals and taking Gigante to a first WorldTour win, 16 seconds ahead of Vienke.

Gigante has been tipped as the next big thing since winning the first of two Australian time trial titles in 2020, but has only one race victory outside those championships, where she also bagged the 2019 road title. Luck has not been with her though, injury and illness restricting her to just 52 days racing since turning professional with TIBCO-SVB in 2020.

Unbelievably, along with ninth place on stage two, last weekend’ successes were her first ever WorldTour top 20s, if you exclude the 2022 Vårgårda Team Time Trial where only 12 started.

Yes, the win in the Adelaide Hills came on a climb she knows well, and I know she was on home roads. Of course some of the very best climbers were missing and even those in Australia are likely to be looking to goals much later in the year, but not only did Gigante have the legs, she had the confidence to deliver despite her relative inexperience and the pressure.

Gigante have the legs, she had the confidence to deliver despite her relative inexperience and the pressure

As a home favourite many had talked her up, and TV cameras followed her every move, revealing she was not always in the right place at the right time. Early in the day she was caught out as others put the hammer down under the threat of cross winds, then six kilometres from the line she found herself too far back, in the wind, then left behind when team mates were too eager to position her.

She remained cool though, delivering a magnificent performance, along with the rest of her AG Insurance-Soudal team. Not only were they able to correct Gigante’s positional errors, the opening stage was won by another of the team’s young talents, the outstanding New Zealand champion Ally Wollaston. Also only 23, her strengths are on different courses to Gigante, but she is doubtless a classics star of the future, in the mould of Lotte Kopecky (SDWorx).

Despite losing the leader’s ochre jersey on the final day, Down Under was also good for Uttrup Ludwig and FDJ-SUEZ. She has never won so early in the season and the manner of her stage two victory in Stirling is sure to give her confidence for the coming season.

However, Gigante and AG Insurance-Soudal were the stars, the victory laying down a marker for the year to come. Gigante is by no means the finished article, she is yet to master the washing machine that is a professional peloton, but Down Under proved she not only has the physical gifts but the mentality to succeed. And with regular exposure to the WorldTour peloton expect her to learn quickly, adding to the increasing number of women who can challenge in big races.

Here’s to a great season.

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