Old habits die hard for Richie Porte, who won the summit finish atop Willunga Hill at the Santos Festival of Cycling on Saturday.
The so-called “King of Willunga” punched clear at the base of the iconic climb to distance the pack before allowing 20-year-old teammate Luke Plapp to bridge across and take a one-two for the Garmin-Australia composite team.
Sarah Gigante proved unstoppable in the women’s race, powering away from the bunch on the lower slopes of the Willunga summit finish to beat Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange) by one minute with the rest of the field even further back.
“It’s so cool that the women were able to race up Willunga Hill for the first time,” Gigante said after the victory. “It might have looked like a one-person race at the end but that was the best teamwork ever.”
Gigante, a part of the U.S.-based Team Tibco SVB squad though riding for the Garmin-Australia team this week, now has over three minutes of a lead on the GC. The 20-year-old should now be nailed-on for overall victory barring mishap at the final Adelaide circuit race Sunday.
“We won’t count our chickens before they’re hatched, but I’m definitely honored to be wearing this [leader’s] jersey,” she said.
Porte’s Willunga win marks the seventh of his career having long dominated on the climb through recent editions of the Tour Down Under. Porte lost his crown last year, finishing second behind Matthew Holmes (Lotto-Soudal).
Despite blowing the field off his wheel with his winning attack Saturday, the 35-year-old said it was far from easy.
“I don’t have the form I normally would and I had to go longer than I normally would too, and that hurt, but it’s just great to be back racing,” he said.
The victory makes for a promising start for the Tasmanian veteran, who returns to the Team Sky / Ineos squad to act as a domestique this season. Porte only recently traveled to Australia from Monaco to race the domestic event Festival of Cycling and get an early start to his year of racing.
“One month ago I came out of quarantine a little bit rotund and I worked hard, had some really good training mates back there in Tassie and they really kicked me back into gear,” he said. “It’s just great to be back here in Australia racing and, yes, it’s not the WorldTour but it’s still a hard hard race.”
Overnight race leader Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) finished third on the stage and holds a two minute lead on GC with just the Adelaide criterium remaining.
“I’m really, really happy, Richie’s obviously the best up there and I wasn’t too far off, so I’m really happy with that performance,” Durbridge said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a club crit, an NRS, the Santos Festival of Cycling, WorldTour, it doesn’t matter, the quality and the depth is so high now all the way through Australian cycling.”
Be sure to check out all the other “Aussie Week” content we have on VeloNews.com this week as part of a celebration of all-things Australian cycling.
Santos Festival of Cycling – Stage 3 – Men’s:
1. Richie Porte (Garmin Australia) 1:57:07
2. Luke Plapp (Garmin Australia) ST
3. Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) +0:08
Santos Festival of Cycling – GC Stage 3 – Men’s:
1. Luke Durbridge (Team BikeExchange) 7:11:04
2. Luke Plapp (Australia) +02:00
3. Chris Harper (Cervelo-Tonsley Village) +02:42
Santos Festival of Cycling – Stage 3 – Women’s:
1. Sarah Gigante (Australia) 1:17:34
2. Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange) +01:00
3. Nicole Frain (Sydney Uni Staminade) +01:36
Santos Festival of Cycling – GC Stage 3 – Women’s:
1. Sarah Gigante (Australia) 6:04:48
2. Lucy Kennedy (Team BikeExchange) +03:11
3. Ruby Roseman-Gannon (ARA Pro-Racing Sunshine Coast) +03:43