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Winder started the final stage in the leader’s jersey, but there was nothing routine about Sunday’s finale. The 42.5km circuit course saw a flurry of attacks and a breakaway that put the GC in play all the way to the final sprint.
Cooler heads and stronger legs prevailed, and the U.S. champion coasted across the line in Adelaide with her first GC title of 2020 in what’s a decisive Olympic year.
“That race was pretty crazy,” Winder said at the line. “I used to do a lot of crit racing in the U.S., but it’s been a while since I’ve done a hard one like that. We were able to pull it off.”
Winder swapped out her stars ‘n’ stripes national jersey for the Tour Down Under’s ochre leader’s jersey Saturday following her dramatic stage 3 victory in Stirling. Winder beat back the favorites on the grinding finale, including three-time defending champion Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), to snag a seven-second lead on GC. On paper, that should be plenty in a circuit race.
But things rarely go to plan, especially when you have Mitchelton-Scott and Sunweb gunning for you. Mid-race time bonuses meant it wasn’t going to be a parade in Sunday’s criterium. Sunweb put two riders across the line in the first time bonus, including second-place rider Liane Lippert, nudging her within five seconds.
Winder found some help from Trek-Segafredo teammate Lotta Henttala in the second bonus sprint, finishing ahead of Spratt. With Winder finishing third in both sprints, her lead was safe.
Then a breakaway formed in the closing laps, albeit with riders off the back on GC, but Trek-Segafredo had to do the work to make sure the race didn’t ride away. Simona Frapporti won with American Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) in second as the break stayed clear, with Rally’s Leigh Ann Ganzar in fourth. Winder came across the line 18th, and the job was done.
“I was nervous, excited, and I was trying to stay in the race,” she said of the frenetic closing laps. “I had a lot of faith in my teammates, especially after that first sprint, it was OK, don’t panic.”
They didn’t, and Winder was effusive at the support she saw from her Trek-Segafredo teammates. There were a lot of smiles and hugs at the finish line after Winder sealed the deal after four hard days of racing.
DS Ina-Yoko Teutenberg explained:
“We lost two seconds on the first intermediate, and you could hear on the radio that the girls got a little nervous. But you know, there were three sprints before the final one and they made up on the second one even if we lost one second to Spratty (Amanda Spratt). Then we were wise to let the breakaway go and even if there were some riders in there within 30 seconds of Ruth (Winder) we knew we could keep it under control. The longer the breakaway could stay away, the better for us, so we let that play out.”
“It feels pretty crazy to win the Santos Tour Down Under,” Winder said. “Team Sunweb and Mitchelton-Scott really put us under pressure. I’m really happy to pull it off. I’m still really excited after the stage I won yesterday. It’s such an incredible feeling. It’s not a single person’s sport. For every win, you need a strong team. I wish my teammates could accompany me on the podium.”
The victory was important for the reigning U.S. national champion going into an Olympic year. With the women’s selection far from settled for Tokyo, early-season wins will only help.
Winder hopes to keep the momentum going, and will race next at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race later this month to open the WorldTour calendar. Then it’s back to Europe for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Strade Bianche.
“I’m focusing on the Ardennes,” she said. “Last year, I was 11th at Strade Bianche and I’d like to improve on that. Hopefully I can make the Olympic team. We have a strong load of women in the U.S., so it will be hard to make the team.”
The best way to control your destiny is winning, and Winder is hot out of the gates in 2020.