An emotional Ella Harris has taken her first professional win at the Lexus of Blackburn Women’s Herald Sun Tour. The Canyon-SRAM rider – racing the stage race for the New Zealand National Team – claimed the win atop Falls Creek ahead of Sarah Gigante of TIBCO-SVB and Mitchelton-SCOTT’s Lucy Kennedy.
It’s been coming. The first pro win for Ella Harris, a young talent who has shown strong consistency over last season and at the beginning of this one was only a matter of time. The stage for the win finally came about in a short 44km stage that finished in Falls Creek. It was originally intended to be a 75km stage but it was shortened due to poor weather conditions.
The early break of the day saw Ally Wollaston of Velo Project in the break and taking the first intermediate sprint. But out of the Wollaston move went a solo move from Australian Kate Perry of Specialized Women’s Racing. With 33km to go the Aussie took the second intermediate sprint and began the climb to the line with daylight behind her.
That daylight wouldn’t last long, however, as Mitchelton-SCOTT set the tempo on the front of the peloton with New Zealand’s Ella Harris and Samara Sheppard hanging on in the lead group that gradually got whittled down. Perry was caught and from there the race began to take shape Roxsolt Attaquer’s Bree Wilson went on the attack with 14.8km of racing remaining.
Wilson built a lead that went out to nearly a minute but the firepower behind her combined with a mechanical issue spelled the end of her challenge for the day’s honours. 4km from the finish Lucy Kennedy’s multiple attacks finally drew out a small group of seven riders. Arlenis Sierra of Astana, Jaime Gunning of Specialized Women’s Racing, Sarah Gigante of TIBCO-SVB, Anastasiia Chursina of Ale BTC Ljubljana, Justine Barrow of Roxsolt Attaquer and Ella Harris managed to join her but both Harris and Barrow were on the ropes; fighting to remain in contention.
The overall leader Sierra had done everything right to keep hold of her race lead, but there was nothing she could do about the final attack with 500m to go. A resigned Cuban could only watch as the gap to Kennedy grew, but a resurgent and determined Harris finally called on the last of her reserves to move from chasing on the back of the group to attacking off the front.
There was little tactical cat-and-mouse game-playing between Harris and those now struggling to hold on to her wheel. The Kiwi simply dug as deep as she possibly could and powered on, gradually dropping the rest of her challengers and powering on to her first professional victory.
Afterwards an emotional Harris reflected on what she’d just achieved as she fought to now hold back the tears.
“I’m speechless, I can’t believe it. At TDU and Cadel [Evans Great Ocean Road Race] I’ve felt like I was really close to a result and that I had the legs. Today at the start I wasn’t feeling so good but as it went on I just kept clawing my way back to the bunch,” Ella said post-race. “They kept accelerating and I have zero punch but I kept just dieseling myself back on. Then with about 500m to go I sensed that I had a little bit more power than everyone else – and I actually had that sensation in stage 2 going into Stirling at TDU but I completely got swamped – so I was expecting the same thing to happen today. To cross the line first after getting dropped in the surprise crosswinds yesterday means so much to me, and I’ve got so many people to thank. I’m just ecstatic, it’s my first professional win and I’ve been wanting it for so long!”
The news got better for Harris as she moved up to fourth overall behind Lucy Kennedy, and claimed the Queen of the Mountains title ahead of Gigante. Harris also finished level on points in the points classification, finishing second to Arlenis Sierra on count back. Samara Sheppard also produced a sterling performance to finish 7th on the stage and 9th overall.