Watts sprints to surprise win at Santos Cycling Festival opener

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Emily Watts (Knights of Suburbia) edged out her fanciest rivals to claim victory on the opening day of the Santos Festival of Cycling.

Watts, the Australian U23 road race champion last year, beat pre-stage favorite Ruby Roseman-Gannon (BikeExchange-Jayco) and new Australian champion Nicole Frain (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) in a bunch sprint to Williamstown.

The opening leg of the National Road Series three-stage race was rather compact, with the peloton staying together for much of the day’s 85km. There were a handful of attacks throughout the stage, the most promising of which came from Watts’ teammate Georgie Howe, Justine Barrow (Roxsolt Liv SRAM) and Ruth Corset on the final climb of the day, just 6 km from the finish. But ultimately, the stage was destined to end in a bunch sprint.

Roseman-Gannon started the final sprint early but faded late as Watts moved on to take the win. But after winning the two intermediate sprints of the day, and the bonus seconds that accompanied them, Roseman-Gannon finished stage 1 in the overall leader’s jersey.

The Santos Festival of Cycling is a nationwide stage race which, for the second consecutive year, replaces the COVID-affected Santos Tour Down Under. The women’s race is contested over three stages, from Sunday to Tuesday, while the three-day men’s race will run from Thursday to Sunday next week.

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