Teenage champ Gigante in disbelief
MELBOURNE teenager Sarah Gigante was starstruck to be simply riding next to her idols at Buninyong on Sunday but 100km later it suddenly dawned on her that she was about to beat them as well.
The 18-year-old produced the most memorable ride in women's championship history to become the first under-23 and youngest ever elite road race champion with a solo ride to the finish.
In doing so Gigante confirmed her status as the most exciting young prospect in Australian cycling after last year clean sweeping the criterium, time trial and road race in the under-19 category.
The stunning upset denied WorldTour team Mitchelton-Scott the green and gold jersey for the second year in a row with Amanda Spratt and Sarah Roy filling the minor placings.
"I'm so happy, so, so so happy, I can't believe it. I didn't expect to win under-23s, I thought maybe a medal ... so to win elite I can't believe it," said Gigante, who rides for domestic team Roxsolt Attaquer.
"In the breakaway I had some of my idols - Chloe Hosking and Sarah Roy - and just to be doing turns with them, riding near them I thought 'wow this is so cool'.
"And when I heard three Mitchelton-Scott girls were chasing I thought 'oh, my idols are chasing me, this is amazing'."
Gigante, who broke both arms in a crash last year and had her mum transcribe her Year 12 assignments on the way to a perfect VCE score of 99.95, has not even spoken to a WorldTour team and plans to study a Bachelor of Science at university this year.
She was in the breakaway from the first lap of the 104km race and was still going strong when she made her winning move with 15km to go.
She knew that if she attacked Shara Gillow and Roy they would most likely mark each other, and when she had a gap it was a matter of fighting the pain barrier as her rivals chased her to the finish.
"I wasn't planning on going through the Fed Uni campus, it was a complete surprise," she said of her race-winning move.
"I was going to go on the last climb so it was only 5km earlier and I've got the gap, so I thought I might as well just go for it.
"I thought I might have a small chance three-quarters of the way up the hill, but I thought 'oh I might get a medal, this is amazing', then after the last corner it was all downhill and I thought 'don't give up, keep going'.
"I was in a lot of pain, I was dying."
Gigante's next major race is the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race with the national team but for now she will go back to racing club criteriums with Brunswick Cycling Club which was out in force to support her yesterday.
"I love club crits, I do like three a week," she said.
"My club was amazing, they had a tent set up at the top of the hill and every lap, even when I was full on dying they were like 'would you like a sausage Sarah?', I love my club so much, we keep it fun and sometimes fun can actually be fast too so that's nice."
A silver medallist in the road race at the junior world championships last year, Gigante has big dreams for the future but is not getting ahead of herself.
"I just keep having fun on the bike and working hard off it with my studies, I'm doing a Bachelor of Science this year so I'm looking forward to that and maybe racing overseas a bit," she said.
"That's (Olympics and world championships) a long way in the future if it's ever in my future, so I think I'll just stay grounded for now, I'm only 18 so I'll keep having fun."
Spratt, who is the number three ranked rider in the world, conceded Gigante was simply too good over the undulating course.
"Of course we came here to win but we also have to acknowledge that she had an incredible ride," Spratt said.
"She showed last year in Ballarat what she's capable of, the talent she has, and hats off to her, she rode away from a class field even in that breakaway.
"She went in the early breakaway and was able to stay away and win, and that normally doesn't happen on this sort of course."
1. Sarah Gigante (Roxsolt Attaquer) 3hrs 3mins 36secs
2. Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) +50secs
3. Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott) +54secs