Four years ago when the peloton rolled out from Hahndorf on the first stage of the Women’s Tour Down Under, Matilda Raynolds managed to blast through to take the final spot on the podium in a bunch sprint. However, this year when the peloton rolled out from the South Australian village, the BridgeLane rider took an entirely different approach and for a while ‘dared to dream’ that the top step of a WorldTour podium could even be her reward.
“It wasn’t planned to go off the front but I was there and it’s an age-old playbook – you attack after the first prime,” Raynolds told reporters after stage 1. “I got a gap straight away and they sat up and I was on my way.
“I was going to make them work for it. When they don’t chase you down it’s a bit of an insult, so I was going to make them work for it all day,” added Raynolds with a chuckle.
First Raynolds had company out the front in a group of three with India Grangier (Coop-Repsol) and Katia Ragusa (Human Powered Health) that turned into a group of four when chaser Kate Richardson (LifePlus Wahoo) made the catch. But then after the second round of Queen of the Mountain points at around 36km to go in the opening stage of the Women’s Tour Down Under, the Australian rider, who now lives in New Zealand, decided it was time to launch.
“I just sat off them in that QOM and watched them and just as soon as they sat up smashed them over the top,” said Raynolds. “At that point, you are just head down and it is awful in that heat, just awful.”
Raynolds, a two-time winner of the long-range Melbourne to Warrnambool who also recently added a win at the gravel Dirty Warrny to her results list, needed every bit of heat preparation she had done in the run-up, with temperatures reaching 37.2 °C and ice vests a popular add on to rider jerseys pre-race.
“It felt like there was a headwind the entire way, honestly if you have ever turned up an oven with the fan turned up as high as possible … it was just like a furnace through that gorge there, it was hot.”
Though Raynolds – who was actually riding a smaller spare bike without data due to an early mechanical – is always one to embrace tough conditions.
“I was breathing through every orifice I had and I was just cooking and you know you are gone, you blow up ten times and go again,” said Raynolds. “I actually enjoy being out by myself or [with] one other and just going hard because I do a lot better longer. I actually felt better and better as the day went on so it felt great for me out there.”
That ability to improve as the kilometres piled up left the rider from the Continental squad, which focuses on providing a pathway to the top level for talent from the region, with hope as the bunch began to muster in pursuit.
“I still had 1:20 there with almost 11km to go so you dare to dream,” said Raynolds. “You’ve got to really, and you are on show to the world so I just did what I could.”
Despite her best efforts, the dream ended at eight kilometres to go, with Raynolds finishing among the bunch in 37th place while Ally Wollaston (AG Insurance – Soudal) sprinted to her first Women’s WorldTour win.
The day didn’t deliver the life-changing win Raynolds may have been dreaming of, but when Cyclingnews spoke to her before the stage she listed exposure and grasping opportunities as among the objectives for the race.
The 36-year-old who joined BridgeLane this year, certainly achieved both of those, as after going to Europe by herself the last two years and not getting the opportunity to perform, when she got it at the Tour Down Under she wasn’t going to waste it.
“I wasn’t going to roll around for 20th three days in a row,” said Raynolds. “So tomorrow is a new day and we will be trying to show what we can do again. We’ve got a great young team and it was just really good that I could execute some of the plan.”
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