No matter how many knocks Sarah Gigante has had, there seems to be one thing that helps the Australian rider keep bouncing back – she just loves riding and racing her bike – and that is a big part of the reason she is heading into a new season with AG Insurance-Soudal instead of Movistar.
Gigante launched herself into the spotlight when she came straight out of the junior category to claim Australia’s elite women’s road race title in 2019 and then jumped up to the top-tier of teams in 2022, when she signed a three-year deal with Movistar. In December it was announced that the contract would be cut short, with the 23 year old rider heading to AG Insurance-Soudal for 2024 instead.
“Movistar was very supportive, especially because my years were so disrupted, so they were very very patient and I can’t thank them enough,” Gigante told Cyclingnews while in Adelaide for the Women’s Tour Down Under. “But it just wasn’t really the best fit for either of us, I think.
“I love the team but I just needed more race opportunities.”
Gigante has had a challenging first few years of her career, between the COVID-19 pandemic, injuries, and illness. For four seasons she looked to build experience with a race-filled European season, but every time it had been heavily curtailed.
So when Gigante rebuilt fitness and started racing again locally in Australia by mid-2023, after early season health issues, she was chomping at the bit to pin a number on in Europe with Movistar again. She lined up for her first race of the season with Movistar at the Tour of Scandinavia in August and that was it.
A stacked Movistar climbing squad meant Gigante wasn’t getting picked for races, instead being placed as a reserve, and that meant the much desired chance to improve her race craft wasn’t there, nor was the opportunity to test her form. She was extremely keen to do just that given that in training the all time personal bests were flowing.
“I was just hanging out,” said Gigante. “But I only got to do Scandinavia and then the thought of just not really knowing what race I could train up for next … particularly when I was so full of determination that I didn’t want to miss anything.”
The season was quickly coming close to its end, and with the sparse race calendar of 2023 came concerns that 2024 would bring another year of limited race opportunities. Gigante, at that point, happened to have a discussion with fellow Australian Anya Louw about her team AG Insurance-Soudal – a former development squad that has shifted to the Women’s WorldTour level this season.
“I know I have a long way to go in terms of development and improving as a rider and I can see that they also have that vision, even though they have some really top riders like Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio, they also have so many young riders … they have a long term vision.”
That sparked a process that first made it a wishlist team and then a reality, when in late December Movistar announced that Gigante would be cutting her contract short by mutual agreement. AG Insurance-Soudal soon spread news that she would be joining.
“I am very pleased with Sarah’s arrival,” said AG Insurance-Soudal manager Natascha den Ouden in the announcement. “When we spoke at the beginning of October, her ambition was palpable.
“Sarah has had a difficult period, but her results as a young rider show her enormous talent. I am confident that Sarah will return to her former level and be a huge asset for the stage races and the Walloon classics.”
Race ready but not all smooth sailing
Gigante had found a new home, and her enthusiasm for the new season, and building form, was clear. She’d been out at a state-level race in December, the Tour of Bright, sending Strava Queen of the Mountains records tumbling and overall victory, with a lead of nearly five minutes at the end of the three stage event. The build then continued, with the training moving to Ballarat as she got ready to launch herself into a new season with her new team as it stepped up to Women’s WorldTeam level in 2024.
“It’s amazing. I stepped in at the perfect time I think,” said Gigante. “They’ve still got that great balance of youth and excitement and … There’s not too much pressure on us, and they understand that we have weaknesses but then at the same time, they’re so professional and there are really big goals this year, especially with Ashleigh Moolman Pasio.
“It’s a great combination between development and results.”
The decision also meant that she’d get to race the Australian Road National Championships in January with new teammate Anya Louw, who she had so regularly lined up against in Ballarat, and then mesh with the rest of the team at the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Road Race in Australia.
It wasn’t, however the smoothest of starts at the opening event in her new team kit, the elite women’s time trial at the National Championships, which she won in both 2021 and 2020. It’s the race at the event she had been focussed on, training hard on her time trial bike, but then it was off the start ramp and straight into a mechanical. That meant she had to restart.
“I think it was the big, big setbacks I’ve had in the past that helped me,” said Gigante. “I was able to stay relatively calm in the situation I jumped on the bike someone passed me with like a minute to go, and I didn’t have power, heart rate or the right bike but I was able to to give it my best shot and do a relatively good time trial.”
The-23 year-old then also went on to come 11th at the road race, after the peloton chased down break of three she was in during the final stages of the title race. Then, to keep her calendar ticking along she lined up at the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under in South Australia on Friday January 12.
It was a strong start on the first day for the AG Insurance-Soudal team at the Women’s WorldTour race, with Ally Wollaston taking the sprint victory on stage 1 with a well-timed dash to the line, but Sunday, all eyes will turn to Gigante. That stage finishes on top of Willunga Hill, a climb where she holds the record after winning a stage of the 2021 Santos Festival of Cycling – the domestic replacement race for the COVID-19 cancelled international event – where she claimed victory on top of Willunga with a one minute advantage to her nearest rival.
“Mainly I hope I can just give it my best shot, hopefully no bad luck,” said Gigante before the race of her aspirations at the Women’s Tour Down Under. “But I mean, I’m just going to give it everything I have and hopefully I can make the team proud and make them happy that they signed me, because they did take a chance on me.
“Obviously I don’t really have any results or race experience from the last few years so it was really great that I was able to join the team and I just want to do my best for them.”
[Editors note – As it turned out her best was spectacular. In the hours after this article was originally published she pushed the pace right from the start of the climb and shot away from all her rivals to claim both the stage and overall victory for her new team on the top of Willunga]
A European season
After the January racing season ends, Gigante will be heading over to Europe again, perhaps starting the season a little later at Strade Bianche or Trofeo Binda and beyond that the plan is still yet to be set.
“I’m just excited for, hopefully some good opportunities this year, and healthy, happy and lots of improvement hopefully,” said Gigante.
When asked if she was hoping that programme could also include a Tour de France start was: “There are so many great races I’d love to do.”
“Of course, one day I’d definitely love to do the Tour de France but I wouldn’t be devastated if I miss out. I’ve missed out the last two years and I survived. Hopefully I’ll be there, but if not, I’ll be cheering very hard on the couch.”
No matter what races she lines up at though, the challenges of recent years and just how much Gigante has missed the riding and racing when she hasn’t been able to do it, have firmed up just what the sport means to her.
“I learnt how much I love my bike. When I can’t ride my bike, it’s tough but when I can then I really appreciate it and I just really know I want to be here.”
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