Ruth Edwards (Human Powered Health) marked her return to road racing in solid fashion in Australia, and Saturday at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race her fourth-place finish was also a ‘win’ from a sprint in a nine-rider chase group. She used her climbing skills on the two ascents of Challambra Crescent to shed other contenders after teammate Audrey Cordon-Ragot was reeled back in from her solo attack but couldn’t respond to race-winner Rosita Reijnhout’s attack on Melville Avenue.
The former US road champion officially retired from the pro peloton in 2021 after seven seasons, during which she won stages at the Tour de Feminin, a stage of the Giro Rosa as well as De Brabantse Pijl. But ‘retirement’ did not mean giving up racing altogether, as she has taken on a firm commitment to off-road racing, winning events from Old Man Winter to the Chequamegon MTB Festival, and adding a second place at last year’s epic Leadville Trail 100 MTB.
Her return to the Women’s WorldTour with Human Powered Health in 2024, last seen racing with Trek-Segafredo, saw her rapidly replicate past climbing form reminiscent of her most recent road races in Australia. The last time she competed at Tour Down Under was four years ago and she took the overall title.
“It feels great to get fourth,” Edwards said in a team statement. “We like to win so of course I would have liked to do a little better but I’m pleased with this and how the team rode, I felt protected the whole time.”
The form for the 30-year-old was in question heading to her first road start in several years, but she called it “kind of fun” to see what she could do against the ever-stronger field of pro women.
“We don’t know how I’m going to do and that’s kind of fun. There is not necessarily pressure on me to win or get a podium but there is pressure to see how good I can be,” she told Cyclingnews just before her start at Tour Down Under earlier in January. ”You can’t really fail when you don’t really know, and for me that’s pretty exciting.”
At the three-stage Women’s WorldTour opener, Edwards scored a top 10 on stage 2. It’s no surprise she called Tour Down Under “one of my favorite road races”.
In 2020 Edwards was also eighth overall at Cadel Evans Road Race, now rebranded as the Deakin University Elite Women’s Road Race. Four years later she found herself at the front of the race with 15 riders over the first pass of Challambra Crescent (1.1km at 8.2%) with just 26km to race. Sarah Gigante (AG Insurance-Soudal) launched the first acceleration on the climb to disperse riders. Across the top Ella Wyllie (Liv AlUla Jayco) led the way and the remaining mountain points went to Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-SUEZ) and Edwards.
On the final full circuit, the pace slowed and many riders caught back on, spurring Cordon-Ragot to attack on a flat section leading through a pass of the finish line for one last climb of Challambra. While her effort was brought back, it did allow Edwards to sit in waiting for the final climb.
“The wind was blowing so hard. It was a headwind, so I knew that if I didn’t have 45 seconds it would be hard to hang on,” the French champion said. “But, I knew that if I was out the front the girls in the chase [Edwards and Katia Ragusa] could just sit on.”
With just 5km to go, an opportunistic attack by Reijnhout (Visma-Lease a Bike) from a group of three leaders resulted in a solo win for the 19-year-old, with Dominka Wlodarczyk (UAE Team ADQ) and Uttrup Ludwig trailing for second and third, respectively. Edwards just ran out of real estate to make any catch but won the sprint behind for fourth.
“I’m feeling super confident being back in the peloton and I’m excited to be able to push and try and race hard,” Edwards added. “I take a lot of motivation going into European races.”
Edwards’ time in Australia concluded with three events, and a pair of top 10s to give her confidence for more. For the early-season stage races and the Classics, Human Powered Health heads to Europe to race UAE Tour Women and Setmana Valenciana in February.