Amanda Spratt bagged the biggest win of her career with a long range attack which saw her move from 10th overall to take the lead on the final day of the Basque Country's four stage race.
The Australian rode away from her fellow escapees near the bottom of the toughest climb of the race with around 54km to go, subsequently riding alone to win in Iurreta on Tuesday.
Spratt's Mitchelton-Scott team-mate, Annemiek Van Vleuten had started the day in the leader's jersey, but was able to sit in the small chasing group, safe in the knowledge she could retain her jersey had Spratt been unable to remain out front.
In the end she finished second overall, 48 seconds down, with the other pre-race favourite Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), a further 12 seconds back.
How it happened
With the general classification so tight, pre-stage talk from Boels-Dolmans had been of the bonus seconds available at two intermediate sprints, the first of which came with just 13 of the day's 120km done.
However, the first two places there were taken by two escapees, though significantly Spratt herself took the remaining one second, though more to defend Van Vleuten's 12 second lead than for her own aspirations.
Those two escapees were soon caught and by the time the peloton reached the first of three classified climbs, it had split in two, with uncategorised ascents and narrow roads taking their toll.
On that first major climb four riders managed to go clear, including Brit Dani Rowe (Waowdeals), but once over the top a lack cooperation saw them brought back and Alicia González (Movistar) escaped. She did not get far before being joined by Alice Arzuffi, an Italian whose Bizkaia-Druango team is based in the immediate area of the day’s stage.
The duo failed to get a good lead, however, and as the remaining 25 riders at the front reached the bottom of the Urkiola climb four others went clear.
One of those was Spratt who was joined by team-mate Georgia Williams, Ane Santesteban (Alé-Cipollini), Lorena Llamas (Movistar), Aifke Soet (WNT-Rotor), the group gaining a small advantage as they tackles the 6km climb which averages 9.1 per cent gradient.
Less than a kilometre in though, Spratt saw her chance, riding away to never be seen again.
Behind her the climb ripped the race to shreds with riders all over the road. However, at the front an elite group of 11 formed. After the descent that increased to around 20, though all the time Spratt's lead was growing.
With her advantage at about three minutes, Italian champion Elisa Longo-Borghini (Wiggle-High5), whose form has been retuning this week after illness, was joined Olga Zabalenskaya (Cogeas-Mettler), and while they were able to get away from the group, they could not get within one minute of a marauding Spratt.
In the end the Australian crossed the line 1-16 ahead of the chasing duo, and 2-12 ahead of her challengers.
Though the 30-year-old has other significant race wins to her name, not least two consecutive editions of the Santos Women's Tour and a previous stage at Bira, this is the first race she has won at either Women's WorldTour or World Cup level.
She has had a stellar spring though, her Ardennes season marking her as one to watch this week.
Her Mitchelton-Scott outfit have also made huge gains this year and certainly look set to join Sunweb and Canyon-SRAM in challenging Boels-Dolmans's recent dominance.
Emaukumeen Bira 2018, stage four: Iurreta - Iurreta (120km)
1. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, in 3-19-2
2. Elisa Longo-Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High, at 1-16
3. Olga Zabalenskaya (Rus) Cogeas-Mettler, at same time
4. Małgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Movistar, at 2-12
5. Ane Santesteban (Esp) Alé-Cipollini
6. Sabrina Stultiens (Ned) Waowdeals
7. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla
8. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans
9. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
10. Anouska Koster (Ned) Waowdeals, at 2-40
Final general classification
1. Amanda Spratt (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott in 9-50-26
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton-Scott at 48s
3. Anna van der Breggen (Ned) Boels-Dolmans at 59s
4. Georgia Williams (NZl) Mitchelton-Scott at 1-20
5. Elisa Longo-Borghini (Ita) Wiggle-High5 at 1-27
6. Ashleigh Mailman-Pasio (RSA) Cervélo-Bigla at 1-42
7. Olga Zabalenskaya (Rus) Cogeas-Mettler at 1-52
8. Pauliena Rooijakkers (Ned) Waowdeals at 2-07
9. Clara Koppenburg (Ger) Cervélo-Bigla at 2-34
10. Małgorzata Jasinska (Pol) Movistar at 3-13
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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.
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