Hannah Barnes (Canyon-SRAM) won the opening stage of the four-day Setmana Ciclista Valenciana in Spain, proving herself the fastest in the bunch sprint after her team mate Kasia Niewiadoma was caught in the final stretch to the finish line.
Taking an impressive second place following a failed breakaway was Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (Cervelo Bigla), with Alé–Cipollini's Marta Bastianelli in third.
Fresh from a spanish training camp, Canyon-SRAM arrived at the UCI 2.2 ranked European season opener with a strong roster and two ambitious contenders for victory.
The 118km stage was the first of four, and featured two climbs in the second half: an ascent of Alto de Barxeta (6.2km at 3.1 per cent) and Alto de Barx (6km and 5.6 per cent).
Moolman-Pasio collected the points on the first classified climb, opening the way for team mate Lotta Lepistö plus Canyon-SRAM's Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, Shara Gillow (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) and Mavi Garcia (Movistar) to take a lead.
However, by the early slopes of the second climb - Alto de Barx - the peloton had closed down their gap.
At this point, Niewiadoma kicked to attack, with Moolman-Pasio seeing her chance to break from the bunch soon after. The two worked together, with Moolman-Pasio claiming the second set of climber's bonus points.
Following the descent, the riders had just 14km left to cover, but with 5km yet to go their time gap amounted to 30s.
With the finish line fast approaching, the peloton absorbed the breakaway in the final 1km. This left Canyon-SRAM's sprinter, Barnes, to finish the job and take the win.
Speaking from the Canyon-SRAM training camp before the race, the British sprinter had predicted a very different race - which leaves questions over what she may have left in the tank for the following stages.
"Our team has had a chance to see some of the stages. I think from what we've seen I would say that the first and last stages will be more for the climbers and a chance to change the general classification. The second and third stages I'm going to predict a bunch sprint," Barnes commented.
Tomorrow's 115km stage starts in Castello, finishing in Vila-Real. It's expected to end in a bunch sprint, despite the 7.5km climb at 5.1 per cent - Desert of Les Palmes - in the middle.
The third stage is 137km long, taking riders from Sagunt to Valencia, with a climb of L'Oronet (5.5km at 5 per cent per cent). The final stage, at 118km, is based entirely in Benidorm with three laps of a 38km circuit that includes an ascent of Alto Finestrat (7km at 4.7 per cent).
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Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper, where highlights included interviewing a very irate Freddie Star (and an even more irate theatre owner), as well as 'the one about the stolen chickens'.
Previous to joining the Cycling Weekly team, Michelle was Editor at Total Women's Cycling. She joined CW as an 'SEO Analyst', but couldn't keep her nose out of journalism and in the spreadsheets, eventually taking on the role of Tech Editor before her latest appointment as Digital Editor.
Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Michelle is on maternity leave from July 8 2022, until April 2023.
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