Sarah Gigante has been through a lifetime’s share of difficulties, it would not be hyperbolic to say. The 23-year-old from Melbourne (Australia, not Derbyshire) has suffered illness, heart problems, and a plethora of broken bones in her short career to date, along with having to contend with a lack of racing over the past couple of years.
In fact, Gigante only took part in one race on the Women’s WorldTour in 2023, the Tour of Scandinavia last August. Despite her early promise, it looked like she could be a talent lost, thanks to misfortune and a lack of opportunities.
However, it didn’t end like that. Gigante left her old team, Movistar, by mutual consent back in December, moving to AG Insurance-Soudal, breaking her contract early in the process. It turned out there was no chance she’d be a talent lost, she had too much of it for that; the first Women’s WorldTour race of the season wasn’t just a race ticked off, but a triumph, potentially the biggest of her career. It is unlikely to be the last.
“It means everything to me [to win],” she said. “I was really hoping to come out and show I was back at nationals, but with my bad luck in the time trial… My team believed in me even when I was struggling.
“It means so much to me to come back full circle after winning here three years ago, and since then, so many things went wrong. Now I'm back and I'm so happy.”
“I've been proud of all my achievements, and sometimes just believing in myself was the best part,” Gigante continued. “Last year, I only had one race the whole year. Just keeping going, going out there every single day, I didn't miss a training session. I always believed in myself and I listened to the people that did. That's what I'm most proud of.”
The stage was set: Willunga Hill, where she made her mark at the 2021 Santos Festival of Cycling, the scene of all those Richie Porte victories, the most famous cycling climb in Australia.
After a career of misfortune, even the day of her comeback was almost a difficult one, with the Victorian battling through crosswinds and narrowly missing a loose dog on the road, to get to the bottom of Willunga, where she was simply the fastest up the hill, to win the stage, and the overall general classification.
“As soon as I had a gap and I knew no one was on my wheel I didn't think I'd get caught,” Gigangte said. “I believed I could do it from that moment, although from the bottom I felt quite confident. I knew it was going to be tough to get to the bottom of Willunga without wasting too much energy and with the leaders, but as soon as I got to the bottom I thought I could do that.”
Willunga Hill isn’t the toughest climb in the world, 3.4km at 7.4%, but Gigante rode one of the best riders in the world, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Suez), the race leader, off her wheel, and the other favourite for the race, Amanda Spratt (Lidl-Trek). She made it look easy. She beat second-placed Nienke Vinke (dsm-firmenich PostNL) by 20 seconds, and third-placed Neve Bradbury (Canyon-SRAM) by 33.
“Originally, the team was saying go later, go where Richie goes, but I said no, I wanted to go from the bottom and I believed I could do it,” the winner explained post-race. “I knew that, even though I haven't had any results for years and hardly any races, I knew I was in great form.”
“Yesterday afternoon I watched a replay of when I won last time, at the Festival of Cycling for a bit of a confidence boost, and I thought I’dl just do that again,” she continued. “It was harder this time. I looked behind after maybe a minute and I couldn't see how many girls were behind me because I was going full gas, but there were quite a few, and I thought uh oh, what if it's a sprint.
“I knew I had to keep drilling it, despite the headwind, despite everyone sitting on and slowly one by one they dropped off. I could hear all my teammates and my DS screaming 'go Sarah, go Sarah', and I knew I had to just do it for them.”
Gigante is not done yet, but she made it clear she planned to spend her time celebrating this win before moving onto bigger goals, but it does feel like she is bound for big things, now she is on a team where she feels comfortable, and able to show her best. At the very least, she will race more than one WorldTour event this season, and she has won it.
“I'm looking forward to keeping improving, hopefully, and this does help my confidence,” she said. “I know I'm just going to be so happy with AG Insurance-Soudal. The belief they had in me from the very start, it's hard to come into a new team and take a leadership position straight away, but everyone was so lovely. I don't even feel like a new rider, I just feel at home.”
With misfortune behind her, Gigante can be one of the stars of the women’s peloton. Her comeback is only just beginning.
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