Opinion: Sarah Gigante’s story shows why you shouldn’t give up on a rider

After a tough couple of years, the young Australian beat the established favourites to take her first WorldTour win, shortly after moving to pastures new

Sarah Gigante on the podium of the 2024 Tour Down Under
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Adam Becket
Adam Becket

News editor at Cycling Weekly, Adam brings his weekly opinion on the goings on at the upper echelons of our sport. 

This piece is part of The Leadout, the offering of newsletters from Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews. To get this in your inbox, subscribe here.

Good morning, and welcome back to The Leadout. I’m Adam, and as ever, I’m here to attempt to give some insight into the world of professional cycling. I’m currently at the Tour Down Under, so do say hi if you see me about Adelaide, or email me on adam.becket@futurenet.com if you have anything to say.

Professional cycling is ruthless. The history of the sport is littered with examples of riders who, for whatever reason, didn’t last in the professional peloton. Perhaps they got injured at the wrong time, maybe they went to the wrong team, maybe illness got in the way. If they happen at the wrong time in someone’s career, it could be terminal, no matter the talent on show.

Sarah Gigante was once the next big thing. At just 18, she won the elite road race at Australia’s National Championships in 2019, beating the likes of Amanda Spratt and Sarah Roy in the process. Two years later, during the pandemic, she won two stages of the Santos Festival of Cycling and the overall; a contract with Movistar, one of the world’s best teams, followed.

However, she went through her fair share of issues over the past couple of years; broken bones, a heart problem, illness, and also - crucially - being in a Movistar team that didn’t seem to know how to use her, or perhaps believe in her. To reset, the young Australian switched to AG Insurance-Soudal in the off season. At the Tour Down Under, her first race with her new squad, she won a stage and the overall in dominant fashion.

The TDU might not be the biggest race of the season, its position at the beginning of the calendar and on the other side of the world acting to deprive it of some of the best talent, but it is still a Women’s WorldTour event, and you can only beat what is in front of you. 

Gigante’s ride on Willunga Hill, where she took off as soon as the road went up, and rode the best climbers at the event off her wheel, was a sign of her talent, and of things to come. One could say it was not the smartest move in a block headwind, but it didn’t matter, that’s how strong Gigante was. 

The 23-year-old only raced once for her trade team, Movistar, in 2023. As she put it herself, this year is already better: “No matter what, I'm going to be happy for 2024.”

Her triumph was testament to her willpower, but also proof that we can’t be quick to write off riders. From the outside, it is far too easy to call someone “washed up” (a term she used herself in post race interviews) or think they will never reach the heights expected of them, but we can never know what’s truly going on, mentally or physically. Sometimes, it takes a bit of good luck, a change of circumstance or scenery, and everything looks different.

“It's simply fantastic how we've started this season, taking the lead in the WorldTour right away,” Gigante’s directeur sportif, Servais Knaven, said post-race. “But that pales in comparison to Sarah's story, whom we brought on board this winter. Her boundless will to race and her unparalleled motivation are an inspiration. Her performance leaves me without words; truly, hats off. I am extremely glad that Natascha [den Ouden, the general manager of AG Insurance-Soudal] insisted on bringing her to the team.”

The Victorian’s performance at the women’s Tour Down Under does not necessarily mean that she is going to smash racing for the rest of the year, but it does show that her huge talent remains undimmed. Imagine what she could do with some racing in her legs, and with a team that believes her. Oh, and some injury and illness free months.

New riders, breakthrough stars, are always exciting to both us in the press and fans alike, but then we are all also guilty of moving swiftly on to the next shiny person, and forgetting about others. Gigante was just 18 when she made her first breakthrough. Five years later, she is still just 23, as she makes her second splash, and she still has time to grow. Second chances work.

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