Watts took the overall lead after winning the time trial on stage 2. Despite crashing on the next stage, the rider from Lithgow held off all challengers and secured her second GC win of the season.
Starting in the NRS leader’s jersey, Watts was chief among the pre-race favourites, coming off the back of winning August’s Tour of Gippsland.
Stage 1 of Cycle Sunshine Coast was a rolling stage that saw a reduced peloton contest the finish in Peachester. Lucie Fityus (Cycling Development Foundation) scored her first NRS road win, outsprinting Sharni Morely (Butterfields Racing) and Matilda Raynolds (Team Hydraplay Femme) to take the yellow leader’s jersey.
Stage 2 was a short individual time trial with an uphill finish in Yandina. Watts proved the strongest, putting 20 seconds into an impressive young runner-up in Mackenzie Coupland (Cycling Development Foundation), with former Australian road champion Ruth Corset also snagging a podium place.
Gippsland stage winner Katelyn Nicholson (Butterfields Racing) once again showed strength against the clock, finishing just one second behind Corset.
Riders returned to racing that same evening with a criterium under lights in Maroochydore’s city centre. The technical circuit saw some crashes, including one involving Watts and Corset, but the two were able to rejoin the peloton and avoid losing time. The same could not be said, however, of Mackenzie Coupland, who slipped out of GC contention after a mechanical issue.
In their home tour, ARA Skip Capital took control of the bunch and delivered track cycling star Chloe Moran to a win in the bunch sprint ahead of Gina Ricardo (Team BridgeLane) and Raynolds.
Stage 4 was also tipped to finish in a bunch sprint, but Coupland was out for vengeance and went on the attack early. With around 30km remaining, she was joined – and passed – at the front of the race by Amanda Poulsen, a Sydney-based Danish rider in the colours of Manly Warringah Cycling Club.
Poulsen’s lead grew to as much as two minutes before the peloton began winding her back. However, Poulsen had enough in the tank to claim a breakthrough solo victory, winning the stage by 18 seconds ahead of the bunch, which was led home by Lillee Pollock (Team BridgeLane) and Watts.
The fifth and final stage was an attritional road race at Eudlo under warm conditions. With 30 seconds to make up on the race leader, Ruth Corset threw everything she could at the climbs, but Watts held strong even as the peloton splintered under the pressure.
A reduced bunch of 13 riders contested the finish, which was won again by Lucie Fityus, who bookended her tour with a brace of stage wins. Poulsen finished second, proving her stage victory was no fluke, while Raynolds sprinted to third.
Watts secured the GC win by 33 seconds ahead of Corset, with Katelyn Nicholson completing the overall podium.
Matilda Raynolds narrowly won the sprint classification thanks to her trio of podium finishes, while Corset won the mountains classification. Lillee Pollock was the best young rider, and it was no surprise that Team BridgeLane clinched the teams classification.
The 2023 NRS will conclude next week at the Spirit of Tasmania Cycling Tour, where Watts will aim to wrap up the overall series win.
Results – 2023 Cycle Sunshine Coast
- Emily WATTS (Team BridgeLane) 7h40:55
- Ruth CORSET (Team Hydraplay Femme) +33
- Katelyn NICHOLSON (Butterfields Racing) +36
- Amanda POULSEN +39
- Matilda RAYNOLDS (Team Hydraplay Femme) +41
- Matilda RAYNOLDS (Team Hydraplay Femme) 22pt
- Lillee POLLOCK (Team BridgeLane) 21
- Lucie FITYUS (Cycling Development Foundation) 20
- Ruth CORSET (Team Hydraplay Femme) 17pt
- Gina RICARDO (Team BridgeLane) 14
- Rachel WALES (ARA Skip Capital) 10
Young Rider Classification
- Lillee POLLOCK (Team BridgeLane) 7h42:14
- Sharni MORELY (Butterfields Racing) +10
- Ella SIMPSON (ARA Skip Capital) +24
Teams General Classification
- Team BridgeLane 23h06:01
- Butterfields Racing +48
- ARA | Skip Capital +2:29
Photos: Lucy Bowden / Cycle Sunshine Coast