Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) rode solo for more than 50 miles to win the pro women’s division at the 2023 Life Time Big Sugar Gravel presented by Mazda. Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch Racing) finished second, 8:47 behind the reigning gravel world champion, who crossed the line in 5:35:14.
Anna Hicks (Cynisca) accelerated away from defending champion Paige Onweller (Trek-SRAM-Voler) after the final climb with two miles to go to secure third place, another minute behind De Crescenzo.
It was a first appearance for Niewiadoma at a US gravel race and she debuted her rainbow stripes jersey, which was won in Italy at the second edition of the UCI Gravel World Championships.
"I could definitely feel that I was climbing a lot today. I didn’t expect that. The course was very relentless cause I feel like there was never a time to rest," the World Champion said at the finish.
"I felt that after the first half I was just climbing and descending so I definitely had a mental breakdown like ‘I just want to stop pedaling for one second,’ you know. But there was always something. Anytime we would go down, it was quite technical so I felt like I was kind of tense and it was still hard to relax. Definitely very brutal.
“To be honest, the last 5 kms I was like ‘never again'. It’s super hard but I feel like yeah, always after winning and after a big sufferfest ,it feels so satisfying that you want more.”
Big Sugar Gravel was the seventh and final event in the Life Time Grand Prix series, which included an invitation-only field of 70 athletes, 35 women and 35 men, competing for a $250,000 prize purse. Only the top 10 in each category will share the big payday, and Sofia Gomez Villafañe (Specialized Off-road) had earned the women's overall title in the year with top points in four races, including second place at Unbound Gravel 200.
How it unfolded
With cool temperatures and sunny skies, the women’s pro field started 10 minutes behind the pro men on Saturday morning. The 104.4-mile route travelled west, and then north, into Southern Missouri, with a loop back to downtown Bentonville.
Sarah Sturm (Specialized-SRAM-Rapha) and Jenna Rinehart (Nicollet Bike and Ski) broke away as a duo in the opening dozen miles as pavement transitioned to the dusty, white gravel. After 20 miles, they were reeled back by a small pack of seven other contenders – Onweller, Niewiadoma, Hicks, Life Time Grand Prix overall leader Villafañe, Heather Jackson (Herbalife), Whitney Allison (Bike Sports) and Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz Bicycles).
Through the first of two aid stations, with 67 miles to go, Jackson was the first of the leaders to drop back. Two-and-a-half minutes behind the leading eight were Sarah Lange (Velocio) and De Crescenzo.
Once off a section of pavement the race headed onto a sharp 7% climb to begin the most-northern stretch of the route for the half-way point, women’s WorldTour road pro Niewiadoma accelerated to the front of the race.
Across a series of three more punchy climbs, she opened a gap of 40 seconds over Rinehart, Lange, De Crescenzo, Onweller and Sturm chasing. That quintet had a 10-second margin over the next group containing Hicks, Allison, Skarda. It was several minutes later that the next pro women passed the same point – Emma Grant, Emily Newsom and 2022 LIfe Time Grand Prix champion Haley Smith.
Passing through the second and final aid station, at Whistling Spring Brewery with 31 miles to race, the winner of this year’s Rad Dirt Fest, De Crescenzo, made a charge and closed to within 1:56 of lone leader Niewiadoma. Onweller rode in third 2:07 behind her compatriot. Allison, Sturm, Hicks and Skarda remained together in the chase, with Rinehart trying to stay attached, all riding only 22-32 seconds behind Onweller.
Niewiadoma sailed over the last steep climb with two miles to go and through the final gravel detour section to head to the finish line, well clear of her rivals as she hit downtown Bentonville.
Other big names in the field who seemed to be riding rather than racing finished outside the top 19, including Villafañe, who completed the race in 35th. Briton Danni Shrosbree was 20th, Migration Gravel Race champion Amity Rockwell was 24th, Hannah Otto (Pivot-DTSwiss) took 26th place and local favourite Crystal Anthony (Liv Cycling), who was tied for sixth with Otto in the Grand Prix series entering the final event, finished 34th.
|Pos.||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)||5:35:14|
|2||Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch Racing)||+08:47|
|3||Anna Hicks (Cynisca)||+9:54|
|4||Paige Onweller (Trek-SRAM-Voler)||+10:04|
|5||Whitney Allison (Bike Sports)||+10:11|
|6||Jenna Rinehart (Nicollet Bike and Ski)||+11:03|
|7||Alexis Skarda (Santa Cruz Bicycles)||+11:28|
|8||Sarah Sturm (Specialized-SRAM-Rapha)||+12:43|
|9||Haley Smith (Maxxis Factory Racing)|
|10||Emma Grant (Ventum)||+12:50|
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