It’s been nearly five years since Sarah Gigante stunned onlookers to win Australia’s elite road title as an 18-year-old. At the time her potential seemed near-endless. It seemed clear that her rise to the top would be swift.
But the intervening years have proved very challenging, even for someone so upbeat. Multiple injuries, long-running illnesses, even a serious heart scare – they’ve all halted Gigante’s progress. Hopefully now, with a new season dawning, and with the news Gigante has signed with AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step for 2024, the 23-year-old will have the opportunity to start again.
Since her brilliant win at Nationals in 2019, the most race days Gigante has managed in a season is just 18. That came in her breakout 2019 season, with local Australian team Roxsolt-Attaquer. This year undisclosed health complications restricted her to just five professional race days.
There have been highs over the past few years, certainly. Signing with TIBCO-SVB for 2020 and 2021, winning the Aussie time trial title in both those years, representing Australia at the delayed Tokyo Olympics, signing with Movistar from 2022 through 2024, taking her first pro win in Spain in mid-2022. But from the outside at least, there appear to have been more setbacks than steps forward.
If rumours are to be believed, things weren’t going well at Movistar, even if her manager denied as much when asked. We now know that Gigante and Movistar will part ways at the end of 2023, a year before her contract was due to end. When 2024 begins, Gigante will slip into the colours of newly promoted WorldTour team AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step.
Whatever might come from this new opportunity, it does afford one thing: the opportunity to return to Australia’s Road Nationals, an event that’s been so crucial in Gigante’s career so far, and an event she loves.
She hasn’t been to Nationals since she won that second ITT title in 2021; not since she joined Movistar. It mustn’t have been easy – “it’s my favourite race of the year”, she told me of Road Nats when we spoke in late 2022. Now that she’s with AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step, though, Gigante has the green light to return to Buninyong when Road Nats begin in the first week of the new year.
Expect Gigante to be in good form. She’s been training hard in the lead-up, including with some impressive hit-outs on the Nationals road race course. And earlier this month, she was easily the best at the Tour of Bright, setting a new Strava QOM on the Mt. Buffalo climb along the way. Don’t be surprised if she’s among the best in both the Nationals time trial and road race.
Gigante is expected to line-up at the other Aussie summer races as well. There’s the Santos Tour Down Under, which returns to Willunga Hill where Gigante won a stage and the overall in 2021 when the race was a COVID-demoted domestic-level event: the Santos Festival of Cycling. And then there’s Cadel’s Race and its companion mid-week criterium.
Bigger picture, Gigante will be hoping that a new team means this is the year she can put all her focus on her continued development as a rider, rather than recovering from her latest setback. She’s got some goals in mind already.
“Supporting my new teammates and learning from them is something I can’t wait for, and hopefully, I will contribute to some great successes,” she said via an AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step press release. “Additionally, it’s fantastic to have the opportunity to support an incredible rider like Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, who excels in the same kind of hilly and attritional races that I personally enjoy the most.
“Continuing to improve my time-trialling abilities is a goal I strive for,” she added.
Goals aside, let’s all hope 2024 is the year Gigante can draw a line under the tumultuous first few seasons of her pro career and start again. As she told Lukas Knöfler at Cyclingnews earlier this year: “I don’t need good luck, just hopefully a year without bad luck.” She’s certainly due.
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