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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.
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 Sofia Gomez Villafañe (Specialized Off-road), 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, as she lost three minutes. Two-and-a-half minutes behind the leading eight were Sarah Lange (Velocio) and De Crescenzo.
Once off a section of pavement headed on 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…