Gracie Elvin: previewing the world championships
While the elite men were racing the time trial in Richmond, the largest contingent of Australian women for a world championship road race were completing a four hour training ride in Virginia.
There will be an impressive roster of eight women in the green-and-gold jersey at the road race this Saturday (in alphabetical order): Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin, Katrin Garfoot, Lauren Kitchen, Rachel Neylan, Loren Rowney, Amanda Spratt and Lizzie Williams.
The two-time national champion, Elvin, spoke to RIDE about the preparation and expectations for the 129.8km race this Saturday. The women will race eight laps of the 16.2km circuit and the hope is to turn the green and gold stripes into a rainbow.
Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below.
Gracie Elvin: “Unfortunately we didn’t get to go out and watch [the men’s TT] because we had to go out and do our last long ride for the week, so we were out in the afternoon and we missed it – but I think it was edge-of-your-seat viewing just yesterday for the girls.
RIDE: I would say that the women’s race was probably a little bit more exciting; there was not much in it – only nine seconds between first and fourth, that’s amazing!
“I know. We were just yelling so loudly at the stream [while] watching Kat [Garfoot, who finished fourth]. We were just blown away.
“We knew she was in awesome form but she really just went to that next level yesterday and it was just so exciting to watch and kind of feel a little bit part of it. She’s ridden herself into the history books there and hopefully she can just keep improving. I think she’s only just really started [showing] what she can do, so it’ll pretty exciting to see the next big thing from her.”
She doesn’t show a lot of emotion but her story is a fabulous one, isn’t it?
“Yeah. She’s a funny girl. She’s definitely become a great part of our team. As you know, she’s [originally] German but she’s definitely a lot more Aussie now.”
Just tell us what your expectations were before the TT. Did you think that she would be up there chasing the win…?
“She’s a quiet achiever and we definitely knew she could get into the top 10 and possibly the top five. We had a bet with our mechanic and our soigneur that if she got top six, then they had to lose their beard or their hair and she managed to run fourth so we had a bit of a clippers session last night and they were pretty upset about it.
“She went as well as we thought she’d go but she certainly exceeded the expectations as well.”
Let’s talk through what you did today because there’s a big race coming up on Saturday. What do you do in advance of a world championships, Gracie? Can you just give us a little run down of what you did out on the bike today?
“Usually the week before a big event like the world championships, we’re starting to taper and get fresh. You’re trying to get rid of any fatigue that you’re carrying from any racing.
“A lot of it is just lazing around in the hotel but in terms of the training, we just do a couple of easy days on Monday and Tuesday, especially for those of us who did the team time trial on Sunday – we were pretty tired from that. And today [Wednesday] we had a really good endurance ride for about four hours.
“It kind of empties the body of a lot of your energy stores so then you can really replenish it well.
“Your body tends to overcompensate a bit with the food you eat and this is a good way to get your body ready for a big event and load up on the carbs and get all the cobwebs out of your legs as well – you can’t go into it too fresh otherwise your body shuts down a little bit.
“It’s definitely a balancing act in the week before a big events to get fresh but also not let your body just go to sleep completely as well.
“Tomorrow [Thursday] we’ll be doing a couple of laps around the course as well so it’s really good to have a few little efforts up some of the climbs and get your head around the course as well, and have a good think about it.”
So we’re watching from afar and on a screen and hills never look as steep when you’re seeing it on a screen. Can you talk us through what the course is like in Richmond?
“Yeah, you’re right. I think TV won’t do it justice. I got to see the course on Monday. I did a couple of reps on some of the climbs and they’re very difficult.
“I think it’s going to be pretty similar to Glasgow [for the Commonwealth Games last year]: it’s a city race with heaps of corners and short, punchy climbs but I think it’s going to be a touch harder than Glasgow.
“Two of the climbs have got cobbles and they’re really Classics-style cobbles, almost like Belgian cobbles so it’s going to take it out of the legs on every lap.
“It’s probably going to be an aggressive race but also a bit of a race of attrition with all of those punchy climbs – there’s three of them within the last six or seven kilometres of each lap. It’s going to be a pretty tough finale.”
For Australian [readers] can you compare it with the Geelong [worlds] course [of 2010]? Can you remember that? Have you ridden that?
“I didn’t get to ride it. I got to go and watch it – I was one of the spectators there that day so I’m not exactly sure how it would feel as a rider but I think, for sure, it’s going to be pretty similar… probably a bit more technical though than [the Geelong] course. It’s going to be a bit more important with positioning.
“It’s going to suit aggressive, Classics style riders who are good at keeping in the front of the race and going up the power climbs and over the cobbles.”
We’ve got a formidable line-up for the Australian team. Can you just run through the group and offer your thoughts on each rider and what role you expect them to play on Saturday?
“Sure. It’s a pretty big team for us this year – we’ve got eight girls and that’s the biggest team that Australia has fielded for a long time, and it’s the biggest team in the whole championships.
“I don’t think any other team has more than six or seven, so that’s already a big advantage for us. It’s certainly not going to make it any easier. We’ve got a tough race ahead of us but I think using our power in numbers is going to vital for our strategy.
“We’ve got Tiff Cromwell who has been a proven performer at world championships and she’s definitely someone to look out for at the end of the race to go for a top result. She got fifth last year so I think she can even improve on that again and go for the podium, even the win. And her sprint has been getting a lot better this year.
“We’ve got Amanda Spratt. She’s probably the most experienced on the team and she’ll be our team captain on the day. She’ll be calling the shots out on the road and she’s also in awesome form so I’m excited to see what she can do in the last few laps of the race.
“There’s myself: and I’ll be a bit of an opportunist that day. I’m a bit of an all-rounder so I’m good with positioning and climbing but I think it’s going to be a bit of a tough day for me so I’m going to be looking at getting into a breakaway anytime within the race…
“We’ve got Lizzie Williams and this is her second world championship. She’s had heaps of experience within the last 12 months and think she can really step up from her performance last year. She’s in really good form at the moment and she really suits this power climbing course with repetitive climbs over and over.
“Who’s next? Lauren Kitchen: she’s also going really well at the moment. She’s got a proven sprint and she got around a lot of hilly courses this year really well and in the front group so I think she’s going to be a bit of a dark horse for the race. She’s a pretty talented rider and I think a lot of people forget about her when she’s on the start list… she can pull off a good sprint from both a breakaway and a bigger group.
“We can also say the same about Loren Rowney: she’s had an awesome second half of the year and had a couple of wins this year and some great results. She’s got a really good sprint on her as well.
“We have Rachel Neylan who is also proven at world championships; she’s more of the climber on the team so she’ll be looking at going pretty far into the race with her strong form and climbing abilities.
“We’ve got ‘Kat’ [Garfoot] as well. She finishes off the group and she’s obviously in great form so she’s going to be very versatile as well on this course. She’s in great time trial form which usually translates to climbing pretty well so I think she could also be a pretty good dark horse for us. She’s probably not so ‘unknown’ anymore after her awesome performance [in the TT] but I think she’ll still be a very valuable member on our team.”
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That’s a fantastic summary and it’s rare to get that insight before a race. Thank you very much for going through the list. How did [the Australian team] end up with eight because normally, for the women’s race, you get five or six [starters] in the worlds. Do you know how it ended up this way?
“I think it depends on your nation’s ranking and also if you have the continental champion; we have Lauren Kitchen who is the Oceania champion this year so she gave us an automatic extra spot and she’s the only person who could take that spot and that left us with seven [other] spots.
“We’re now within the top five nations in the world; we’re ranked fourth at the moment so it’s been awesome that all the Aussie girls have stepped up this year. We were pretty lucky that [each rider] in this whole team of eight has won a race this year. It’s pretty rare to have a full team of riders who have won a race in the season.”
We’ve got a good understanding of the Australian team. Who are you going to have to mark the closest? I’d say the Dutch are typically strong; they’re missing Marianne [Vos] but they have a lot of contingencies… what’s the tactic for Australia against the rest of the world?
“We’re going to have to play it smart. I think Australia has a reputation for being aggressive, both from Orica-AIS and the national team. We could be marked a little bit this year but we’re still going to see some of us make aggressive moves but I think we have to be smart about it and not waste any energy.
“We’ve got the Dutch team and often the Italian team that has a whole group of riders who could win the race. We have to be careful with how we spend our energy and use our numbers.
“There are also quite a few girls who will be favourites for the win, such as Lizzie Armitstead and Jolien D’Hoore from Belgium, they’ve both proven this year to be very strong in all different race conditions; but they don’t really have the teams to support them late into the race so they’ll be looking after themselves. I think that’s going to be a challenge for them and I think that’s where we can really utilise our numbers against those kinds of riders.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold