• (L to R) Shannon Malseed, Lucy Kennedy, Gracie Elvin (guesting from Orica-Scott), Grace Brown (Cycling Australia)
Gravel roads, long courses and hard racing are the ingredients for what should be an eye-opening experience for the Australian underdogs of the High5 Australian Women's Development Team as they face up against World Tour opposition at the Crescent Vargarda Race.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

11 Aug - 12:47 PM  UPDATED 11 Aug - 2:36 PM

Women's World Tour teams from across the globe flocking to Sweden to compete in one of the best established road races on the women's calendar. You'd expect all the big teams to be there and we'll throw in a few national teams as well. 

Sweden. Sure, it's their home race.

Norway. Again makes sense, they're a strong team from a neighbouring country.

Australia? 

In what is becoming a tradition in Australian women's cycling, the top local cyclists are getting the opportunity to test their mettle against the best in the world through the joint venture between Rochelle Gilmore's High5 brand and Cycling Australia. With the riders more used to the comparatively small and less competitive scene of the National Road Series (NRS), it offers the most talented a chance to see if they have what it takes to go overseas and make a career in the sport.

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They'll get a taste of just how hard that will be as they take in one of the longest and hardest courses on the World Tour calendar, taking in gravel sections and short, steep climbs on a series of circuits around Vargarda, Sweden. That comes after the 42 km team time trial, a distance that is only replicated at the World Championships later in the season.

Cycling Central caught up with the 22-year-old Shannon Malseed, who despite her relative youth is the most experienced member of the Australian squad. 

"This year being the only one who has raced here in Europe before; I've been team captain at most of the races in Belgium," said Malseed. "Mostly I've given advice on what to expect in the races in terms of tactics and key points in the race. But the team are all pretty onto it by now and we have all really stepped up and are keen to get out there and race these bigger races over the next few weeks!"

Malseed is one of four representatives from Holden Women's Racing alongside reigning NRS champion Lisen Hockings (who is making her comeback from broken ribs at the race), whilst the other two members are from their fierce rivals High5 Dreamteam. Such competition gets thrown out the window in the maelstrom of a European peloton, Malseed elaborated on some of the differences between racing back home and over in the big leagues. 

"Ha! A shorter list would be what is similar. The bunch is bigger, the riders are stronger, more skilful, and tactically smarter. The courses are more technical, the stages are longer, it's more aggressive racing. Add in the logistical issues; the transfers to the stages are generally a lot longer, so you're more fatigued with travel and the stages start later in the day so some nights you're not home till 10-11pm... the list goes on."

The race itself promises to be a spectacle with a stellar field in attendance on the startline. The team time-trial is the only opportunity for teams to fine-tune their squad in race conditions ahead of the World Championships and is always hotly contested. Then the road race offers a good chance for a number of different types of riders to compete for the victory over a tough, long course. 

The race is most often won by the stronger sprinters, ones that can withstand or even form their own attacks over the gravel sections and sharp ascents, then come in with a winning sprint on the fast finish. Last year's race was a 10-woman sprint for the line and ended with a popular winner for locals with Swede Emilia Fahlin (Wiggle-High5) getting up over more fancied sprinters Lotta Lepisto (Cervelo-Bigla) and Chantal Blaak (Boels-Dolmans).

With stars like Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans), Marianne Vos, Kasia Niewiadoma (both WM3 Energie), Kirstin Wild (Cylance) and Aussie Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cippolini) all lining up to compete, the Development team know that they'll be hard-pressed to go toe-to-toe with the big squads.

"For us we have to be opportunistic and read the race well when we are out on the road," said Malseed. "There are some small laps at the beginning, then we head out to a big loop with 4 gravel sections - these will play a big part in the selectiveness of the race - then we head back to do more of the small laps around Vargarda.

"The technical nature of the course and the gravel sections will be the biggest obstacles for us and it's just crucial to position well here and take the opportunities as they come in the race."

Whilst they'll be a long-shot to take a result against the best riders in the world, Malseed and co. will have their eyes on getting the chance to compete on the world stage.

"For us, it's a huge opportunity to race world tour race against the best teams in women's cycling. And to be able to do a TTT at this level is potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity so it's pretty special for the team."

High5 Australian Women's Development Team: 

Grace Brown (VIC/St Kilda Cycling Club)
Lisen Hockings (VIC/St Kilda Cycling Club)
Lucy Kennedy (QLD/Lifecycle Cycling Club)
Louisa Lobigs (VIC/Brunswick Cycling Club)
Shannon Malseed (VIC/Portland CC)
Jessica Pratt (QLD/Balmoral Cycle Club)