This year Australian women notched sixteen wins and numerous podiums in international racing. By Amanda Spratt’s estimation, currently Australian women’s cycling possesses more strength and depth than any time since about 2004.
“I think we have been waiting a few years to see this progression. We’ve had a lot of younger riders coming through and it’s really starting to click for everyone,” Spratt (Orica-AIS) said. “A lot of riders have really stepped up this year.”
This season’s wins, she estimated, have doubled compared to other years.
This week Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS) nearly added another podium to the 2015 count when she finished fourth in Richmond’s individual time trial, just four seconds off third place.
“I was pretty happy straight away because I wasn’t expecting even to come close,” Garfoot said two days later. “I know fourth is missing out on the podium, but I’ve done that a few times this year, so I’ve come to terms with it.
“And being fourth at the world championships is just better than fourth at anything else this year.”
It was a spectacular result for the 33-year-old who only began to race four years ago and still views herself as a newbie, especially when it comes to experience with various conditions and competitors. Less than two years ago she decided to focus on time trialing. “I thought that would probably suit me the best in the short time I have to learn about things,” Garfoot said.
Like Garfoot in the race of truth, the team falls into the underdog category in the elite women’s contest this weekend. Bettors place Spratt and Tiffany Cromwell (Velocio-SRAM) at about 41 to 1 for the win versus Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, for example, at 4 to 1. Australia doesn’t count a woman in the UCI’s top 20 rankings; Tiffany Cromwell ranks 21.
But the team overall is strong and well-suited for the Richmond circuit, according to Spratt who will captain the squad.
“We have a lot of riders that are very capable in the classics-type courses and with short punchy climbs. And we’ve showed that in a lot of races this year similar to this sort of race where the girls have achieved good results,” Spratt said. “So I think that’s definitely going to play into our hands.”
Spratt herself has achieved several podiums this year and a win at Giro del Trentino Alto Adige - Südtirol. She’s enjoying the best season in her career and has gained considerable confidence following a few years without what she judges as significant improvement.
The additional riders for Australia are Rachel Neylan (NSW/Orica-AIS) who earned a silver medal at the 2012 worlds road race, Loren Rowney (QLD/Velocio-SRAM), Lizzie Williams (VIC/Orica-AIS), Gracie Elvin (ACT/Orica-AIS), and Lauren Kitchen (NSW/Hitec Products).
Cromwell will be a protected rider for the 129.6 kilometre road race. Last year she finished fifth, her best result to-date in the elite worlds road race. Spratt praised Cromwell’s demonstrated ability to handle pressure and leadership in the last couple of years, including during the fight for the rainbow jersey.
“And I know she’s very motivated and this has been one of her big target races this year,” Spratt said. “So I think Tiff will look to have a really strong race.”
Spratt also said the team aims to improve its end game and retain as many riders as possible in the final laps.
Converting the riders’ strengths into a medal will also require exerting control over the action. Many of the European teams will field seven riders; Australia will bring eight. “I think having that extra rider will be good for us in terms of covering any moves that are going,” Spratt said.
The Australian women intend to watch at least a handful of athletes. Spratt mentioned Armitstead, Sweden’s Emma Johansson, Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini, Anna van der Breggen of Holland, and Belgium’s Jolien D’hoore.
After previewing the 16 kilometre Richmond circuit, Spratt views the last six to seven kilometres as a series of obstacles. In addition to the cobblestone sections, she’s wary of a descent and downhill corners.
“I think that will create a race where every lap riders will get shelled…Looking at the course I really can’t see a bunch of more than five to ten battling it out at the finish.”
Ideally at least one green and gold striped kit will factor in the group. Even more ideally, she’ll represent the 17th candle on a cake at Saturday’s celebration for the Australian women.