Grace Brown is in a hurry.
Three years ago, she had never ridden a bike. 18 months ago she claimed her breakthrough victory at the National Road Series’ Mersey Valley Tour. Last week she made her world championships debut, as part of the Australia team that helped Amanda Spratt to a road race silver medal. Next year, the 26-year-old will spend her first full season in Europe.
Not bad, for an athlete who only picked up a bike at the suggestion of her father, and who has continued to juggle her cycling exploits with a business consultancy job.
“I ran all through school and early university,” a relaxed Brown tells Cycling Central in Innsbruck following the world championships. “I was good, but never really good. I was always getting injured. My Dad was in my ear saying I would make a better cyclist. I ignored him for a few years and then finally, after a really long stretch of injuries, I bit the bullet and bought a bike – that was three years ago.”
It would prove an inspired decision. Brown made her racing debut at the 2016 Mersey Valley Tour, secured a regular ride with Holden Team Gusto Racing in 2017 and a year on from her debut won the tough Tasmanian tour. “The Mersey Valley Tour was a real breakthrough moment for me,” she says. “In the past two years, I have just kept exceeding my goals.”
Her rapid rise did not stop in northern Tasmania. Brown raced in Europe for the Australian development team later that year and was then named as the Amy Gillett Scholarship recipient in 2018. With past scholarship holders including Rachel Neylan, Jessica Allen and Lucy Kennedy, Brown was ecstatic to join such illustrious company.
“You can see from the list how influential the scholarship has been in a lot of girls’ career trajectories,” she observes. “Having several on the Australian team this year just shows what it can do for us. Knowing there are girls on the list who have had such successful careers is really inspiring and gives me hope that I can do the same.”
Her ascent reached a new peak last weekend with her inclusion in the national team. “I would never have thought that I would be selected for the world champs team,” Brown admits. “It was quite overwhelming. I wanted to be in the best position to be able to give everything and justify my position on the team. It is always a risk taking people without the experience. It is really special being trusted by the rest of the team to do what you’re supposed to do.”
Brown rode well in support of Spratt, and ultimately finished 48th. It was a strong end to an impressive 2018 season for the rider, who afterwards reflected on the buzz around women’s cycling she saw in Innsbruck.
“There is a big movement at the moment,” Brown suggests. “I don’t know whether my perspective is swayed because I am so involved, but I think women’s cycling is definitely growing – it is really exciting to be a part of it.”
Brown will be racing in Europe in 2019, although she remains tight-lipped about which team colours she will be wearing. The Australian rode for Wiggle High5 this year as part of her Amy Gillett Scholarship, but with Rochelle Gilmore recently pulling the plug on the Wiggle project Brown was forced to look elsewhere. Having secured a team, she admits some nerves about the forthcoming transition to Europe.
“I am a bit scared,” Brown says. “It is a big commitment and involves a lot of sacrifice. It might go awesomely, it might not. I have a perfectly good life in Australia, with a great job and everything is nice. Giving that up to go over and thrash yourself in those races, and I will probably be lonely.
“But I want to challenge myself and see how far I can get,” she continues. “I am not afraid of those challenges. I would prefer to look back at my life and think of those things I tried to do, rather than have a cushy life in Australia. If you have the opportunity to do it, why not.”
Brown has big goals for the beginning of 2019 but doesn’t want to get ahead of herself planning her debut professional season. “I would like to do really well during the Australian summer of racing,” says Brown, who finished fourth in the individual time trial and third in the road race during the Road Nationals in January. “I was very disappointed with fourth – second, third and fourth were within six seconds of each other. So the time trial is a big goal for me – hopefully, I can win it.
“It will be my first full season in Europe, so I am trying not to set too lofty goals,” she adds. “I know it will be a big learning experience for me, particularly starting with the Spring Classics which I have not done before.”
Longer term, Brown says she simply “wants to know that I got to a level reflective of my capabilities.” But her ambitions are bigger than that. Off the bike, the 26-year-old wants to leave a lasting legacy.
“I want to help increase interest in women’s sport, and get more young girls – teenage girls – interested in sport,” she explains. “I have found that the things cycling has given me have made it so much easier to deal with my career outside of cycling. I think that is really good for women. Cycling is really empowering.”