Is it sensible to enter a road world championship without a protected leader when you're the third-best cycling nation and armed with a full squad of seven riders?
That was the apparent strategy employed by Cycling Australia coaches for the elite women's race in Bergen, Norway on Saturday. '(Katrin) Garfoot revealed that Australia did not have a protected team leader, with the seven riders marking different rivals and trying to be active in the race. This explained why (Rachel) Neylan, Gracie Elvin, Amanda Spratt went in moves and why Sarah Roy tried to chase (Chantal) Blaak's first attack with Hannah Barnes (Great Britain) and Audrey Cordon (France),' read the article on Cyclingnews, which fell under the headline 'Garfoot saves Australia from embarrassment in women's road race'.
"I just knew that if I'd chased, they would have attacked me, and so I rested my legs for the sprint or a late attack."
Garfoot, who finished a very creditable second behind Blaak, afterwards said that the road race "was a lottery", and that she only prepared "for the time trial; I didn't prepare for the road race". Earlier in the week, the 35-year-old from the Gold Coast finished third behind Dutch powerhouses Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, a mere 19 seconds adrift of the former's gold medal ride. Clearly, she was not expecting to do as well (or better) in the testing eight-lap, 152.8 kilometre event Saturday.
As good as the outcome was for Australia, to me it looked as if they was no plan other than to mark moves and be active when they didn't need to be; unlike the Netherlands, there wasn't much in the way of communication between the riders. It was obvious that Neylan was having a good day and Elvin not so much. Yet rather than wait till the penultimate lap, as the race favourites did, the former opted to go with a move halfway in, and was spent for the final. She, or Spratt, could have made the difference chasing the lone figure of Blaak, who, following her winning move roughly eight kilometres from the finish, largely profited from the reluctance or ineptitude of the four non-Dutchwomen in the first chase group behind her. From the Cyclingnews race report: 'The two remaining (Dutchwomen - van Vleuten and van der Breggen) in the group after Blaak's escape controlled the happenings and prevented a serious chase, although it often seemed as if the other riders had no interest in chasing.'
While there was some semblance of it, not once did it come from the legs of Garfoot, who explained, "I hesitated, thinking that maybe Annemiek van Vleuten or Anna van der Breggen wanted it more and so they'd chase. I just knew that if I'd chased, they would have attacked me, and so I rested my legs for the sprint or a late attack."
Hindsight's a wonderful thing but if Garfoot did go with Blaak, van Vleuten and van der Breggen likely would have sat up; based on her strength at the end, the Australian would almost certainly have won. If she tried to hunt down Blaak with the help of Audrey Cordon (France), Hannah Barnes (Great Britain) and Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland), Garfoot would have opened herself up to counterattacks from van Vleuten and van der Breggen - but there was as much possibility these moves would have been closed down and we may well have seen a seven-woman sprint for the rainbow jersey. In some ways, given the bunch had caught all bar Blaak in the final corner, the Queenslander was lucky to get silver, just managing to stave off a late surge from defending champion Amalie Dideriksen (Denmark), who finished third.
Remember what Michael Rogers said after he won the sixteenth stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Bagnères-de-Luchon?
"I've tried many times and I think I've changed mentally. I am more hungry, opportunities are more clear to me and I'm not scared of the outcome any more. Previously, I was already scared to try something because I was scared of failure."
Two years later, Mathew Hayman, finally victorious on his fifteenth attempt at The Hell of the North, said much the same thing: "I think the major thing was, I was prepared to lose."
Yes, a silver medal at a world championship is nothing to sneeze at, but the reality of bike racing is such that, if you're not prepared to lose, you can't expect to win.