There are some teams and riders that everyone is squarely looking to as key favourites at the women’s elite/U23 road race on Sunday at the UCI Road World Championships and the Australians aren’t necessarily among them, but that may not be a bad thing for the green and gold clad squad.
The team is content for it to be other riders, like Belgian favourite Lotte Kopecky and pretty much the entire Dutch team, that have a target on their back across the 154.1km race on Sunday, which includes 2,229m of vertical ascent and six laps of a brutally technical 14.3km city circuit.
“I think that we’re definitely the underdogs for sure,” said Amanda Spratt, who was second at the 2018 World Championships and third in 2019. “Maybe, no one’s looking at us but I think on this course that’s also a benefit.
“I mean, Kopecky is the out and out favourite, I think everyone’s saying that … so there’s so much pressure on her and I think, as Australians we’re good when we don’t have all eyes on us and we can do our thing. And we’re all really quietly confident in the form that we have.”
The results for key Australian riders at the recent Tour de France Femmes may not have been akin to those of Kopecky or winner Demi Vollering, which were as good as a pointing neon sign at ensuring they would become Worlds favourites. However, the performances certainly showed promise of powerful form, particularly when combined with subsequent indications that the form was still on the build rather than falling from a peak.
Spratt finished among the top 10 overall at the Tour de France Femmes, Grace Brown took fourth in the final time trial in France and then stepped it up several notches at the World Championships time trial to take silver for a second year. Alexandra Manly, too, managed to take a sixth on stage 2 and then went onto secure a silver on the track at Worlds in the Madison.
There are clearly multiple riders with strong form within the Australian team – even with one team member Ruby Roseman-Gannon in question after a positive COVID test – but ever keen to avoid drawing a target the squad is keeping its cards close to the chest on just who they see as the top prospect.
“If there was one single team leader, I wouldn’t be telling you anyway because that would put a big bullseye on that person’s back,” said Australia’s directeur-sportif Matt White in response to a question about team roles at a pre-race media conference on Friday.
“But I think what we’ve got in this group here is a very experienced group, and a group that is looking to take opportunities on a circuit that bodes well for people willing to put their face in the wind.”
Brown, in particular, fits that category with the course and style of racing one that suits the attacking rider. While she or the team – which also includes Brodie Chapman, Sarah Roy and Lauretta Hanson – may not have being widely touted as a favourite, Brown said that this certainly wasn’t something she would lose any sleep over.
“Things can happen at Championships, with talented athletes who ride well and with cohesion about the team,” said Brown. “We’ve got a big unit and I’m really looking forward to working with this group on Sunday.”
Brown pointed to the experience of the team, and the strong relationships within it that would help them to be adaptable in a race where the dynamics are not only changed significantly because of the shift of riders from trade teams to national teams, but also because of a lack of race radios.
This year, being adaptable is also perhaps more crucial than ever, with the men’s road race demonstrating that its hard for any one team to control the race on this course and it is a factor the could be even more pronounced with the smaller teams of the women’s peloton.
“I think the mindset that you’ve got to have is to embrace the chaos for starters,” said White.
Chances are that there will be plenty of it with expectation looming that the field will be decimated by the taxing corner heavy Glasgow city circuit which riders enter at 60km into the day’s racing.
“We know how crazy it’s gonna be once we get to the circuit,” said Spratt, who is lining up for her 11th elite road race at the World Championships on Sunday. “I think it’s just going to be really, really aggressive. The most aggressive Worlds I’ve seen.”