Defending road champion Gracie Elvin took back-to-back road titles in Ballarat at the Mars Cycling Australia National Road Championships on Saturday. ORICA-AIS perfectly executed a plan that played to the team’s strengths in numbers amongst a strong, deep elite women’s field. Elvin outsprinted a lead group of nine riders, that included teammates Shara Gillow and Amanda Spratt, to claim gold.
“I’m really proud to be part of this team,” said Elvin. “I want to dedicate this jersey to all my teammates. I’m really happy to race along side of them. We did a great job today, and I can’t wait to race with them in Europe all season.
“Winning last year was a surprise,” Elvin added. “This year, I really, really wanted it. I put a lot of pressure on myself. Even though I probably shouldn’t have, it was hard not to. I was nervous this morning but also quite confident.
Elvin would have happily supported any of her teammates should they have found themselves in a position to claim the green and gold jersey. While the team had a clear approach to the race, there was no outright leader.
“We went in with specific jobs for everyone,” explained Sport Director Gene Bates. “We wanted to get to the halfway point and have all hands on deck. The circuit makes for a hard course, and we expected a race of attrition. We saw that in the final. Not many riders were left with legs in the end. We wanted to look after as many legs as we could.”
“We weren’t riding for one particular person today,” noted Elvin. “We were putting all our cards on the table and supporting whoever played the right card. I drew the winning card again today.”
The first half of the ten lap, 102 kilometre race was a fairly quiet affair. Lisa Jacobs (VIS) launched an attack the first time up Mount Buninyong and quickly went to work building her lead. By the start of lap four, Jacobs had put in 2’23 on the field. When Bridie O’Donnell attempted to jump across to Jacobs, ORICA-AIS went on the offensive.
“Lisa went out early, and we were happy with that,” said Bates. “We knew she’d come back to us eventually. As Lisa’s gap grew, Bridie jumped to start to make her way across to the leader. At that point, we sent Jessie [MacLean] up the road to begin to put the others on the back foot. That’s when the race really started to open up for us.”
Following the sixth ascent of Mount Buninyong, MacLean had made contact with O’Donnell. The two chasers worked together to eat into Jacobs’ lead. Although they came close to catching Jacobs, they were swallowed up by the peloton before they were able to shut down the move completely.
Elvin countered the catch. As the peloton neared the top of the two kilometre climb, she put in an attack.
“We weren’t too worried when Lisa got away although she probably built up a bigger advantage by the half-way point than we would have liked,” explained Elvin. “When her lead approached four minutes, that’s when we started to get ready to go. Everyone pitched in. We executed our plan very well.”
“The pace increased on that sixth lap,” continued Elvin. “I could see the stronger riders starting to apply pressure. As we crested the climb, I saw a good moment, and I took advantage of it. Everyone had just sat up to assess who was still there. The pace slowed, and I put my cards on the table earlier than I had wanted. It was a bit of a gamble, but it felt right.”
Elvin successfully bridge across to Jacobs inside the final three laps. The two leaders enjoyed a short-lived brief advantage over the peloton before they were overtaken just before the start of the penultimate lap
The constant attacks and the hill climb repeats had successfully softened up the bunch. Only 12 riders remained in contention inside the final 20 kilometres. ORICA-AIS had managed to keep three riders in the lead group – Elvin, Gillow and Spratt.
“In the last lap, Spratty escaped for a bit,” recalled Bates. “We were hopeful she could make it over the climb by herself. If she had, we were confident she could have gotten to the finish alone. She nearly made it. She was caught right at the top of the climb.”
“While Spratty was dangling off the front, I was dangling just off the back of the first five or six girls in the first half of the last time up the climb,” explained Elvin. “I could see Spratty in the distance. On the second, steeper part of the climb, there was a flat crosswind, and that’s when I really started to suffer. I couldn’t hold the wheel in front of me, and I got dropped. I dug deep to try to catch back on, but I couldn’t do it.”
Elvin wasn’t the only rider to lose contact with the front group. Lauren Kitchen (Hitec Products UCK) was struggling to hold on as well.
“Lauren and I got dropped nearly at the same time,” said Elvin. “She had no teammates in the race, so she was in a very different situation than my own. I didn’t want to work because I didn’t want to chase my teammates, but I really wanted to make it back to leaders. I made a second gamble in letting Lauren ride across the gap on her own. Luckily, she was strong enough to do it.”
Elvin rejoined the front group on the descent off Mount Buninyong. Back with the leaders, the defending champion turned her attention to the sprint.
“Shara, Spratty and I marked the stronger riders before the sprint,” Elvin explained. “I was trying not to get too excited and make the mistake of opening my sprint early.”
“Katrin Garfoot [team] was my biggest worry,” Elvin added. “I considered her the best sprinter in the group. I also didn’t look past our former teammate Tiff Cromwell (Specialized-lululmeon). She’s got some good form, and I would never count her out of a small group sprint.
Elvin’s patience rewarded her handsomely It delivered her across the line first and into another year in the green and the gold. Kitchen secured the silver medal ahead of Garfoot in third
“The win is massive,” said Bates. “This is what we came here to achieve. To take the jersey back to Europe with us makes us really proud. Gracie gets to wear the jersey but it’s reflective of a perfectly executed race by the whole team.”
“I was ecstatic pretty much from the moment I crossed the line,” said Elvin. “I wanted this so badly and to get it – it was a little hard to believe. My next thought was about my teammates. I couldn’t have done it without them. This jersey belongs to all of us.”