Gracie Elvin's stage and overall win at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic is both a blessing and a curse for the Orica-AIS rider who will now head into Sunday's Australian national championships with the number one target on her back.
Elvin, a back-to-back winner of the elite women's title in 2013-14, had a breakthrough 2015 season with two wins on European soil which saw her become a key rider for the Australian team and with that, a higher expected level of results and performances in 2016. A win on stage 1 and second place the following day set up overall victory in the four-day criterium series for the 26-year-old's best start to a season yet, confirming the team's belief in her ability is sound.
"It was a good day out. We had strong girls this week and it's been so awesome to all be in great form together after a good training camp in November," Elvin said of the final stage, won by teammate Lizzie Williams. "We were still here today for the stage win, that was goal but to take away the yellow jersey, we are pretty stoked about that."
Speaking with Cyclingnews at the end of 2015, Elvin described that while in previous year's she was aware of her favourite status for the title, it is periphery at the end of the day and she won't let it affect her preparation for Sunday's 102km race.
"Ultimately the pressure is what I put on myself, I didn't have everyone in my ear saying I had to win, it was more coming from inside of me that I really wanted to win and get that third title in a row particularly as it was talked up so much in the media," Elvin explained. "I am going to try and have a bit more fun this year and place less pressure on myself. I can't lie and say I don't want that jersey back, I'd love to take it to Europe again so I will definitely be going for it."
With Williams firing on all cylinders at the Bay Cycling Classic, former national champion Amanda Spratt aggressive as ever and last year's silver medallist in Rachel Neylan all lining up alongside Elvin on Sunday, Orica-AIS will have several winning cards in its hand.
"We have some really strong riders on our team this year and if everyone is going well that week, with no illness or injury, we have quite a few riders on the team who can go for the win," Elvin said of willingness to play the team role if necessary. "It depends on the situation and I am still super happy to be in that supportive role if someone less is having a great day or in a better position to go for the win."
While Orica-AIS will start with the numerical advantage of seven riders, Elvin name checks several riders who are likely to line up without a single teammate as antagonists to her quest for a third green and gold jersey.
"You always have to look to Tiff Cromwell. She's always someone who can get into form pretty quickly and obviously she is a really good hill climber and she can sprint and this year she's shown she's getter better at that," she told Cyclingnews of her rivals. "She'll be one of the favourites and Lauren Kitchen is one of the favourites as she got silver a few years ago and she's coming off a really good season. She's looking like she's already in good form. Then you have Peta Mullens as well. She's not the dark horse anymore, I think she'll still be on her own again without a team but she's very clever in the race and obviously physically capable as well so I think she'll be one of the biggest dangers."
Cycling Australia has adjusted the schedule of the championships in 2016, moving the women's race from Saturday to a 8am start on Sunday morning before the elite men to allow for live broadcast of the race. While Elvin isn't a fan of the early start, the potential for greater media coverage and larger crowds on the roadside is change she is looking forward to and move she applauds for raising the profile of women's cycling.
"I think for this year it's a great idea," she said. "We don't get a lot of media coverage and anything is better than nothing. To also have all those extra fans on the day who are going to come up to watch the men's race will add to the atmosphere which will be awesome and good for our sport to have people watching and cheering for us. Also to have some time on TV at the end of our race. In an ideal world, it would be great to have the whole race on TV but I know that's not practicable or viable at the moment so having that 8am start is actually a pretty good thing for our sport for now."