Dani King (Wiggle High5) won the King of the Mountains classification at the Santos Women’s Tour in Adelaide on Tuesday and finished the four-day UCI stage race in fourth overall, one of four riders tied on time with overall winner Katrin Garfoot (ORICA-AIS).
An Olympic gold medallist in the team pursuit, King has opted to fully focus on road cycling in 2016 in an effort to make British Cycling’s road team for the Rio Olympic Games.
“It’s definitely a good sign that I’ve won the KOM jersey,” said King.
“I haven’t had a full season on the road before, and I wanted to make an impression early. This is also my first time training on the road through the winter. It’s good to know that my programme has worked.”
The 25-year-old is vying for what will likely be one of the three spots available for the British women in Rio. While Great Britain currently has four places for the women’s race under the qualification rules, that’s expected to drop to three before the Olympics in early August.
World champion Lizzie Armitstead fancies her chances on the hilly course that is expected to produce a race of attrition. Emma Pooley, who won the silver medal in the time trial at the Beijing Olympics, has recently announced her plans to return to road racing with Rio’s hilly time trial as her primary motivation. If Pooley races the time trial, she will also race the road race – which means that King is fighting for the lone remaining spot on a three-rider squad.
King isn’t the only one who has signalled her intentions to vie for that spot. The Barnes sisters, Alice and Hannah, are on the long list. Lucy Garner, who supported Armistead’s rainbow jersey winning effort at the Richmond World Championships, is too.
Jessie Walker put in strong performances in the second half of the season and earned herself consideration, and Nikki Harris recently announced her plans to race on the road with Boels-Dolmans following what has been a standout 2015/2016 cyclo-cross season.
“I think Emma has a really good shot of getting selected,” noted King. “Looking at the course, it’s perfect for her and her strengths as a cyclist. Lizzie is obviously going to Rio, so that’s two spots gone – but the other spot? That’s open, and I have as good a chance as anyone.”
To secure that spot, King knows she’ll need to perform over the hardest terrain in the most competitive races – races where she’ll more often than not play a support role.
“Rio is a super hard, super tough, super hilly circuit,” said King. “The hillier the race, the more important the result.”
“I’m going to have roles to play within my team, and because I have such a strong team, I’ll play the role of domestique a lot of the time,” King added. “I’m hoping British Cycling takes that into account and sees that my strength is how I contribute to the team rather than how I race for a personal result.”
King combined forces with Laura Trott and Jo Roswell in London to win gold in the team pursuit. Should she make selection for the Rio Olympics her personal ambitions will look vastly different than the ambitions she nurtured four years ago.
“If I go to the Olympics, I know I’m not going to be winning a medal, so I guess it is different in that way,” said King “I would go to the Olympics to leave my legs out on the road for Lizzie. I’ve proven with Wiggle that I never have any other intention but to support my teammates when that’s my job. If I go into a bike race riding for someone else, that’s exactly what I do.”
“This is the path I’ve chosen to take, and I’m happy about that.”
Gold medal ambitions or not, King says the pressure she feels looking toward Rio is no different than the pressure she felt in the run-in to the London Olympics.
“With the team pursuit, I didn’t know I was riding until two weeks before,” said King. “It’s a different kind of pressure, but there were still four of us going for what was then three spots – and we were competing for those spots until the day of the Olympics.”
“So it’s the same sort of pressure, and it’s a familiar pressure,” said King. “And I’ll handle it the same – doing the best that I can on my bike every single day with no regrets.”
King’s season continues at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at the end of January and the Ladies Tour of Qatar in early February.
“Rio is on my mind every single day,” said King. “I really, really want to get selected. In saying that, I don’t want to be desperate. I want to take every day as it comes and every race as it comes. I guess selection will take care of itself.”
“As long as I can put everything toward getting selected, I’ll have given it my best shot. And as long as I give it my best shot, I’m going to have to be proud of myself whether I get selected or not.”