A string of victories on the world-class circuit this year places Chloe Hosking at the top of the list of favourites set to compete in the women's road race at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar on October 15. The Australian says the course is a sprinter's dream that comes along very few times in the span of one's cycling career, and she is prepared to contest for the rainbow jersey.
"It was a no-brainer for me to focus on the World Championships in Qatar," Hosking told Cyclingnews in a phone interview. "Sprinters and pure sprinters don't get many opportunities at the World Championships. I think the last real sprint was in Copenhagen in 2011. When we get a sprinter-friendly course pop up, we have to go full steam ahead and really commit to it because it might be another five or six years by the time we get another one, and by that time my career will be well and truly over."
Hosking opened her season with a stage 4 victory at the Ladies Tour of Qatar in Doha, a result that secured her spot on Australia's long list for the World Championships. It eased the pressure that some of her rival sprinters may have had in trying to earn spots on their respective national teams throughout the season.
"I qualified when I won my stage at the Tour of Qatar at the start of the year, and so in that respect, the pressure was off, and I had my name on the list for Worlds," Hosking said. "In reality, unless I had a really terrible season, I was always going to be selected for Worlds in Qatar. That was not a stressor for me. When I started picking up wins at the Giro and La Course, that cemented what my role would be on the team."
Hosking had strong performances during the Classics with top 10s at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Drentse Acht van Westerveld but then ramped up her season at the Tour of Chongming Island, the first stage race on the inaugural Women's WorldTour. She was third in the opening stage, won the second stage, and sealed the overall title after the third and final stage. Those results launched her up into the top 10 of the Women's WorldTour standings.
Her performances in China continued through the rest of the season with a stage 3 victory at the Giro Rosa and then the win on the Champs-Elysees at La Course by Le Tour de France, two more events on the Women's WorldTour. She finished the season with a stage win at La Route de France, second at Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta and a recent victory at Grand Premio Bruno Beghelli in what was her final race with Wiggle High5 before she makes the move to Alé Cipollini in 2017.
Hosking said she had spent the past three season looking ahead to this World Championships, in much the same way as riders focus on the Olympic Games. The differences for her were that she was not concerned with the Rio Games, and she qualified early for her position on the Australian Worlds team, thus allowing her to completely focus on being prepared for the sprinter's course in Qatar.
"The build-up for this World Championships has been quite similar to how some riders prepared for the Olympic Games," Hosking said. "This year, everyone was focussed on the Olympics, even girls who weren't in the running to win just wanted to go to represent their nations, so they had that crazy build-up in the spring and stress to get results. I sort of had that a few months later leading into the World Championships, but fortunately, I wasn't under pressure to get results. I picked up good results this year. I just had to make sure I peaked at the right time."
Hosking said the Australian team will also include Tiffany Cromwell, Lauren Kitchen, Loren Rowney, Katrin Garfoot, Sarah Roy and Gracie Elvin. A team that was designed to meet the demands of both a flat, technical circuit and a potential sprint finish.
"It's a really strong team for the course," Hosking said. "Australia doesn't have the same quality of hill climbers that countries like Italy, Netherlands or the USA have, but we do have a lot of girls who are great at riding crosswinds, strong on the flats, and I'm really proud of the team selected."
Hosking declined to discuss her direct role on the team but given her top results in the sprints this year; it is fair to say she will be the fastest woman on the squad, and has a focus on winning the title. But the Australian team will have a card to play whether the race comes down to a select group or a bunch kick.
"I don't want to talk too much about tactics, but we are going into the road race with a very clear goal," Hosking said. "I don't think the race will be as predictable as people assume it will be. We will go into the race with an open mind.
The women will race 134.5km that includes seven 15.2km circuits on The Pearl of Qatar. The route is considered both technical and tactical, suited to one-day specialists and sprinters.
"It's not a typical course that you would expect from a race in Qatar," Hosking said. "When it was first announced that Worlds were in Qatar, everyone thought about long, straight and open roads with crosswinds that would wreak havoc. In the end, it's a really technical circuit, almost like a kermesse. It will be an interesting race, so many possibilities and scenarios that could venture into the outcome."
Asked what it might feel like to cap off a successful season with the world title, Hosking said, "I don't want to get ahead of myself because I still have to do the race. I don't think I can really comprehend what it would mean to have the rainbow jersey until it happens, if it happens. There's a lot to do before I pull on that jersey, if I pull on that jersey."