Having achieved a career goal of making the Olympic Games in 2016, Gracie Elvin's 2017 season has been built around her tilt at the Tour of Flanders. The Orica-Scott rider has enjoyed her most consistent start to her a season with second at Dwars Door Vlaanderen an early-season highlight.
On the eve of the Tour of Flanders, Elvin is hitting her peak and confident in her ambition for victory.
"I was definitely nervous a month ago as I didn't know if it was all going to come together, but I made sure I placed a lot of trust and faith in my coach, Gene Bates. He has written me some great training sessions," Elvin told Cyclingnews in the build-up to the race. "To get that result last week was confirmation that it is all working as it should. I have said for a long time now that it is a big goal of mine, but I really feel confident and every race I go to I feel better and better."
Not only was the Dwars door Vlaanderen result a confidence boost but so was the performance, with Elvin explaining that her ability to attack the cobbled climbs was just as rewarding as the second place.
"Dwars door Vlaanderen was probably the best feeling I have had all season. I had a great flow, and my legs felt super good and I was even able to attack on the climbs, which I tend not to do, and follow attacks from more stronger climbers. That was a pretty good feeling and almost as good as getting the podium had those great sensations in the tougher parts of the race.
"It was very close to a win that day, and I was actually coming at Lepisto at the end and had to lay off her a bit with about 200 to go because I was getting stuck in the fence, so I was really happy to get second knowing I could have almost won it too. Sometimes you wish you could have won, but to know that you could have and had a super day made me almost just as happy."
While Australian fans were scratching their heads in January as to why the two-time national champion wasn't displaying the kind of form of previous years, Elvin consistently stated it was all part of the plan to hit peak form in April.
"I had some really good planning with my coaches, and they allowed me to skip a lot of that Aussie racing and focus on building up the base again and making sure I was strong and healthy and happy," said Elvin, who didn't finish her season until late October after the Worlds.
"It is starting to pay off, and there were a few races earlier in the spring where I could have a done a little better, and I had to keep telling myself that I had to be patient and it would all come together and it has the last few weeks. To get a podium last week at Dwars door Vlaanderen was exactly what I need for my confidence, so that was exciting."
Keeping their powder dry until it really matters
Across the spring, Orica-Scott have been one of the most active teams. While they are yet to see a reward for effort on European soil, Elvin believes the breakthrough is right around the corner.
"Our team has always been aggressive, but we are trying to change the way we race in that we are trying not to use our ammo up when it doesn't matter. I think you'll see our team attacking in the harder part of the races and that is exciting to be a part of," she said.
While the team tactics for Sunday are yet to be finalised, Elvin explained to Cyclingnews that she is confident Orica will have the appropriate game plan in place for victory.
"I do have a good sprint so I would like to use that, but sometimes you have to roll the dice and go ‘that girl is on a super day and she is attacking so I should go with her'. I think our team might have a good aggressive plan too, so we haven't totally worked out race plan but I think it will be an exciting race either way," she said of her approach to the race.
Pointing to Team Sunweb and Boels Dolmans, with defending champion Lizzie Deignan, as the strongest teams, Elvin believes it will be a wide-open race of favourites.
"Looking at past winners and podium getters is always a good indication of who to follow," she said. "Elisa Longo Borghini has shown herself from the start of the season that she is going really strong and has won here before, so I think a lot of teams are going to be looking at her."
And while there are several former winners on the start list, Elvin can turn to 2011 champion and teammate Annemiek Van Vleuten for some last-minute advice.
"Her knowing the course and the year she won Flanders was also the last year the Muur featured, and they've brought it back in this year so I think it's a good omen for us."