It might take place Easter Sunday, but Gracie Elvin says that Mitchelton-Scott will not be putting all their eggs in one basket with Jolien D’hoore at the Tour of Flanders this weekend. Last year's runner-up, Elvin believes that the confidence that comes with having a rider such as D'hoore in the line-up will only expand their options, not close them.
Alongside Elvin and D'hoore, also a runner-up at Flanders in 2015, former champion Annemiek van Vleuten is set to be on the start line in Oudenaarde on Sunday morning. It, says Elvin, means that the pressure isn't pilled on one rider and allows her to take a more aggressive approach, as she did in Driedaagse de Panne.
"We definitely want to win it and we've got a few different riders that we can win with," Elvin told Cyclingnews from her base in Belgium. "It's exciting to have that confidence and trust in each other. If one thing doesn't work then we can go to the next plan and the next plan. It's going to be pretty fun to take it to the other teams there.
"Personally, I can be a bit more aggressive in the races, because in the last couple of years, I was trying to be a bit conservative and save something for the ends of races.
"You don't want to be predictable as a team but you also don't want to be putting all of the pressure on one rider. It wouldn't be fair on that rider. It's about playing the numbers game and keeping our options open. I think that we've been doing it well so far."
The Tour of Flanders is the culmination of Elvin's opening part of the season with Mitchelton-Scott before she jets off back to Australia for the Commonwealth Games. She has been doing her utmost to be at her best for both objectives, which has involved basing herself in the heart of the Classics, Belgium.
"As an Australian, we don't really have a home in Europe so to have your own base is really important," Elvin says. "It’s really great for me to go and train on the roads that I race on. Cutting out all those travel days is really important for me because they're really tiring and hard to recover from.
"I can just come back to my own space. I'm around fewer germs and I can really chill out. It's really good for me and I'm in a really good head space."
This year's women's Ronde looks strikingly similar to that of 2017, with a few minor tweaks. The Achterberg and Eikenberg have been dispatched and replaced by the Edelare in the opening 60 kilometres, making for one fewer climbs and two fewer kilometres. The race, which will be shown on television for the first time, is still 151 kilometres thanks to the change of the regulations ahead of last season.
"I think the change of one-day race distance a couple of years ago from 140 to 160 kilometres was a really good decision. I think 150k, give or take, is a really good length for women's cycling," explains Elvin. "A couple of years ago, if you had a race like that it would be a very negative race, with riders afraid to do something for most of the race and it would be pretty boring. Now, it's pretty much raced from the start. I think it can hold the attention of fans. I don't think that it should be any longer."
They may have plenty of options, but Elvin expects that the outcome will be similar to that of last season. On that occasion, Coryn Rivera won after a group of 16 came to the line, despite an elite group escaping on the Kruisberg. Elvin says that a much deeper field has made it harder for the big solo breaks to stick.
"Last year, we were really beginning to see that depth of racing and this year even more so," she said. "I think that all of the races have been bigger groups than you would have expected a few years ago. The strength of the whole peloton has really jumped up a level and the top riders are still really good but they're not strong enough to just ride away from everyone. It's a lot harder to get away solo or in those smaller groups and you're seeing those bigger bunch finishes. I think that Flanders could have a similar finish to last year."
The Cyclists' Alliance
Alongside her ambitions for the spring, and her on-going studies, Elvin has also been working on the nascent project, The Cyclists’ Alliance. The rider association – the second of its kind after the CPA's women's chapter – was unveiled in December with Elvin kicking off her racing campaign in Australia less than a month later.
Elvin is happy with how things are going, even though she worries sometimes that she has bitten off more than she can chew. The reaction has been good, says Elvin, but it is taking time to turn riders around to the idea of a rider association. Thanks to riders such as Lizzie Deignan signing up and Mark Cavendish tweeting his support, riders are joining up, but Elvin thinks that the €50 annual membership fee has proved to be a barrier for some.
"It was cool to see the reaction from people and riders from the peloton. There has been a steady stream of riders signing up, but I think the membership fee has put a few people off," Elvin told Cyclingnews. "We see it as a real commitment to the sport. We didn't want to have something that you could sign-up for free, like a petition, because I think it's so easy to put your name on something and forget about it. We see the membership as an investment into the sport."
Three months in, progress is being made and founder Iris Slappendel has sat down with the UCI to discuss their desires, including standardised contracts, working conditions and working towards a two-tiered system.
"From my understanding, they've been really interested in working out that calendar for really strong women's racing, possibly with the two-tiered system," she explains. "Mostly, though, we're just making sure that those WorldTour races have a really strong standard, and also recognising that there does need to be a better standard of contract for riders. There has certainly been a lot of talk about a minimum salary and that is something that could be happening in the near future, which would be pretty exciting for our sport. It's pretty complicated because it can't just be introduced for all teams. It has to be well thought through and implemented at the top of the sport to start with.
"[The UCI] are really excited about women's cycling and they have been really encouraging people like us who want to make a difference to the sport. They've definitely got their own agenda as well and we need to be mindful of what they're trying to achieve. As long as the communications channels are open, which they have been so far, I think that everyone can benefit."