Perhaps Katrin Garfoot’s story should serve as a lesson to teenagers the world over to pay heed to good advice. When Garfoot was told as an aspiring track and field athlete in her native Germany that she had the physiological profile to shine in another discipline altogether, her reaction was to shrug her shoulders.
“I was told I’d probably be a good cyclist when I was 16 or so, but people tell you weird stuff when you’re 16 anyway,” Garfoot told Cyclingnews at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. “I didn’t see myself racing bikes ever.”
Some 18 years later, and now representing her adopted country of Australia, Garfoot is set to line out at the Rio 2016 Olympics as one of the medal contenders in the individual time trial. Her story is all the more remarkable given that she only began racing in 2011, three years after moving Down Under with her Australian husband.
“It is a bit weird, to be honest, but I think that’s just how life goes,” Garfoot said. “I did track and field to junior level, then I stopped, took up kite surfing and had some fun in life and now I’m back competing.
“I started racing in 2011 at club level and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s fun’ and it became serious when I won the National Road Series. I knew my numbers were good enough and that’s when I started to aim higher and higher. But it was always one step at a time, I never looked at the big picture that much.”
In 2016, however, the big picture is unavoidable. The Olympic Games overshadow all other events on the women’s calendar, and after placing fourth at the Richmond Worlds in 2015 on the back of a bronze medal at the previous year’s Commonwealth Games, Garfoot’s season is built around peaking for Rio.
Despite beginning the year by winning the Australian time trial title and the general classification at the Santos Women’s Tour, Garfoot was careful to point out, however, that her ticket to Rio has not been rubber-stamped just yet.
“Those wins definitely take some pressure off but you can never be sure, so I want to keep doing well until I’m actually selected,” she said. “The selection is still ongoing. I’m in a good position but there’s still a UCI time trial of 15 kilometres in Energiewacht Tour and I’d better position well there to secure my spot.”
That said, Garfoot’s scheduled trip to Rio in May to reconnoitre the time trial course with Rohan Dennis (BMC) is a firm indication of her standing with the selection committee. Thus far, her knowledge of the route is limited to a video, but the hilly parcours appears suited to her talents.
“Rohan Dennis and I will go in May sometime, we don’t know exactly when. I have looked at the footage but I’m still trying to study it,” she said. “I’ll have to wait until I see it properly but it hopefully suits me. I think I’m a bit better off [on the course] than some of the girls, but probably not all of them – there are some big names coming back because of the course, like Emma Pooley, so it will be still a close race I reckon, for everyone.”
That was certainly the case in Richmond in October, where Garfoot finished in fourth place, just 10 seconds behind world champion Linda Villumsen, and a mere four off the bronze medal claimed by Lisa Brennauer.
Garfoot’s disappointment at the near miss was tempered by the progress made from her 11th place in Ponferrada the previous year, and she is not coy about the extent of her ambition in Brazil in August.
“Gold would be nice,” she laughed, when asked her target. “No, I would be happy with any colour but I will aim for gold. Why not aim high? That’s the approach I will take.”
In Qatar this week, meanwhile, Garfoot is happy to fulfil a supporting role for Orica-AIS, despite her explosive start to the season at the Santos Women’s Tour. “I knew I was going well but I just didn’t think I could match some of those good sprinters, so I’m very happy with how that worked out,” she said. “But at this Tour I won’t be putting any pressure on myself.”