Bruised and battered after a second lap crash in the national criterium championships on Thursday night in Ballarat, Gracie Elvin successfully defended her Australian women’s national road race championship in a sprint finish against rivals Lauren Kitchen, Karin Garfoot and Tiffany Cromwell. Elvin became the first female cyclist since Kathy Watt (1992-94) to capture back-to-back national road race titles, and fully credits her Orica-AIS teammates for the win.
"This jersey is for them," an emotional Elvin said immediately after the race. "I love them to bits and I owe it all to them as we work as a unit and that's he we won the race."
Victoria’s Lisa Jacobs broke away on the first lap and opened a near-four minute lead before Elvin reeled her in on lap seven and dropping her on lap eight before being caught herself on Buninyong Hill. The 25-year-old would make the first of her two comebacks to rejoin the lead group, with the final effort coming on the last lap with just four kilometres to go.
"I knew I just needed to be there for my teammates at the end," said the 2012 Oceania Road Race champion. "There were three of us left and it’s a numbers game for this race. We had a girl in every move and felt confident we could pull it off."
With one kilometre to go, Orica-AIS’s Shara Gillow, a three-time national time trial champion, and Amanda Spratt set the pace and marked Elvin’s toughest challenger Tiffany Cromwell along the way.
"Shara did a really good job," said Elvin. "I owe the sprint to her as well. It was all starting to sit up and I was starting to get nervous because I didn't know if could outsprint some of the other girls, including Tiff. Shara was really smart and lead it out for us."
Gillow, who took second in the Wednesday’s national time trial championship after spending the previous two weeks with pneumonia, told Cyclingnews it was "all part of the plan."
"It was only Spratty and myself up there so a sprint was still such a gamble," said Gillow. "Our only two options were either solo or a bunch sprint for Gracie. We set the pace allowing Gracie to claw back and set it up for the win. It worked perfectly actually."
Orica-AIS head coach Martin Barras also praised the team’s contribution to Elvin’s win.
"Gracie showed tremendous character today," he told Cyclingnews. "But a lot of credit should go to Gillow, Spratt and Jessie MacLean too. We have a solid team, but I’m not sure if individually we were the best bike riders out there, but as a group certainly our presence was very much felt. Whenever other bike riders were putting the hammer down they had to keep in mind they were towing three or four of us around."