Without a big-name climber on their squad, Great Britain are outsiders for the elite women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships on Saturday. However, with the likes of Hannah Barnes and Dani Rowe in the team they hope they can stick with the favourites and maybe even cause an upset.
At 25 and 27, respectively, Barnes and Rowe are the experienced heads in a youthful line-up for the British, but they have some promising talents in former mountain biker Sophie Wright and the 30-year-old Dani Christmas, who put in a solid performance at the Giro Rosa for the Bizkaia Durango team.
“I think we can hide a little bit," Barnes told Cyclingnews. "Nobody is going to be looking to us to make the race and I think we can use that to our advantage, race how we want to race and use our strengths and maybe just sit back and watch a little bit and have an armchair ride at the start. It’s going to be a long day and a really hard day. It’s going to be interesting.
“I’m not really sure what the team plan is. It could all change with that big climb in the middle and again on the circuit. I don’t think that there will be people attacking throughout the race, I think that it will be a bit more a race of attrition.”
Barnes was Great Britain’s best performer in Bergen last year with a strong ride to finish ninth. She has shown already that she is in flying form after winning the team time trial with Canyon-SRAM last Sunday. She had hoped to compete in the time trial on Tuesday but missed selection with her sister, Alice, and Haley Simmonds contesting the course. Considering her form, it was a bit of a disappointment for Barnes, but it has given her some additional time to focus on the road race.
“It gives me a few more days to recover and do some more training ahead of the road race. I just have to be careful what I do this week. Everything I do can’t make me better, it will only make me worse. I just have to be careful,” she said.
“I was able to ride the road race course a couple of times. It has just been about relaxing. On Sunday night, Alice and I were teammates in the GB hotel and we couldn’t stop giggling. That probably wasn’t the best, we didn’t get much sleep that night. We had an Innsbruck group and we were all sending pictures to each other. A few of the girls slept with their medals, which was quite funny. It was really good.”
A brutal course
Rowe arrived in Innsbruck on Tuesday afternoon and got a chance to check out the course for the first time the following day, though she said that she had spent a lot of time looking at the course on Zwift. The road race will be Rowe’s first since contesting the GP Plouay at the end of August. She’s confident of her form after spending time training in the mountains of Mallorca.
“I’m feeling good and looking forward to it,” Rowe told Cyclingnews. “It’s going to be brutal. The climb on the circuit is about 20 minutes long so that’s going to be a tough one. We’ve got three times and then we have a pretty brutal climb coming into the circuit. It’s going to be a hard and long day out there, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I’m not out and out climber, I won’t be a mountain goat. On paper, this course doesn’t suit me, but I think as a team we have a lot of cards to play and I’ve prepared myself as best I can to be in good shape for this race, that’s what makes women’s cycling so exciting that it’s not very predictable and there are a lot of things that can happen depending on how the race is ridden. I think there’s a chance.”
Given their time trialling success earlier in the week, the Netherlands are viewed by most as the pre-race favourites. However, after they potentially threw away the European title by helping to chase Anna van der Breggen down, Rowe can see some potential chinks in the armour of the orange squad.
“I think the Dutch are obviously the favourites but, like we saw in the Europeans, that can play into our favour and not theirs because, potentially, more than one rider can win and they’ve got different agendas in the race,” Rowe said. “That doesn’t always work in their favour and I think we can try to take advantage of that and hopefully use our advantage.
“I think women’s racing in general is always really aggressive. I think that people will be thinking about the final climb. I also think that a lot of people won’t want to wait that long because they’ll be scared of it. I think there will be the opportunity to get into breaks, so I think it will be quite aggressive and a tough race right from the start.”
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