In November of 2016, Gracie Elvin outlined her goal to win the 2017 Tour of Flanders. In April, she came within a wheel length of winning the race. In 2018, the Tour of Flanders will again be the primary goal for the Australian on Orica-Scott. However, the 28-year-old is also aiming for the Commonwealth Games road race just two-weeks later on the Gold Coast, Brisbane.
"It is always going to be a focus for me," Elvin Cyclingnews of her Flanders focus on the start line of the women's Tour of Guangxi. "My heart lies in that part of the world for racing and I am just going to keep trying to win it until I retire. I have to be so happy with second this year. That was a bit of a dream day but unfortunately it wasn't a win but if my 12-year-old self knew that was going to happen, I would have been thrilled.
"Next year it is going to be a focus, especially because it is two weeks before the Commonwealth Games in Australia. I am going to be really fit for that too. That period of racing is going to be really important for me."
Having hit her goals and nailed the process to ensure she arrived at Flanders in peak form, Elvin faces the challenge of earning selection for the Gold Coast games in the early-season while remaining focused for Belgium. Elvin could also add the Ardennes into the mix to ensure a packed start to the season.
"It is going to be a challenge, so I am working on a good plan now," she said. "Especially because we are probably going to have to focus a little more on the January racing as well. All the Aussies are going to be vying for those spots at the Commonwealth Games and nationals, cadels race, TDU … they are all going to be as important as the races in the spring in Europe.
"I am going to have to plan it carefully and then plan the travel around that carefully as well. I might have to jump straight back on a plane if I do go to the Commonwealth Games back for the Ardennes races so it going to be a few full-on weeks."
In the lead in to the Bergen Worlds in September, Cycling Australia courted controversy following the selection of just five of seven positions its riders had qualified for. Chloe Hosking and Elvins's trade teammate Rachel Neylan successfully appealed their non-selection. The team then delivered in the road race with Katrin Garfoot winning silver.
Regarding the selection process for the Commonwealth Games, Elvin expects Cycling Australia has learned from Bergen and the women's team will receive equal backing alongside the men.
"I think it was such a big mess that I don't think it will happen again but you never know. I think the focus of Australian cycling is really going towards track. I can understand why but I don't think they are going to do that again for the women," she said. "I think they lost so much face over that and it looked sexist even if they didn't mean it to be. In this day and age of women's sport in general, it is not a good idea to make those decisions. I am really glad we had seven at the end of the day. Especially as everyone did such a good job in the race."
The world championships for the last two seasons has been the final race of the season for Elvin. However, one month and a day after her 23rd place in Bergen, Elvin was lining out at the inaugural Tour of Guangxi Women's Elite World Challenge.
"To be honest I just had a few weeks off so I am not coming into this with very good form but I am pretty fresh and started the season really well," said Elvin who won the sprint competition in the race. "I am not totally creeping or anything. It should be fun out there but I am not expecting much of myself."
Although there was very little publicity pre-event for the women's race, with race coverage than almost non-existent on the day, Elvin believes that women's cycling can be boosted by more race days in China.
"They offered me the chance to come and I thought why not? It is not in the season and there is no pressure to perform so it is a great opportunity to come and see China and a new event," she said of her rationale to race. "Especially as they are supporting it for the women. Hopefully next year we will see more teams come out."
While the men's WorldTour was making its return to China with the Tour of Guangxi, following the hiatus after the Tour of Beijing's final edition in 2014, women's WorldTour racing already exists in China with the Tour of Chongming Island. In 2018, the women's Tour of Guangxi joins the Tour of Chongming Island in securing WorldTour status and for Elvin, the effect should see improvements across the sport.
"I think it is a really great thing that they are getting the women's racing over here. We don't really see any women's racing in any other Asian country at this level," she said. "I think it is just going to help the market in general. It is going to make the European races step up with better organisation and better prize money as well if teams want to come over here more in the future. Overall, it is a great thing."
However, Elvin offers a caveat in the expansion of the women's WorldTour, adding that quality control regarding team selection is crucial in ensuring the momentum of women's cycling.
"There can still be some things that can be changed in the women's WorldTour but overall they have done a great job," she said. "What I would like to see is a change in the levels of racing. So to have women's WorldTour teams just selected for those races and then the development teams go to the races underneath and have the chances to be wildcard entries to WorldTour races. At the moment, there are too many WorldTour races and there are not enough races underneath that level. You are losing some of those races because all the teams just want to go to the WorldTour races. Some of them are not aligned with what a WorldTour races should be in my opinion."
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