When the Australian team lines up for the women's road race on Sunday, they will do so as a team of three newcomers to the Olympic Games: all three of the riders who competed in Beijing have retired. But Chloe Hosking (21), Amanda Spratt (24) and Shara Gillow (24) represent the next wave of talent from Down Under. Surrounded by a wealth of experienced staff and a huge number of supporters in London and back home, the trio is prepared and confident of their medal chances.
Cyclingnews sat down with Hosking and Spratt on Wednesday at their hotel on the Box Hill circuit, in a quiet, bucolic setting that was the epitome of the calm before the storm. Gillow had yet to arrive.
Hosking, a young, up-and-coming sprinter has had the privilege on her professional team of being schooled in the art of sprinting by Specialized-lululemon teammate Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, one of women's cycling's most accomplished riders. Hosking will now face the German as a competitor.
Hosking is united in London with her professional rivals from the Orica-GreenEdge team: Spratt, the national road race champion, and Gillow, the Australian time trial champion. They will form a compact but powerful team that, although new to the Games, has a combined 16 years of international experience. One rider shy of the four woman maximum, Hosking says the team will have to play off the bigger nations in the 140km race.
"For all three of us, we've never been in this situation. I like to think we're equally strong [as the other teams] ... the top five nations have four riders, so we're already at a bit of a disadvantage, but we can play off of those nations, who will probably have to do more work coming out and going back into London. We've yet to really figure out how we'd like it to play out, but I think the small teams will change the dynamic of the race. That's one thing we've been discussing."
The climb of Box Hill may prove to be decisive in the men's race, when it is tackled nine times, but with the women only traversing it twice, Hosking predicts a fast race. "Every team has either a sprinter or a good time trialist or someone who is really good in breakaways. It is so hard to know what is going to happen. One thing we can count on is it's going to be lit up on Box Hill."
With the race just days away and all the hard work preparing for the Games behind them, the trio will now focus on staying calm and not letting the Olympic atmosphere overwhelm them.
"We tone it down until we're finished on race day and then we can enjoy everything the Olympics has to offer. Australian Cycling has done a good job of keeping us out of the Village, away from all of the hype until just the latest possible moment to get in before our race. From my perspective, and it is probably the same for Spratty and Shara, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by everything so staying out here has been good. At the end of the day, it's just another race. I leave four days later to start another race in France, so I think for a lot of sports it is they build up every four years to this but in cycling we race all year. You have to go in with that mentality so your world doesn't fall apart.
"Hopefully we go out there and don't let the Aussies down."
Spratt said they have been relying on the support staff and coaches, who have long Olympic histories, to guide them through the chaos. "Most of the staff we've been working with and our coaches, it's not the first time they've been here. Our coach Martin [Barras] has sat us down and spoken to us about the events and what to expect. Having the support staff around, they're all so calm, they've helped to keep us on the ground as well, rather than everyone being excited and getting carried away.
"It's a bit weird to have so much racing between the team being announced and now. Our minds have been so focused on the Giro [Donne] and Thüringen [Rundfahrt]. It's so exciting that it's all three of us, we're all experiencing it together for the first time. We train and race together a lot, but to come here and experience it together is huge. But we keep reminding ourselves it's just another race, and the same riders. Just a few more people watching I guess."
Those people watching in London will include Spratt's sister and brother-in-law, Gillow's extended family who hails from Great Britain (her father, an Olympian himself, emigrated to Australia), and Hosking's band of maniacal supporters.
"I have pretty much my entire family coming over," Hosking said. "They've all got 'Go Chloe' T-shirts, so you'll probably see them on the side of the road," she laughed, but was reminded of the size of Gillow's crew. "That's right! I didn't think my cheer squad could be challenged!"
While the enormous crowds and television audience may be a novel affair in the world of women's cycling, Hosking said that once they get into the race, all of that will be pushed aside.
"For sure that will be different, but when you're racing you don't hear anything. You're just focused on the wheel in front of you."
The level of support for the women's side of the sport has been steadily increasing. "You'd be surprised how often my family shows up," Hosking joked. "Seriously, we were just racing in Germany, and I was really surprised at the size of the crowds. It's not as if we don't get supporters ever."
Back in Canberra, Springwood and on the Sunshine Coast, the friends and families of Hosking, Spratt and Gillow will be glued to the television hoping to see one of them come across the line in medal position.
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