At the end of last year as Grace Brown was discussing her plans for 2022 the list of big goals the Australian rattled off seemed long, and perhaps a little exhausting, but it seems the pacing skills that work for her in the time trial and on those solo attacks have been transferred just as well to her season strategy.
That long list included the Tour de France Femmes, Commonwealth Games – where she won the time trial – but most importantly at the end was a home UCI Road World Championships in Wollongong where she is among the list of favourites for both the elite women's time trial on Sunday September 18 and road race on September 23.
"I've come to this point of the season quite well actually because I maybe hit the start of the year a bit, um, underdone and didn't perform in the way I wanted to in the Classics,” Brown told Cyclingnews in Wollongong. “But I think in the end it's been a little bit of a blessing because this latter part of the season I've come into probably my best shape of the year.
“A lot of people get fatigued by the World Champs but I'm feeling good and I think that I can have some good races this week."
The 30-year-old who races for FDJ-SUEZ-Futuroscope has already delivered some impressive results in the race against the clock, adding a fourth at the Olympic Games last year and an Australian time trial title at the start of this one to that Commonwealth gold medal.
But it’s hard to imagine a much bigger result than the podium at a home Road World Championships. Brown taking the rainbow jersey in the opening event, of course would be the dream scenario for the home crowd. Only one rider, however, has broken the Dutch stranglehold on the title in the past five years and that was Chloe Dygert (USA) in 2019.
"I know that I'm up there and competitive at the top of the field,” Brown told a pre-event media conference. “We'll see on Sunday where that lands me.
"Obviously there are some really strong girls there and it's a unique course. It's been hard to predict who it is going to suit best out of the top riders. I believe that I'm in with a good shot."
The 34.2km course starts on Market St and finishes on nearby Marine Drive in Wollongong, with riders taking on two laps of the turn heavy loop that works its way through the coastal city and its surrounds. The corner count of about 30 a lap is concentrated in the earlier sections of the circuit, with the road opening into a smoother run in along the coast to the finish line which will give the time trial specialists a chance to get down low.
"It's quite a unique course with all the corners,” said Brown. “It’s undulating, there's only really one section of the loop where you can really get into an aero position and settle into a pace, which is what most time triallers enjoy, but I quite like the dynamic aspect of this course.”
“It’s on and off, always something happening. I enjoyed the Commonwealth Games course for that reason so hopefully I can have a good run like I did at Commonwealth Games."
Brown will also be joined in the elite women's time trial by Georgia Baker, who last represented Australia on the road at World Championships exactly a decade ago, when she came 17th in the junior time trial.
Baker seems to be making true the saying ‘third time lucky’ when it comes to her road career. The 27-year-old rider who has largely been focussed on the track in recent years, had a European road stint With Wiggle-Honda in 2015 – the year her father died suddenly of a heart attack. She started another in 2017 when she first signed with her current squad, Team BikeExchange-Jayco, but that came to an abrupt end when the Tasmanian was diagnosed with a heart condition, Supraventricular Tachycardia, though after surgery she was back on the track and looking ahead to another opportunity on the road.
"I've always been really driven since 2017 to have a really good comeback and gives the road another chance and really focus on it,” said Baker. “So this year I've worked really hard – not so much putting targets on particular races, but just overall learning and experiencing a lot of things because I think I needed that this year."
The hard work has borne results, with the 27-year-old sweeping up gold in the Commonwealth Games road race, a Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour sprint stage, third in the Tour de Suisse individual time trial and second in the Giro d’Italia prologue. It seems the time trial discipline suits Baker and it is an area she is looking to continue building on, though she’s trying not to be unrealistic about her expectations for a first World Championships in the elite category.
“It’s something that I definitely have missed over the years, but for me, I think coming in to my first elite world championships on the road so for me I would be so happy with a top ten,” Baker told the pre-event media conference. “That would be a massive achievement for me."
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Simone joined the team as Production Editor based in Australia at the start of the 2021 season, having previously worked as Australian Editor at Ella CyclingTips and as a correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.