Depth, options and the search for another Worlds podium for Australia's women

WOLLONGONG AUSTRALIA SEPTEMBER 18 Silver medalist Grace Brown of Australia celebrates on the podium during the medal ceremony after the 95th UCI Road World Championships 2022 Women Individual Time Trial a 342km individual time trial race from Wollongong to Wollongong Wollongong2022 on September 18 2022 in Wollongong Australia Photo by Con ChronisGetty Images
Grace Brown (Australia) captured silver in the elite women's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

The Australian elite women's road race team have already stepped onto the podium at every chance they've had so far at this home UCI Road World Championships.

This week, Grace Brown has taken second in the individual time trial Sunday while Georgia Baker, Sarah Roy and Alex Manly claiming bronze as part of the mixed relay team time trial on Wednesday. Can they make it three for three at the elite women's road race on Saturday?

The team's experienced campaigner and road captain Amanda Spratt described the team as the strongest Australia has had in a number of years in terms of depth. The potential for power in numbers in the final circuit brings options for the squad of Spratt, Brown, Baker, Roy, Manly, Brodie Chapman and home town rider Josie Talbot.

It is Brown, however, who sits in the ranks of the favourites and she's heading into the home course, which suits her attacking nature, having confirmed her strength in the time trial.

"It definitely gives me a lot of confidence in my form at the moment," Brown said in a press conference for the Australian team on the eve of the 164.3km combined women's elite/U23 road race.

"Obviously, being a good time triallist doesn't necessarily mean that you've got road race form. But yeah, I've also been training for the road race specifically, so I can still be confident that my form will translate across.

"I'm feeling pretty good… It's actually been quite a long week between the time trial and road race. I'm eager for race day now."

On Saturday the Australian team will be facing a course with 2,433 metres of ascent as it winds it way down the coast from the hamlet of Helensburgh, through the Mount Keira circuit – with its 8.7km climb with a 5% average gradient and a 15% maximum – and onto six laps of the corner heavy street circuit with the stepped climb of Mt Pleasant, 1.1km averaging 7.7% with a maximum of 14%.

"It's hard to control a race like tomorrow," said Chapman, who added that it was no secret the goal was to be on the podium. "You can't really know how it's going to play out and we have obviously considered a lot of different scenarios. 

"But based on the parcours, I think it's going to be quite attritional and the parcours are selective enough – let alone having such a big and talented peloton to also make it selective."

The Australian team may have depth and a number of options, with a co-leader in Manly who is a handy sprinter that is also able to hold firm on many climbs, but so do their rivals.

Two that have particularly strong hands include the Italians with defending champion Elisa Balsamo plus Elisa Longo Borghini and then, of course, there is always the Dutch.

Annemiek van Vleuten has been confirmed to race by her Movistar team after she crashed and fractured her elbow in Wednesday's mixed relay team time trial but even if she weren't, in a team that also includes Marianne Vos, Demi Vollering and U23 rider Shirin van Anrooij, there is clearly no shortage of options.

Another layer beyond the course and contenders, could also be at play on Saturday with the latest forecast for Wollongong from the Bureau of Meteorology a very high - 95% – chance of showers, along with the chance of a thunderstorm in the late morning and afternoon. The race starts at 12:25 local time (AEST) Saturday.

"With all those things together though, we can be quite confident and go in with a really positive and excited attitude," said Roy referring to both the challenging attributes of the course and the rain.

"I think because we are all really experienced, we have a great strategy, a great team behind us as well with our DS's and coaches, the plans and stuff that we put in place, the focus that we've had on this event for a while now.

"There's nothing left to do now except to get a good night's sleep and just rock off and do our thing. I think we're ready to go."

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