Having achieved a career goal with Olympic selection in 2016 for Australia, Gracie Elvin is turning her attention to her best classics campaign yet in 2017. The 28-year-old also enjoyed a fourth Worlds appearance in 2016 and will base her second half of next season around the Bergen championships.
The first half of 2016 for Elvin was built around putting her best foot forward to earn a place in Rio. Top-ten results at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, Ronde van Drenthe, Drentse Acht van Westerveld, Energiewacht Tour and Aviva Womens Tour, plus the defence of her Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik title was enough to secure a place on the plane to Rio where Elvin was the designated domestique for the four-rider team.
"At the end of the day, I walked away satisfied because I did have a good race and did what I needed to do," Elvin told Cyclingnews of her Olympics experience. "I was probably one of a few Olympians there who were content or quite happy with a 50th place. My experience was pretty special and I was really able to appreciate every moment and I think while I would have loved to have been a medal contender, and maybe that is on the cards for the future, it is also a pretty special experience to go there and do your best even though you don't win.
"At the end of the day, it was a great race and we've had good feedback from spectators and fans saying how exciting it was so I think overall it was a really good thing for women's cycling."
The race didn't play as planned for the Australian team with Amanda Spratt the best finisher in 15th. There was little time for reflection for Elvin who got back to business for the second half of the season and the Qatar Worlds. Having put all her energy "into the Olympics", Elvin ensure her preparation for the race was based around making training rides social and fun. On the day, Elvin was again in a domestique role as he helped Chloe Hosking, a 'rival' and friend since the duo were '12,13' in Canberra', to seventh place.
With her longest season now behind her, Elvin has turned her attention to the upcoming 2017 season with the dual aim of a strong classics campaign and Worlds appearance. 2017 is the fifth year that Elvin will be riding with Orica-AIS but it wasn't always going to be her team for the new season as she explained that she entertained thoughts of moving on.
"During the negotiation part of this year, they really made it clear how much they wanted me to stay and it made it my decision easy. I thought a change might be good for me and my development. I did have a think about all that stuff but I really couldn't find any good reason to leave this tear. They provided me with every single opportunity possible and they have so much value for my skills and the friendships I have made as well, I feel very loyal to his team. I couldn't find any good reason to leave and I didn't really want to find any reason to leave either. I am really happy to stay and really happy they wanted me to stay."
Having re-committed to the team and having had the team commit to her, Elvin is clear and concise when stating her ambitions for the new season. It is all about the classics and having her best season yet even if it compromises her chance of claiming a third national title in January.
"I am really going to set the bar high next year," she said of her season aim. "I think I can show that I do things when I put my mind to it and my very favourite race is the Tour of Flanders. I have been getting closer and closer every year to making the top selection in the end so I am going to try and win that one. I really, really want to win the Tour of Flanders. That will be a career goal for me but hopefully next year I can pull it off and just focus on that classics period in general. We have the Amstel Gold and Liege for women now so I am so excited to have that opportunity to race those classics.
"I will have a bit of a break then rebuild for the World Championships in Norway. I think that course is also quite suited to me so we will have to wait and see what happens after the classics but that is also a goal of mine."
Equal opportunity, not equal prize money
The classics in 2017 will include two new races for the women's peloton with the addition of Amstel Gold Race and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. Welcoming both races onto the calendar, Elvin explained that she is in favour of some of the races which feature men and women's events but ultimately would like to see women's cycling celebrated for what it is.
"I would like to see some parallel events but similar to having a women's team connected to a men's team, with Orica it is quite unique as we have a special family kind of atmosphere but I think in general if you have men's teams or races that are forced to have a women's team or race, you have sponsors that don't really want to be invested in that and they might just do the bare minimum to make that happen and that is quite detrimental to our sport," Elvin said. "Starting with one-day races is the best way to move forward and that classics spring time of year might be best to start having a few more women's races and they are doing that now. We have had Flanders for a while now and now we have Amstel Gold and Liege and my big dream before I retire would be to race Roubaix so I am going to start pushing for that.
I think Tour de France is a completely different kettle of fish and that is going to take some time to get that ball rolling so I think one-day races is the best start but also having stand-alone women's events and stand along women's teams with sponsors that really care and want to be part of our sport, and not just cycling in general, is the most important thing."
For Elvin, a successful future for women's cycling depends on greater media exposure to continue the momentum of recent years that contributed to the inaugural Women's WorldTour this year for example. Media exposure would also assist in creating greater depth for the women's peloton adds Elvin.
"In the future, it would be awesome if we had two tiers of racing with that development teams racing each other and then sometimes come to race the WorldTour teams and then we have our WorldTour calendar with the top-15 teams. At the moment, there are not quite enough teams to sustain that. We don't want to make the gap bigger between the abilities," she said.
"For me, it is not about equal prize money or the flashy stuff like that. It is about equal opportunity for all riders and all teams to improve and make these races and have the exposure in the media to show how exciting our racing is."