Gracie Elvin is a two-time national champion, an Oceania champion and has represented Australia at the World Championships on three occasions. In 2016 the Orica-AIS rider is aiming to add Olympian to her palmarès with selection for the Rio Olympic Games road race.
"I definitely want to get into that Australian team but I am probably on the outer in terms of being a favourite to get into the team because of the nature of the course," Elvin told Cyclingnews of her quest to secure a ticket to Rio.
A breakthrough 2016 season for Elvin has elevated the 26-year-old into the top tier of riders for those coveted Rio places following her first wins on European soil. The first of which was a two-up sprint again Ellen van Dijk at the 1.1 Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik. The victory ahead of a former time trial world champion was one of "relief" as Elvin explained to Cyclingnews but one that also helped to banish self-doubt.
"The first win I was so happy and super excited but the main emotion of that day was relief because I'd been over there as a professional rider for a few years," Elvin said. "I always believed in myself but sometimes you feel like you're never going to get there and you can't be one of the best in the world. There is always some self doubt there so when you win a race it's kind of like a big relief you are doing the right thing, you are doing the right training and preparation and you can be one of the best in the world and keep going a bit longer. I was also super happy because my team has been supportive of me and it was nice to pay them back and get a good result."
A second win followed less than two months later at the Thüringen Rundfahrt stage race ahead of teammate Emma Johansson ensured it was Elvin's best season yet as a pro and gave her confidence to chase her Olympic dream next August.
"This year was not just a breakthrough for me with the two wins but also because I was more consistent and finished the season pretty well," she said of 2015. "In previous years I've been so super tired that I have been dragging myself through the last two races. Even the two Worlds I did in 2012-2013 it was a little touch and go for how long I would last in the those races because I was carrying so much fatigue from the season and then this year I was so much better and stronger right until the end of the season and I had a much better race at the Worlds and really enjoyed my break back at home.
"Getting back on the bike I feel better than even before and I've actually had a longer break than previous years. I am really happy with how I am going and it was a really good year because of that consistency."
Elvin's first goal of the season is a third national road race title on the challenging Buninyong course on January 9, which will be a key race in the eyes of national selectors, before heading over to Europe where she aims to pick up where she left off. Rivals for the national title and a place in Rio includes the likes of Tiff Cromwell (Canyon//SRAM) and teammate Amanda Spratt.
"It's really hilly so I have a lot of work to do but I want to have a crack and that means getting myself in top form for climbing as well as keeping my strength as a handy sprinter and tactical rider," Elvin said of the Rio parcours. "That means performing well at nationals is a good start but the bigger races in Europe are probably highlighted, Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio.
"Those are probably the three key races for Olympic selection because they are the most difficult and have the most hills in that section period which ends on May 31 so they'll be looking at those races. I'll be on the roster for those races so it's great the team are taking me seriously to qualify for Olympics."
The quadrennial event is of extra significance for women's cycling explains Elvin, putting the riders in the 'shop window' guaranteeing attention and coverage from fans and media unlike any other race on the calendar. Elvin also isn't the first cyclist to describe what it would mean to call herself an Olympian and place into terms that the general public not so au fait with the sport can appreciate and understand.
"It's such a big dream, particularly for women's cycling because we don't have the Tour de France and some of those other big grand tours like the men do so the Olympics is pretty much the pinnacle for us," she said. "Then just being an Australian you grow up with that Olympic dream. Australia places a lot of emphasis on the games so it's hard not to dream about it and want to be a part of that green and gold squad.
"I am just going to do everything I can to get into that squad and if I do get in, then that's awesome, but I do have to prepare myself if I don't get in as well. There is only going to be three or four girls who go and it's only every four years so not everyone gets to be an Olympian so I have to deal with that as it comes.
There is no denying Rio is forefront on Elvin's mind when it comes to announcing her 2016 goals. However there is a slight irony in the fact that the Doha Worlds course suits the characteristics of Elvin who has finished fourth and tenth overall in two out of the three occasions she's raced the Ladies Tour of Qatar.
"It's hard because the Olympics kind of overshadows everything next year but I have definitely thought about the Worlds and it's an interesting year because the Olympics and Worlds are very different races," she said of whether the October championships had come into consideration. "The Worlds are in Qatar and they have actually pushed it out another few weeks from the typical time they usually have that race so it will be a long season. In Qatar it will be hot and flat and most probably windy so it does suit me better than the Olympics road race which is funny but it would be awesome if I got to go to both. If I don't get to go to the Olympics, then I can for sure focus on getting into the Worlds squad and being a good asset to that team."
Elvin may be focusing on Rio for 2016, she is also concentrating on ensuring she becomes a regular feature at the pointy end of the top European races on the Women's WorldTour.
"I'd like to become more consistent as a rider and consistently be competitive in that top-ten group of girls at pretty much all those top races. My biggest goal is to get into the Olympic team and to get there other big goals are to win a race in the classics period. My big dream would be to win the Tour of Flanders."
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