Rachel Neylan believes that Australia has every chance to be in the mix for the women's road race at this year's UCI World Championships in Limburg, with the team focussed on supporting Tiffany Cromwell next Saturday.
Neylan and Cromwell were selected alongside Shara Gillow, national champion Amanda Spratt, Oceania champion Gracie Elvin, Jessie Maclean, and Loren Rowney. It's a team that signals a definite shift from Australian selectors, with an emphasis on potential and development of talent.
"That's the way that we have to move forward with women's cycling in Australia," Neylan told Cyclingnews from Varese where the team is enduring a final training camp before making the move to Holland on Tuesday. "We have a lot more depth this year and it was a very, very hard selection decision. But I think they're [the selectors] doing the right thing by giving girls experience early so when they are at that top-field, competitive level, they're able to draw on that experience that they've had in previous years.
"You've got to look forward to that next Olympic cycle."
Neylan had two goals this season and remarkably the 30-year-old has managed succeeded both in the last week. The first was to secure a UCI podium and Neylan did so with third place on the fifth stage of Tour de l'Ardèche. She went on to finish fourth overall. Her second goal was a spot on the Australian team for the world championships – her debut.
"The last week's been pretty fruitful," Neylan explained. "I'm pretty happy."
Neylan's success in reaching this point is remarkable to say the least following what she politely calls some "unfortunate circumstances" with her team, Nutrixxion Abus. It was a case of "sink or swim" according to Neylan and from mid-year the Sydney-sider took herself to altitude camp and formulated her own program based on guest rides in 1.2 and 2.2-ranked events. Throughout August and September, Neylan planned three race trips – first to Belgium and then the Trophée d'Or Féminin and l‘Ardeche. The result has been a satisfying road into form, adding to Neylan's third place in the Australian Road National Championships and Oceania Championships.
"I'm proud of what I've been able to achieve and while it's taken a lot of persistence and the road hasn't been all that smooth - it hasn't been all roses and it hasn't been easy - it's been incredibly rewarding at the same time," she told Cyclingnews.
Neylan doesn't need to look very far when it comes to the possibilities. Roommate Cromwell has found her feet this season with Orica-AIS after a tumultuous 2011 season.
"I've got a lot of respect for the way that she's [Cromwell] turned her career around from 12 months ago," Neylan admitted. "She's a really great example of how you can come from adversity and how you can turn things around 360 degrees in one year. She's had a phenomenal result in Plouay World Cup coming second to Vos (which is almost like a win anyway!)
"She deserves 100 per cent support from us on the day."
When it comes to race-favourite Marianne Vos, while Neylan says that the Dutch phenomenon is a "one-in-1 million" talent, at the same time the Australian team knows that anything is possible.
"She [Vos] has a very strong team around her as well and they're very smart racers so we have to match that and be very smart in the way we race," Neylan said. "There's no hiding that it's a very tough, challenging course so a lot of the race will be one of attrition. There's not a lot of recovery between the climbs."
While intelligent race tactics will be called for, Neylan said that the race-winner is not a foregone conclusion.
"This course has Tiff's name written all over it. It's a great course for her so I think she has a very good chance."
Neylan also points to Judith Arndt, Trixie Worrack (Germany), Emma Johansson (Sweden), Emma Pooley (Great Britain) and Ashley Mulman (South Africa) as potential threats.
"It's definitely a race that suits power-climbers and anyone who has the legs at the top of the Cauberg in the final lap," she said.
For this very same reason, Neylan is really looking forward to the challenge of the 128.8km event, comparing the course to Buninyong where the Australian championships are held.
"I love it," Neylan admitted. "The climb is a bit longer but it's similar in that it doesn't have a lot of recovery and that's something that suits me well. Short power climbs – I'm developing my power to weight nicely so I'm happy to race on this course and can't wait to see what I can do."
Neylan writes a regular blog at rachelneylan.com