Australia lined up at the Tokyo Olympics with high hopes for the women’s road race but ended without a rider in the top 20. Amanda Spratt failed to finish after falling out of contention early while Grace Brown suffered after a sharp acceleration to neutralise a threatening move on the key climb of the race.
When the 2016 Olympic gold medallist Anna van der Breggen put in sharp attack Brown was quick to react, perhaps – with the benefit of hindsight – a little too quick. The Australian pulled back the move by the dangerous Dutch rider but paid a price.
“I followed an attack by Anna van der Breggen entering the last 5Ks of the Doshi Road climb and that cooked me a little bit,” said Brown. “They were my biscuits that I spent way too early.”
It was a rare miss for Brown, who has stepped up a level the past year and has regularly made it onto the podium, also finding the top step more than once in the top tier of racing. However she slipped away on the climb, which crested a little after 80 kilometres of racing, with tough conditions taking a toll.
"It was harder than I expected,” said Brown. “The heat and the climbing was super taxing in the first 80Ks. It was just a super-hard race. Everyone was on really good form so it just makes it even harder.”
The 137 kilometre road race was one that certainly didn’t run as expected for more than just the Australian team, with Austria’s sole representative Anna Kiesenhofer trumping a peloton filled with seasoned professionals. She single-handedly secured gold ahead of a field filled with the world’s top riders, a power-packed Dutch team and a number of other squads that had multiple riders on hand to maximise their chances.
Australia was among the five squads who qualified for the maximum quota of four riders. Two of them, the Dutch and Italians, secured a medal while Germany and the United States both had a rider in the top 10. The squad from Australia, however, was well out of contention in the battle for medals of even a placing among the first ten riders. Tiffany Cromwell ended up as the unexpected top-placed finisher for the team in 26th place and then it was the youngster of the team, 20-year-old Sarah Gigante, in 40th. Spratt didn’t make it to the end while Brown was the second last rider to finish in 47th place.
"I'm a little disappointed but also really proud to be here representing Australia,” said Brown, who will also line up for the time trial on Wednesday along with Gigante.
As Brown slipped away on the Doshi Road climb and then Cromwell followed, Gigante – who had been on the front of the pack for Australia in the early stages of the race and was returning from injury – was the last of the Australians able to hang in with the group on the climb.
"When we were going over the Doshi pass, the really steep one, my legs just kind of came to a halt and I was close but I couldn't quite make it over,” said Gigante. “After that I knew I had to get back to the peloton before we went up the next climb.
"Thankfully, I did and a couple of minutes later I saw Tiffany and Grace roll up next to me so it was really nice to know that we still had three then."
However, with the race in the Fuji Speedway and the chase to draw back in the three riders out the front ramping up Brown and Gigante once again lost contact with the chase group. Cromwell, the road captain who was expected to work early in a support role and not be there to finish it off at the end, was the last rider standing for Australia in the chase group.
“It's a shame our plan didn't work out as we wanted, and the other girls didn't have great legs today,” said Cromwell. “I'm happy I just kept fighting to the end. I found myself there by myself.
"Knowing this course and knowing it was always going to be a hard one, I'm happy to get to the finish."
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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 correspondent for Reuters and Bloomberg.