The new under-23 women's world title will be a major goal for Great Britain in Saturday’s World Championships road race as they line up with a particularly young team, British Cycling coach Chris Newton has confirmed.
Of the six spots Great Britain earnt for the women's road race, four of them have gone to under-23 riders, whilst 25-year-old Lizzie Holden and 23-year-old Anna Henderson round out what is one of the youngest squads on the start list.
The youth of the team, Newton explains, is partly a result of the new under-23 title being available, but also a representative of the new talent coming up through the British ranks.
Though young, the team has plenty of experience with Pfeiffer Georgi (Team DSM), Anna Shackley (SD Worx) and Elynor Bäckstedt (Trek-Segafredo) all racing in the WorldTour, and final member Alice Towers (Le Col-Wahoo) is British national champion.
“I think right now it reflects where we’re at as GBCT [Great Britain Cycling Team],” Newton told Cyclingnews.
“We’ve got a young squad because that’s where our strengths are at the moment. We’ve got a new guard coming through and it’s just fortuitous for us that it’s happened in conjunction with an under-23s title being available within an elite race.”
The running of the under-23 race within the elite race is a decision that has been questioned, particularly for how difficult it will be tactically to race for the under-23 title in the elite women's race. But this has not stopped Great Britain from making it a goal.
“Like most nations it’s another title that’s available so yes, of course it’s an objective of ours,” Newton said.
“It’ll be difficult, it’s not just straightforward in a sense that it’ll be complicated alongside the elites but we’ve got a plan for both events and we’ll run with that.
“With four under-23 riders, the title is very much something that’s part of our objective.”
Bucking the trend
Whilst Newton suggests that “most nations” may be looking at the under-23 title as a goal, Great Britain stand out from the crowd with their young team.
Both the United States and home nation Australia have not opted to take any under-23 riders to Wollongong, whilst big teams like the Netherlands and Belgium have only selected one rider each eligible for the title.
Forty riders in the 158-rider start list will compete for the under-23 title, with Great Britain taking the largest contingent of eligible riders.
The UCI has apparently made a late decision to help identify the under-23 riders in the elite peloton. The 40 under-23 riders will wear black race numbers while the elite riders will wear the more usual white numbers.
A ‘strange’ race for the under-23 riders
Though the title is a stated objective of the Great Britain team, the riders have mixed feelings about the under-23 world title.
As there are very few under-23 races on the women’s calendar, the eventual winner will have few - if any - chances to wear the rainbow bands in competition.
“It’s always nice to win a race and get a jersey,” Shackley said.
“It’s a bit strange because obviously we have no under-23 races so, other than Europeans, this is the only race we do in this category. But winning is always a nice feeling so I think it’s a nice race to have, but I think we need a bit more infrastructure around it for us to fully develop as younger riders.”
As well as the symbolic nature of the jersey, the ‘race-within-a-race’ dynamic may prove complex, with under-23 riders uncertain as to where they are compared to their rivals.
“It’s a positive step but it can get a little confusing having a race within a race, as there’s a mix of tactics between riders racing for themselves and maybe not being so team-involved, so it becomes a different dynamic,” Shackley explained.
Newton echoed Shackley’s sentiments.
“Having two races in one will influence tactics from riders, it’ll make for an interesting race, potentially sometimes a difficult one to read and maybe even questionable tactics at times. It does make for a difficult race and that will influence how we ride, so we’re discussing how we can ride within that situation.”
The next steps
The UCI are expected to add a standalone under-23 women’s race to the World Championships in 2025, with the current combined race an interim solution.
Though Great Britain clearly aren’t waiting for the standalone race to make it an objective, Shackley called for the expansion of the under-23 category in coming years.
“I think it would be nicer in the coming years, if the category becomes more established, for us to have a separate race entirely rather than having our race within the elite race,” Shackley said.
“I’d also like to have under-23 races throughout the year so it’s a category in its own right and it’s less of a jump for the junior girls coming through.”
‘Rising costs’ reason for no time trial entries
The first-ever women’s U23 world title was awarded on Saturday when Vittoria Guazzini (Italy) took top spot in the time trial - similarly run in conjunction with the elite event. However no Great Britain riders were entered into the women’s time trial.
Newton explained that whilst he welcomed the chance to race in Australia, the cost associated with such events was the reason no women entered the time trial.
“For us, we have to consider that with the growing scale of cycling events, both UCI and UEC-run, while we have aspirations and competitive riders in most events, it’s increasingly difficult to balance rising costs and medal competitiveness to be able to participate in every event that we’d like to.”
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Matilda Price is a freelance cycling journalist and digital producer based in the UK. She is a graduate of modern languages, and recently completed an MA in sports journalism, during which she wrote her dissertation on the lives of young cyclists. Matilda began covering cycling in 2016 whilst still at university, working mainly in the British domestic scene at first. Since then, she has covered everything from the Tour Series to the Tour de France. These days, Matilda focuses most of her attention on the women’s sport, writing for Cyclingnews and working on women’s cycling show The Bunnyhop. As well as the Women’s WorldTour, Matilda loves following cyclo-cross and is a recent convert to downhill mountain biking.