Gracie Elvin’s World Championships Diary: the build-up

by Matt de Neef


It’s been a huge week at the road cycling world championships in Florence and two of the biggest races are still to come: the elite women’s and men’s road races. Orica-AIS rider and Australian national champion Gracie Elvin is part of a seven-rider Australian squad taking on the elite women’s road race tonight (AEST) and she wrote this pre-race post for us.

The World Championships is always the climax of any road cycling season and as an Australian — and for any rider really — it is a great honour to be selected in a small elite group to represent your country.

The process of selection is tough but fair to ensure the best team lines up together on the day. The lead-up and preparation is sometimes a rollercoaster. The emotions are always heightened. But to be a part of this process and the final countdown to the big race is truly special.

Australia has a stringent selection process that allows riders to qualify for a position on the long team, primarily through results on the road and secondly through “coaches selection”. This is where riders can be selected based on other valuable attributes they would bring to the team.

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This year we had a UCI nation ranking high enough to qualify us seven spots, plus one for the Oceania Champion. This allowed for 14 riders to be named in the long team. Of those 14, 11 riders had qualified automatically from results in UCI races, leaving only three spots to be filled by riders who deserved a look-in.

The final team is announced quite late in the season, and while this can cause some tension and stress, it also gives riders plenty of time to prove themselves worthy of the green-and-gold jersey.

When my name was listed with the six other riders I was happy and relieved but also felt a new stress — “there were other girls better than me” and “will I do a good job?” I had to put these feelings aside pretty quickly and remain focused for the few weeks leading into the big event.

The course for the elite women's world championship road race.
The course for the elite women’s world championship road race.

My last race with my professional team Orica-AIS was a six-day tour in Holland (the Boels Rental Ladies Tour) which left me three weeks between that and the Worlds. It was very important I took a good amount of time to recover properly, especially as it was my fourth big tour in a few months.

I knew that to race well over such a tough course in Florence I would have to be very fresh with no fatigue. I took five days to only do easy rides of no longer than 1.5 hours before beginning my harder training again.

Last year I followed a team schedule leading into the Worlds that was a “day on/day off” approach. This means you train hard one day and have a rest day the next and repeat for the 1.5-2 weeks leading into the race. This worked really well for me and so I decided to use this program again.

I included a varied mix of sessions, all with plenty of climbing! I did longer climbs at a steady pace, 10-minute climbs at a hard pace, five-minute climbs at a maximal pace, and short steep climbs of up to 19% to prepare for the very demanding parcours of Florence. Most importantly, my recovery days always included a lengthy coffee shop stop!

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Our team of girls came together at the start of the week and began our team camp at the ETC (European Training Centre) in Varese.

It was good to be in a place where most of us knew the roads and the traffic is relatively quiet, and to be able to use the great facilities of the AIS-run ETC. It was also beneficial to be away from Florence for a few days to keep focused on our training and health and not get too excited too early in the week.

We arrived at our beautiful hotel that is located about 14km outside of the main city area of Florence mid-week and settled in immediately. We have some great staff that put a lot of work into planning the Worlds week from almost a year ahead to make sure everything goes smoothly.

I love that the whole Aussie team stays in the one hotel together. It is a great atmosphere when you have the elite men, U23 men, junior men and women and our elite women’s team all eating and hanging out together. You can really feel the “Aussie spirit”.

The entire elite women's crew. The riders are, from left to right: Amanda Spratt, Lauren Kitchen, Carlee Taylor, Amy Cure, Gracie Elvin, Tiff Cromwell & Shara Gillow. Image courtesy of Cycling Australia.
The entire crew. The riders are, from left to right: Amanda Spratt, Lauren Kitchen, Carlee Taylor, Amy Cure, Gracie Elvin, Tiff Cromwell & Shara Gillow. Image courtesy of Cycling Australia.

There is a lot of staff looking after the Aussie team and there is always someone around to help, but officially the Women’s team has one mechanic, one soigneur and one coach. But we’ve actually had extra mechanics and soigneurs helping, and two extra coaches making sure everything is taken care of!

There is a great vibe within the whole squad and just as the riders support each other out on the road, the staff also share the work with a smile!

The women’s team consists of seven riders including myself. Although we haven’t all raced together, we have total trust in and support of one another. Being Aussie seems to make the bond a little stronger against all the European riders who have their extra support here all year round.

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Amanda Spratt and Tiffany Cromwell, from the same pro team as me, have the most experience and will guide us through the race once we are out on the road. Tiff is in great form at the moment and is becoming a great climber, so this course should suit her well.

Shara Gillow, also from Orica-AIS, is a talented climber whose great strength is in the ITT so she should be able to be there when the race blows apart. We have three debut riders this year.

Lauren Kitchen from Wiggle-Honda is a strong rider and will be very useful in the early stages of the race. Carlee Taylor is a climber who has shown some great form this year. Amy Cure is the youngest of the team but has impressed everyone this year with some great results in the national team.

My ambitions in the race this year are to give our climbers the best chance of riding with the strongest in the world. This may mean being in an early breakaway or covering dangerous attacks, and helping to position these girls near the front leading into critical points in the race. I am not known for my climbing abilities, so I will be very happy to do my job well and then survive as long as possible!

The women’s race is 140km long, starting in Montecatini Terme and finishing in Florence. We cover nearly 60km of very flat terrain with one short climb near the beginning before we arrive in Florence to begin five laps of a 16.1km circuit which makes for one of the hardest World Championship courses in recent years.

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The lap contains two main climbs: the first is a long slow drag of nearly 5km to the town of Fiesole. Then there is a technical and fast descent, then a couple of kilometers of open road before we take a sharp and narrow right-hand turn onto the second climb.

This climb is called Via Salviati and it is a true “wall” — once you turn the corner you lose a lot of momentum. It peaks at nearly 20% and will really kill the legs every time. The descent after that is not very fast and requires a lot of pedaling, but there are a lot of corners and attacking riders can ride out of sight pretty quickly.

The finished straight is long but because of the tough course, chances of a bunch sprint are very low. But then again, it is the World Championships and you have to be prepared for anything!

Wish us luck and I hope my next report will be a positive one!

The elite women’s road race will be broadcast on SBS2 from 10:30pm (AEST) and streaming online at Cycling Central from 9:45pm. It will also be broadcast live on Foxtel’s Eurosport channel 511 from 10:15pm. You can follow all the action on Twitter as well; just use the #Toscana2013 hashtag.

To read more of Gracie’s work, check out her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.

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