Chasing rainbow stripes: Chloe Hosking on her chance of becoming the first Australian women’s world road race champion
A small bathroom in Girona might seem to have little connection with the vast deserts of Qatar but if Chloe Hosking has got things right, the former will help her conquer the latter in the women’s world championship road race this weekend.
The Australian sprinter has been one of the quickest women this season and has set her sights on taking the rainbow jersey on Saturday.
“I have built up like any athlete builds up for anything, I guess,” she told CyclingTips with a smile. “Just being gradual. There has been a lot of heat work. I had a makeshift heat chamber…it turns out that I am really good at making heat chambers in tiny bathrooms.”
She laughed as she said this, but her preparations have been very serious. She has worked very hard to be ready for the Qatari clash, and to give herself the best chance possible of a medal. Or even better.
“I have just made sure that everything I was meant to do I have done. I don’t think I have missed a training session since June and that is because I was sick,” she explained. “I have just been really disciplined in it.”
That discipline extends to putting multiple heaters into the bathroom of the apartment she rents in Girona, Spain, then warming the chamber for a couple of hours prior to putting herself through vigorous – and sweltering – home trainer sessions.
It’s all part of her push to become the first-ever Australian women’s world road race champion. Whether or not that pays off, she will line up on Saturday knowing she has ticked all the boxes, and with the peace of mind that brings.
“I had a huge focus on Qatar. I don’t want to screw this up”
Rewind one week from the road race and Hosking is sitting in the La Fabrica café in Girona. Run by Orica BikeExchange professional Christian Meier and his wife Amber, the cosy stone building is filled with cycling memorabilia, photos of the sport and other such paraphernalia. It is a regular haunt for her.
She’s tapping away on her laptop as CyclingTips arrives, keeping things moving on the law degree she’s currently studying. Further down the line she sees a possible career path in athlete management, and when she’s not training or racing, she keeps up to date with that.
However, racing is foremost on her mind right now, particularly as the world championships draws ever closer. She has had a superb season and heads to the race as one of the big favourites. That’s not unexpected: she’s been on form all year, winning back in February on the final stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar, and taking a run of strong results since then.
Part of the reason for that is her age: at 26, she’s gaining strength and experience with each passing year. But complications in 2015 also helped to make this year a great one.
“I really planned this season,” she explains. “I finished my season last year with an injury. While that seemed like the worst thing in the world at the time, it enabled my coach and I to really sit down and plan out what we wanted to be good for. To work out where we could afford to back off a little bit and then rebuild.
“I went in with a really clear mindset. Knowing that I was not going to be good here but I could build up there was, I think, really good for me mentally.
“I also just had a huge focus on Qatar. I don’t want to screw this up. So I have really given it everything to be good in Qatar. And I think that the work I have put in for that has paid off during the season.”
That’s no understatement: in addition to her Ladies Tour of Qatar stage success, she racked up a stage win, the mountains classification and the overall in the Tour of Chongming Island World Cup race in May. In early July she won stage three of the Giro Rosa, women’s cycling’s most prestigious Grand Tour. And later that month, she sprinted to victory in La Course, the criterium held in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France.
A stage win in La Route de France in August, runner-up slot in La Vuelta’s Madrid challenge and a victory in late September’s Gran Premio Bruno Beghelli Internazionale Donne Elite show that she has kept her momentum going.
Because of her focus and her good morale, she said that it doesn’t bother her that the season is running on later than usual.
“As I said, I had the luxury of really being able to plan this season. And also I wasn’t going full gas…I wasn’t going at all for the Olympics,” she explains. “So while all these girls were trying to peak for that in August, I was still building.
“So I don’t feel like I am not fresh or that I lack any motivation to train any more. For me, the fact that it is three weeks later than it usually would be is okay. We have known for a while that it was this late, so it is not like we were unprepared for it.”
She’s also unfazed by the lack of spectators and atmosphere that will be experienced in Qatar. While the region is undoubtedly very wealthy – the UCI reportedly earned double the normal amount by awarding the championships to the area – it routinely suffers from sparse crowds.
In fact, the annual Tour of Qatar races have actually featured loudspeakers at the finish lines broadcasting recorded applause.
That may well be the case on Saturday but, like the late date, she isn’t letting that distract her in any way.
“It doesn’t affect my motivation. I mean, it is going to be a bit of a different vibe.. I have only actually been to one senior world championship, which was in Copenhagen, and it will be a different vibe to that.
“But it is still the world championship, you still get a rainbow jersey at the end of it,” she reasons. “The same thing is on the line for any other world championship. Just because there are less people cheering doesn’t make it any less.”
Asked to name her principal rivals, she nominates her Wiggle-High5 teammates Jolien D’Hoore (Belgium) and Giorgia Bronzini (Italy). In addition, she says the “entire Dutch team” will be a threat. Of those, Kirsten Wild and Marianne Vos both get a particular mention.
Like her, they are rapid sprinters and will be doing everything possible to take the win.
“I think a big thing will be how people deal with the heat,” she speculates. “We will just have to see.”
So, given her attributes as a sprinter, her storming season and the gallop-friendly parcours in Qatar, does she consider this a career-best opportunity to become world champion?
“Probably!” she exclaims with a laugh. “I mean, I am not sure how long I will keep riding for. And we don’t really know what the world championship courses are going to be like post Norway. So I don’t know when another Chloe Hosking-friendly world championship course will come.”
The next logical question is this one: what would it mean to her to pull on a rainbow jersey?
“I have been asked this a few times,” she smiles. “I can’t comprehend it. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. I still have to race the bike race. I will think about it if I am pulling it on…”
A new approach in 2017
Whatever happens in Qatar, things are going to change in 2017. Hosking has had a monster season but rather than following the same template next year, she’s decided to change things around. She’s been content to be living in Europe since she was 18 years of age but, as time has passed, she has found this a little more difficult to do.
One factor is family and friends. Another is her fiancé, who has a job in Australia. Being apart from him for long stretches of time is as mentally exhausting as races are physically draining, and she wants to make changes.
She’s found a way to make that happen.
She has signed for the Alé Cipollini Galassia team for 2017 and, as part of that deal, she will spend blocks of time in Australia, training there before heading to Europe to race.
“It seems contradictory, but I want more structure. So that is what I went looking for when I was looking for a team next year. I found it, and I found a home, in Cipollini,” she said.
“I got engaged this year and as I said, I am getting more and more homesick the longer I am over here. So I wanted to be able to have really concentrated racing blocks in Europe and then spend a lot of time in Australia training and preparing.
“I am going to end up spending a six week block in spring, then going home to Australia, then coming back in June for the second half of the season. I may go home again, I am not sure yet.”
In announcing the deal, her Cipollini team said that it was happy to agree to the terms. It believes that careful planning should help make the year a successful one for both the Australian rider and also the squad itself.
“It is an unorthodox approach,” she admits. “We will see if it works. I have had some of the Australian girls say to me, ‘Chloe, you better not screw this up for us!’ So I think I am a guinea pig. They are thinking the same thing. Hopefully it all works out…”
As was the case throughout the interview, Hosking delivered the answer with a laugh. Indeed her responses were peppered with that emotion: she may be one of the best riders in the world, she may be one of the big favourites for Saturday’s road race, but she was staying grounded.
Relaxed and friendly, Hosking finished the interview and went outside La Fabrica. Before posing for photographs she played with a small pug dog for a couple of minutes. Again, more smiles.
If she was feeling nerves in the days before the women’s world championships, she certainly wasn’t showing it.