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by Simone Giuliani and Matt de Neef
August 15, 2018
Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith and Cor Vos
Australia will go into the most climber-friendly Road World Championships in more than 20 years with teams built around Richie Porte and Amanda Spratt. Both have had a strong season, and both give Australia a genuine shot at winning a rainbow jersey come late September.
“You have got to commit — you’ve got to back a real winning strategy and you can’t compromise and I think the teams reflect that,” Simon Jones, head of Cycling Australia’s High Performance Unit, told CyclingTips.
The last World Championships that was as friendly to climbers was way back to 1995, when it was held in Bogota, Colombia. As a result, this year’s road races, held in Innsbruck, Austria, provide a rare opportunity for riders that excel when the road turns up — something Australia is well positioned for.
The steep slopes and 4,670m of climbing in the 258.5km men’s course clearly suit Australia’s Richie Porte. After crashing out of the Tour de France again this year, Porte is hoping for a reversal of fortunes at the Vuelta a España and World Championships.
“Two days after I got home from my [Tour] crash I got a text off [national selector] Brad [McGee] to say ‘Commiserations, but now let’s have a go at Worlds’, which was good for me to have that little bit of motivation in the back of the mind,” Porte said.
“It’s a great silver lining — go to the Vuelta and prepare for a once-in-a-career Worlds, really. They don’t come around like this very often.”
For the Australian women, the elevation-rich course — with 2,413 metres of climbing over 156.2km — is well suited to the experienced Amanda Spratt who, in 2018, has risen to new heights. The 30-year-old is riding with the confidence only a wave of impressive results can bring, with a string of top-five finishes at the Ardennes races, her first Women’s WorldTour stage and tour win at the hilly Emakumeen Bira, plus a stage win and third overall at the only remaining women’s Grand Tour, the Giro Rosa.
These results have taken Spratt up to fifth place on the UCI world rankings, and been a huge contributor to Australia’s rise to the world’s second-ranked cycling nation, behind the ever-powerful Dutch. It’s their team and in particular, Annemiek van Vleuten and Anna van der Breggen, who are the standout favourites.
Spratt winning on the Mengler’s Hill stage at the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under this year, to start the year with the winning form that was set to continue.
Spratt, meanwhile, is clearly focussed on Worlds as one of her key goals for the year. In fact, just days after finishing third at the Giro Rosa, Spratt was already looking ahead to Worlds.
“I know it’s a course I can go really well on and it’s going to be a climber that wins the race,” said Spratt. “[The Giro] gives me a lot of confidence for Worlds.
Cycling Australia has also enlisted Gene Bates, a long-time sports director for the Mitchelton-Scott women’s team, to work with the Australian Worlds squad, providing continuity and a familiar approach for Spratt.
To tackle the hilly course, Spratt will have a bunch of capable climbers around her. The experienced Shara Gillow, who is often near the front of the field when the road turns up, will be joined by a group of World Championship first timers: Brodie Chapman, Lucy Kennedy and Grace Brown.
All are relative newcomers to top-level cycling, with Amy Gillette scholarship holder Brown still racing domestically in Australia and Kennedy and Chapman just having made the step up to the professional ranks this year. However, they’ve all shown they’ve got what it takes to perform in competitive European fields when the road heads upward.
Brown came 21st at the mountainous La Course in July while Chapman, who is also highly proficient going downhill, finished 14th. Kennedy, despite being riddled with injury, has managed to pull off multiple top-ten finishes at Women’s WorldTour level in her very first year as a pro.
“It is nice to see some younger names or some emerging names and there is a balance in the team,” said Jones. “It shows that everyone is there through their own right, there’s no agenda other than performance and what we believe is in the best team to give us the best chance of winning.”
Experienced campaigner, Cromwell in an earlier appearance with the Australian team.
Providing the balance for that emerging contingent on the seven rider team, they’ll have the experienced Worlds rider Tiffany Cromwell as road captain and valuable domestique Sarah Roy. Roy has just helped deliver her Mitchelton-Scott teammates Annemiek van Vleuten and Spratt to the podium at the Giro Rosa this year, and has also taken wins at the OVO Energy Women’s Tour and Gooik-Geraardsbergen-Gooik.
There will not be any time trial representative for the women this year after Australia’s best hope and last year’s Worlds dual medallist, Katrin Garfoot, retired. The most obvious candidates to step into her shoes, Kennedy and Gillow, are focussed on the road race.
Porte, too will have the support of a strong Australian team. The squad will be led by experienced campaigners Simon Clarke and Rory Sutherland, who will fill the road captain role at different stages of the race. A cast of strong, young climbers make up the bulk of the squad: Jack Haig, Damien Howson, Robert Power and Chris Hamilton.
Then there’s Rohan Dennis, the time trial specialist who wore the pink leader’s jersey for four days of this year’s Giro d’Italia and who has improved his climbing considerably in recent years. Dennis will also ride the time trial, where he has the potential to podium.
There are perhaps a few surprise omissions from the men’s road race squad: Simon Gerrans, one of Australia’s greatest-ever cyclists, and Ben O’Connor, who this year won a stage at the Tour of the Alps and had a breakout Giro before crashing out. Jones told CyclingTips that Gerrans, who is retiring at season’s end, took himself out of contention. Then it came down to picking the best team to deliver their chosen strategy.
“We’ve selected people to take on specific roles,” said Jones. “We’ve not just picked athletes on individual performances, we looked at how they can implement a particular part of the strategy … to have a really clear plan.”
Men’s road race
Men’s time trial
Women’s road race
U23 men’s time trial