January 29, 2020
Australian women’s road cycling is riding back into the spotlight, with the running of the nation’s first Women’s WorldTour race in and around Geelong on Saturday adding yet another reason to be optimistic in the years to come.
Australia has long punched above its weight when it comes to women’s cycling, particularly through the late 90s to mid 2000s. The top race series, the World Cup at that time, was then a fixture on the Australian calendar and the nation’s riders were almost as much of a fixture at the top end of the rankings. Now that strength and consistency looks to be rebuilding.
For the last three years Australia have been on the podium at the women’s road race at the World Championships, WorldTour team Mitchelton-Scott have held firm in the top three of the world rankings and the nation has consistently been in the top five. Current Australian champion Amanda Spratt has also emerged as a serious contender for the prestigious 10-day Giro Rosa and the Mitchelton-Scott rider is bound to be one to watch at the Olympics.
The stepping stones to help new riders reach that top level are also growing. International racing returned to Australian shores at the Santos Women’s Tour in 2016, giving domestic riders the chance to ride alongside, and be spotted by, some of the top teams in the world. Since the reintroduction of international racing the number and level of the women’s UCI-ranked events in Australia has continued to climb. Now one has reached the very top, with the elite event at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race joining the Women’s WorldTour.
The return of the highest level of women’s racing to Australia is another feather in the cap that both recognises the nation’s position on the world cycling stage and is likely to help enhance it even further.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to have a WorldTour event here in Australia which obviously brings the best to our shores so we can see what it is like and what we need to aspire towards,” says Donna Rae-Szalinski, the directeur sportif of the Australian national team during the summer of racing who has long played a pivotal role in the development of Australian cyclists. “It is just a brilliant opportunity.”
An opportunity that Australia seems perfectly positioned to take advantage of. When the nation’s top professional riders return from overseas, motivated, in form and determined to take out a national title in January they have faced fierce opposition from the current crop of domestic riders. In fact there have been a few upsets recently, with the most spectacular coming last year when an 18 year-old student, Sarah Gigante, won the overall at the Under-23 and elite road race.
This year Gigante again surprised, securing victory at the time trial. Then after an impressive performance at the Lexus of Blackburn Bay Crits, Ruby Roseman-Gannon came close to delivering another Road National Championships upset. The 21-year-old crossed the line just centimetres behind criterium winner Chloe Hosking, who has long been one of Australia’s top performers.
“It is phenomenal to see so many young women coming through and the depth of Australian women’s cycling,” said Hosking after winning the national criterium title earlier this month. “You saw it with Sarah Gigante both last year and this year and Ruby at Bay Crits and second today. It is really great to see that depth coming through and it is just really, really promising for the future growth and development of Australian women’s cycling.”
Gigante has now signed up to pro team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank and a Women’s WorldTour racing debut in Geelong is bound to help ease the transition into a life overseas as a professional cyclist. Roseman-Gannon will also be rubbing shoulders with the world’s best, riding at the Deakin University Elite Women’s Race after snagging a spot in the KordaMentha Australian national team.
On top of the benefits for Australia’s current crop of up-and-coming riders, there is also the meaning of the race to promising future riders who are as yet relatively unknown. They will have the chance to stand on the sidelines to see and speak to their idols at a time when their cycling dreams are just forming.
“There’s nothing like having role models to aspire to where you can understand what makes them tick and how you can actually position yourself,” says Tracey Gaudry, president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation and chair of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) women’s commission. “It gives the Australian cycling community and aspiring female athletes the opportunity to say ‘this is real, it’s hard – because cycling is one of the most difficult sports there is in the world – but it’s achievable and Australia is behind me’.”