Cycling Tips Blog: The ups and downs of selection for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games
Cycling Australia recently announced the 41-rider squad that will represent Australia in various cycling disciplines at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. My name was on the list and I’m set to line-up in my second Commonwealth Games come August. In this piece for CyclingTips I write about the challenge of getting selected, what representing my country means to me, who’s on the team and how the race might unfold.
Glasgow will be my third major games – I represented Australia at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games where I won bronze in the road race behind teammate Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Armitstead, and the 2012 London Olympics – but no matter how many times I find myself in this situation the novelty never seems to wear off.
THE DREADED QUALIFICATION PROCESS
If you haven’t been through the selection process for a major Games it is hard to imagine just what the athletes go through. On several occasions I’ve likened it to the Hunger Games, but that might be a bit extreme. In retrospect it might be more similar to the silent running practices the Australian SAS forces use to see if their troops will crack.
Needless to say, the selection process for all three major Games I’ve been eligible for has never been an enjoyable experience for me. I’ve lost ample hours of sleep, had a handful of minor breakdowns, and maybe a few emotional binge eating sessions.
For the women, the selection period for the Glasgow Games started all the way back in September last year and only closed on June 1. What this means is that in that time period riders are constantly trying to get results that will meet the selection criteria — before the team is even selected you need to qualify to be considered. For the Glasgow Games a top three in any UCI-ranked race was enough to get your name on the list, or a top 10 in any World Cup, but these results are easier said than achieved. In the qualification period only six Australian women finished on the podium in a UCI race.
Winning the national championships or Oceania championships were also ways to qualify, as was being the top-ranked Australian on the UCI world ranking or the top ranked Australian in the World Cup standings. I managed to qualify virtually as soon as the qualification period opened with a win in the fifth stage of the Holland Ladies Tour last year. Then I had a string of third places in the Ladies Tour of Qatar in February and a win at Omloop van Borsele in April.
In the qualification period I managed to etch my name on to the ‘long list’ a few times, but in the end the final team selection is made by a board of selectors and if they don’t think you’re suited to the course or the team plan you won’t be going.
I can’t imagine it was easy for the board to select a team this year. With so many talented Australian women racing across so many professional teams this was the most competitive qualification process I’ve been through to date.
Sitting at dinner with some of my non-Australian cycling friends in Girona earlier this year we were discussing who might feature in the Australian squad for the Glasgow Games. We started rattling off names and by the end everyone’s initial predictions had changed markedly. There was Jo Hogan, Lauren Kitchen, Loren Rowney, Carlee Taylor, Jessie MacLean, Mel Hoskins, Shara Gillow, Felicity Wardlaw, Jessica Allen, Nettie Edmonson, Taryn Heather, Amanda Spratt, Rachel Neylan, Tiffany Cromwell, Katrin Garfoot, Chloe McConville, Peta Mullens, Amy Cure, Gracie Elvin, me and probably many others I’ve neglected to mention.
While not every rider listed met the qualification criteria I think a case could be argued for why every rider deserved to go.
In the end the six rider team selected – Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin, Shara Gillow, Mel Hoskins, Katrin Garfoot, and myself – is a mix of sprinters, one-day riders, and climbers; a diverse team needed for the Classic-like course that we’ll race in Glasgow.
Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-lululemon) will likely be the team leader; she’s an incredibly well rounded rider who does well in the classics, on the cobbles, up mountains and in time trials.
Excited and proud to be selected for my first Commonwealth Games as part of the @AusComGames Women’s Road Cycling Team. Bring on Glasgow!!
— Tiffany Jane (@tiffanycromwell) June 10, 2014
Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS) is another well-rounded rider who has shown her penchant for one-day races by winning the infamous national championship road race for the last two years. She has also been active off the front of the peloton all year — most recently she launched a solo 30km breakaway in the Boels Holland Hills Classic.
I’m so happy to announce today that I will be representing Aus at the Commonwealth Games. Thanks to all who have supported me along the way!
— Gracie Elvin (@gracieelvin) June 10, 2014
Shara Gillow (Orica-AIS) is Australia’s dominant time trialist and will be battling for gold in the time trial in Glasgow against riders like Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) and Ashleigh Moolman (South Africa). She’ll also be a crucial member of the road team, with her climbing and time trialling abilities.
Awesome to be representing Australia at the 2014 Commonwealth Games!
— Shara Gillow (@SharaGillow) June 10, 2014
Mel Hoskins (Orica-AIS) will be riding both the track and the road in Glasgow and her powerful punch and sprint will be important when the fireworks start on the short, steep power climbs that litter the circuit. If it comes to a sprint, the Hoskins/Hosking duo will be hard to beat in my opinion.
Then there’s Katrin Garfoot who not so long ago was actually German. Katrin married an Australian a few years ago and discovered road cycling around the same time, in the past few years she’s made her mark on the national road series scene and this year came to Europe to race with the Australian national team. She immediately made an impact finishing on the general classification podium in two UCI tours. Arguably more impressive was her top 20 finish at Fléche Wallonne. With her and Shara we’ve got the climbing stocks covered. [ed. just today it was announced that Katrin Garfoot will be joining Orica-AIS for the rest of the season]
Then there’s me. I’ve shown in the past that I can finish well on courses with short, sharp power climbs like my fourth place at Ronde van Drenthe last year. Mel and I will be working together if the race comes down to a sprint in front of the People’s Palace to bring the gold medal back to Australia.
Tiffany, Shara and I made a quick trip to Glasgow after the recent Friends Life Women’s Tour with the national coach, Martin Barras. While the main reason we were there was to acquaint ourselves with the Scottish accent, the second reason was to check out the course.
It is a pretty incredible course, twisting and turning literally through the heart of Glasgow city. It is technical and if it’s wet it will most likely cause carnage in the peloton.
Just over 14km in length (the women will do eight laps) the course has three notable power climbs and one longer drag — in one lap there is just over 130 metres altitude gain. The final climb, which comes with about 3km to go, is so steep you feel like you’re falling back on yourself as you grip the handlebars and throw your weight forward to power over it.
The course almost feels like a rollercoaster, going up and then down just as quickly before sweeping left, right and finishing in front of the impressive People’s Palace.
The Brits raced on the course for their national championships last year. Lizzie Armitstead won the women’s race after breaking away with four other riders before attacking them on the last climb with just over 3km to go to finish solo. Mark Cavendish won the men’s event from a group of about 10.
The way these races played out offers great insight into how the Commonwealth Games road races may unfold — Armitstead and Cavendish will certainly be hard to beat come August.
THE LEAD UP
Cycling is one of those sports where you spend very little time with your national team — the majority of the year you’re dragging your suitcase from hotel to hotel with your trade team.
For me, very little will change in my preparation for the race. I’ll race the Giro Rosa which will help with my fitness before getting a final training block in to brush up on my speed. Then I’ll have a final ‘hit out’ at that small one-day race in Paris that was announced earlier this year; La Course by Le Tour de France.
One week before the Games the team will come together in Glasgow to train and complete our final preparations together before d-day. This is when we will all receive our uniforms and Australian cycling kits and also when it really sinks in that we’re about to represent our country at the highest level of our sport.
When you pull on the green and gold at events like the Commonwealth Games and Olympics it’s a goosebump-inducing feeling. You realise that the tedious and stressful qualification process, the hours on the bike of training and all the preparation was worth it.
The feeling I had standing on the podium in Delhi watching the Australian flag being raised for our gold and bronze medals was something I will never forget. I was so incredibly proud to be Australian and to have won a medal for my country. Hopefully my teammates and I will experience that same feeling this August.