It’s Not About The Blokes: Aussie Women’s Team Preview

by Lisa Jacobs – Ride Happy

This week, like most of the cycling world, I am getting super excited about the world champs. I love the circus of these events, and I love the fact that world champions will be decided on home soil and I don’t even need to fly anywhere to see it. But mostly, I’m excited that I get to see my friends race. The Australian women’s team is a formidable line up and will be out to do some damage. So, if you’ve got yourself a green n gold kit, a bucket of white paint and are wondering which names you need to paint on the roads, read on…

Ruth Corset: Our national champion and team leader for the road race. She can climb, she can sprint, and the Geelong course plays to her strengths. At last year’s world champs in Mendrisio she suffered a mechanical and still finished 12th… if she gets a clean run this year she’ll be one to watch. She’s a top chick too. Often mistaken for a 15 year old schoolgirl thanks to a teeny tiny build and a softly spoken demeanour, she’s actually a ruthless (no pun intended) killing machine who will be taking no prisoners on the course. The 33-year old supermum won the national road title in January in brutally hot conditions (remember the melting roads?) by attacking on the hills and leaving the rest of us in her wake. Later she admitted to vomiting and cramping on the last lap but, ‘I just gritted my teeth and went for it’. Folks, this is a girl who can dig deep. Ruth won’t have the support this time of Tibco team-mate Emma Mackie, but she does have one of the strongest Aussie teams we’ve seen supporting her and that should boost her confidence. Also cheering on the sidelines will be Ruth’s husband and two little girls. If that isn’t enough to make your heart melt, go out and get a transplant.

Vicki Whitelaw: One of Australia’s more experienced riders, Vicki will be saddling up for Australia twice next week – first for the time trial and then for the road race as a super domestique for Ruth Corset. The Lotto rider has timed her form perfectly, with recent wins in the Tour of Ardeche (GC) and Trophee d’Or (time trial stage) showing that she will be coming to Geelong in stomping shape. She must have a good coach…* Vicki started out as a time-trial specialist, but her strength now is her versatility, as well as her capacity to bury herself; she’s one of our best tour riders and a great hill climber. She is also in my top 3 list of hard women of the pro peleton. My favourite Vicki story is from last year when she was racing as a domestique for Nicole Cooke in Europe and pushed herself so hard that she actually blacked out 200m from the finish line. Respekt. In the Tour of New Zealand earlier this year, Vicki sustained serious injury in stage 1 when she got taken out by another rider on a descent. While most riders would have withdrawn, Vicki rode on, her only complaint being that the stitches in her hip were preventing her from riding at full power out of the saddle. Basically, Vicki loves anything involving pain, which makes the worlds course perfect for her. If you see her, ask her about the time at Giro Donne this year when her wheel flew out of its drops during a sprint finish…

* I should probably disclose that we share the same coach (Donna Rae-Szalinski, aka The Supercoach), along with Bridie O’Donnell and Sharon Laws (Great Britain).

Sharon Laws (GB) and Donna Rae-Szalinski in Buninyong on Sunday

Tiffany Cromwell: The only person I know who can win a jersey for Most Elegant Rider during a tour in the mud and rain (Iurreta-Emakumeen Bira, Spain, June 2010). During the Giro Donne, whenever we were called up for team presentations, the mere presence of Ms Cromwell was enough to send the announcer into a frenzy. “Teeeeeeffany Cromwelllll!” Apparently she has that effect on most Italians, which may explain why she moved to Spain this year. The 22 year old has recently signed for Lotto for 2011 and is one of the more experienced Aussies in the peleton. She’s also a versatile rider, but will show real strength on the climbs in Geelong. Expect to see her on the front of the bunch and chasing down attacks during the road race. After the race, expect to see her at the discotheque, rebuffing advances from Fabian Cancellara.

Tiffany on Willunga Hill at TdU last year

Shara Gillow: A climbing specialist, Shaz has also proven herself to be a mean time trialler, and has earned a spot for both the time trial and road races at worlds. A mechanical forced her out of contention at nationals and she’s spent the year with the Aussie team in Europe posting solid results since, including a 15th on GC at the Giro Donne. The 22 year old Queenslander comes from cycling pedigree, with father David Gillow racing in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. This is Shazza’s first worlds, and it’s my bet is it won’t be her last. Anyone who can clock up 4-hr ergo sessions is hardcore. Expect to see Shaz in the road race till the end.

Amanda ‘Spratty’ Spratt: Spratty has the respect of all the Aussies thanks to her no-fuss attitude and screw-tightening capabilities. Her speciality is the Early Breakaway – a kamikaze move which she has pulled with considerable success this year at the Grand Prix de Beauraing and the Route de France. Expect to see this signature move during worlds. Spratty has hit the European scene hard this year after spending over a year in rehab at the AIS with a chronic sciatic nerve injury. As good as the AIS dining hall is, it’s a sentence you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Spratty’s background is all bike – BMX, track and road - which gives her a complement of technical skills and a lot of experience on two wheels. She’s also one of the longest-serving national team members, despite being only 23: rumour has it she’s been with the AIS so long that they’re considering naming a residential wing after her. Spratty’s quiet determination and work ethic make her a coach’s dream, and she can be relied upon to put the team’s interests ahead of her own. Add to this a talent for reading races, and Spratty will be a valuable soldier for Team Australia.

Bridie O’Donnell: The poster girl for the world championships, Bridie has spent 2010 riding for Team Valdarno, an Italian pro team home to current world champion Tatiana Guderzo. She secured her spot on the worlds team by winning the Oceania road championships in November in a 90km solo breakaway. The Melbourne doctor followed this up with an outstanding national champs in January, where she placed 2nd in both the time trial (to Amber Halliday) and road race (to Ruth Corset). Since then she’s had a challenging year, narrowly missing selection for the worlds time trial, but riding for a European team has meant that at least now she can swear about it in 4 languages. Bridie has proven herself as a loyal domestique and there’s no question she will dig deep into the box for Ruth in the road race. Check out Bridie’s race bike if you can – a Parlee bling-a-thon with custom artwork from local outfit St Mel.

Carla Ryan: Another time triallist and mountain goat. A former cross-country runner, Carla has spent the past 2 years riding for Cervelo in Europe, playing a key domestique role for Emma Pooley. In 2009 she won the double whammy of Australian cycling - national time trialand road titles – but personal circumstances prevented her from defending her titles in 2010. It hasn’t stopped her success in Europe this year though, with wins in stages of the Tour of Ardeche and Tour de l’Aude (TTT). Her role as a domestique has meant that she’s often had to sacrifice her chances for the sake of her team, so behind those results have been many more impressive performances. Carla hasn’t raced with the Aussie girls this year, though, so will be relying on instruction more than feel to carry out her duties. Nevertheless, she’s one of the strongest riders in the Aussie outfit.

Alex Rhodes: Al has been in Aussie national teams since 2002, on both the road and the track, and is one of the most respected riders in the country. She will be contesting the time trial only at these world champs (as Oceania time trial champion) and she will certainly give them a shake. She has podiumed at both the 2008 and 2009 national titles, and was one of the favourites in 2010 but was forced out after suffering mechanicals and a flying bike. Al has consistently been one of Australia’s top time triallists over the past few years, although she escapes the ‘time trial specialist’ tag simply because she’s so bloody good at everything else. Criteriums, track racing, road racing… she’s got more national titles to her name than I can count, and she’s only 25. Watch out for Al at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Other riders to watch: My pick for the road title is Marianne Vos. She’s an unbelievable rider and the course really suits her. For the time trial, my money’s on Emma Pooley, although I think she’ll also go well on the road race course. Watch out also for Nicole Cooke – no one really knows what form she’s in right now but if she’s firing, look out – and Judith Arndt, who knows the course backward and is one of the most experienced riders out there.