Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

Australia’s Olympic cyclist Grace Brown: ‘If I come fourth, I’ll be disappointed’ | Kieran Pender
Cycling Sport

Australia’s Olympic cyclist Grace Brown: ‘If I come fourth, I’ll be disappointed’ | Kieran Pender

Australian cyclist Grace Brown finished fourth in the women’s individual time trial at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. She missed a spot on the podium, and a coveted Olympic medal, by a mere seven seconds.

Brown has been making up for lost time ever since. At the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in mid-2022, she won gold; at the world championships a month later, on home soil in Wollongong, she claimed the silver medal. It was more of the same at last year’s world championships, again finishing second, and post-Tokyo Brown has won three consecutive national time trial titles.

Indeed since the last Olympics, across nine individual time trials, Brown has only finished off the podium once – fourth on stage eight of last year’s Tour de France Femmes.

All of which leaves Brown on the precipice of an Olympic medal in late July, when she rolls down the start ramp in cycling’s first event of the Games, just a day after the opening ceremony. Three years of hard work have come to this – a race against the clock around the streets of Paris, across 32.4 km of flat terrain.

“It’s reached the point in the season where now the proper work towards the Olympics starts,” Brown says from Europe, where she is based. “It’s scary, I guess. The Olympics is daunting. But I think I’m ready.”

Brown heads towards Paris in good form. Last month she won the one-day Spring Classic Liège–Bastogne–Liège, becoming the first Australian woman to win one of cycling’s five “Monuments”. “That was the best feeling, of any of my wins,” she says. “It was a big moment.”

Brown during 10th La Vuelta Femenina last month.View image in fullscreen

From here, following a busy period of racing, she will begin to fine-tune her time trialling. Brown has been to Paris to review the course, understand its demands and begin to think through equipment choices. She will also consider her pacing strategy – for the first time at the Olympics, the men’s and women’s time trial courses and distance will be the same.

The Australian will spend the coming weeks rehearsing the course in her mind. “Where can I focus on putting down the power, where can I gain time?” she says. “Where can I recover? Where are the technical corners? Where are the pavers or cobblestones? It’s really just trying to get as much knowledge so I can mentally rehearse it, simulate it in training, and do what I need to do so that when I’m there on race day, it’s like auto-pilot.”

Brown is making up for lost time in more ways than one. The Victorian was a runner through high school and university, only turning to cycling in 2015 following successive injuries. Just 18 months later she had a breakthrough victory at the Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania, and soon found herself a member of the national team. Brown has quickly become one of the best cyclists in the world – progressing at a pace that belied her inexperience on the bike.

“I felt like I had catching up to do,” she says. “I’ve always had the engine, from my running – I was quickly able to build my strength on the bike. But the technical side of things has been a real mental challenge, you have to push yourself, put yourself in uncomfortable situations. You can never really make up for the years you haven’t been racing.”

Grace Brown on a podium at last year’s Tour Down Under.View image in fullscreen

Another consequence of her late turn to cycling is that Brown already had a life, and a partner, in Australia before moving to Europe to race professionally. Unlike other Europe-based Australian cyclists, Brown splits her time between Australia and Europe, typically returning to Australia mid-season to spend time with her husband. But this year her usual block to head home is being taken up with altitude training, meaning Brown will barely see her partner until the Olympics.

skip past newsletter promotion

“I’ve had to make that sacrifice this year,” she says. “It’s hard. But when you make sacrifices, it makes you even more determined to make it worthwhile.” Brown adds that it is a sacrifice for her partner, too. “It’s probably harder for him being the one left at home,” she says. “But he’s good at distracting himself.”

Three years after the heartbreak of Tokyo, and having had an almost unblemished time trial run since, Brown knows that expectations are high (she will also contest the road race for Australia). But with tough competition in Paris, she appreciates that going one better than her two world championship silver medals will be no small task.

“There are four of us that stand out in the event, and it’s hard to rank who is going to be first and who is going to be fourth,” she says. “So in my mind I’m just as likely to win as to come fourth, depending on how everyone shows up on the day. I’m racing for the gold medal, and if I land on the podium that’s still a success. If I come fourth out of four, I’ll be disappointed.”

The individual time trial is an unusual discipline in being a race that is as much a battle against an athlete’s own mind than rivals, a test of mental fortitude as much as physical strength. Brown knows that in two months’ time, her Olympic aspirations could hinge on her inner demons.

“You go out there and try to execute your plan,” she says. “But inevitably at some stage the brain kicks in and goes: ‘OK, this really hurts, maybe I can go a little easier for this bit, or maybe I’m not going that good anyway, maybe if I’m not close to the win, what’s the point?’ You’re having these internal battles.”

But then Brown’s experience will kick in. She was seven seconds off the podium in Tokyo, just five seconds off gold at last year’s world championships. “I was so close to winning,” she says. “Reminding myself the whole way through the race, that you have to keep giving everything, you can’t hesitate, you can’t doubt you have a chance to win.”

Source: theguardian.com