Georgia Baker has sealed a flawless Australian team performance, winning the Commonwealth Games road race at Birmingham 2022.
Sarah Roy placed third in the sprint finish to put two Aussies on the podium, no less than what they deserved after controlling the 112km race from start to finish.
“It was a real team effort,” Baker said after receiving her gold medal. “We had a race plan, it was for me to win, and they executed it so well.
“I wish I could split this in six. It was a real credit to the team, I’m glad I could pull it off for them.”
Australia had been pre-race favourites to defend their 2018 Commonwealth title and add a third road cycling gold from three events.
The entire squad started as genuine medal threats: Australia had arguably the three fastest finishers on paper – Baker, Alexandra Manly and Ruby Roseman-Gannon – plus three of the strongest all-rounders in Roy, Brodie Chapman and time trial gold medallist Grace Brown.
The onus, therefore, was on rival nations to put the green and gold under pressure – a difficult task on the pancake-flat course around Warwick.
Despite repeated attacks from England (especially Anna Henderson), New Zealand (Ella Harris), Canada (Alison Jackson) and South Africa (Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio), the Australians were always there where it counted. No move gained more than a few hundred metres before being shut down by a fluorescent yellow jersey.
When a breakaway did achieve separation with 40km remaining, Melbourne’s Ruby Roseman-Gannon was among them, policing the move before Roy bridged from the peloton and neutralised any danger.
Ultimately, the race served up the expected bunch sprint, which played right into the hands of the Australian squad.
Their lead-out began with under 10km to go, when Manly brought up a well-rested Baker from the back of the peloton, where she’d been keeping out of trouble.
First Brown, then Chapman, and finally Roseman-Gannon set a hard pace to prevent attacks and keep their teammates at the head of affairs.
Manly took over with just under 1km remaining – a little farther than ideal, perhaps, but she had the strength to sustain it – before swinging aside to deliver Baker a clear run to the finish with 300m to go.
It was a long sprint, but the Tasmanian had the staying power to hold off Scotland’s Neah Evans in a drag race on opposite sides of the road.
The 27-year-old, who is from Northern Districts Cycling Club near Launceston, powered home to add the road race gold to her points race victory last week.
“There was a little bit of pressure coming in. We knew that we had one of the strongest teams here,” Baker said.
“The girls did an amazing job covering all the moves, making sure it was a bunch sprint. For them to nail the final lead-out made my ride so easy, I finished with fresh legs and that was the goal.”
She counted herself “fortunate” to be a member of this Commonwealth Games team given the depth of Australia as a cycling nation.
“All these girls are amazing and have great strengths. Within the Women’s WorldTour they’re winning races.
“When we unite and come together, I think it’s something really special,” Baker said.
To put the cherry on top, Sydney’s Sarah Roy, who had followed Baker in the lead-out train – ostensibly as a sweeper – kept following all the way to the bronze. It was a just reward for her work earlier in the race and these Games, where she’d placed highly in the individual pursuit and road time trial.
Like Baker, Roy had nothing but praise for her teammates.
“This was an entire team result, for sure. Everyone put in, and everyone was on the ball all day,” Roy said.
“Attacks were being thrown all day. All the nations had to do it, they had a crack, but we were there in every move.”
Roy acknowledged her teammates had left personal ambition at the door.
“We have a lot of sprinters in the team that could’ve won today. We decided on a plan together and we all bought into the plan. Everyone pulled their weight today, committed one hundred per cent, and there was no question.
“We could all trust each other one hundred per cent.”
Baker becomes the first cyclist since Kathy Watt in 1994 to win the road race after winning on the track at the same Commonwealth Games.
“I think the way Australia’s developing and going forward, we should be able to do this more in the future and support each other with ambitions on the track and on the road,” Baker said.
It’s Australia’s 11th cycling gold at Birmingham 2022, with the men’s road race still to be decided.