Australia walked into the Rio Olympics in 2016 with big targets, but walked away without the medal haul to match and it was then the drive to turn things around for the Tokyo Olympic Games began. The nation decided it was its turn to become the poacher for a change and Simon Jones, who had worked for Team Sky and British Cycling, was appointed to lead the nation’s high-performance team. Now it’s time to see what those very medal-focussed changes shall yield.
There is no shortage of riders on the Australian team who know how to deliver top results in some of the biggest races on the calendar. Richie Porte, who stood on the podium of last year’s Tour de France, will be heading the charge for Australia in the road race, while featured among the four riders in the women’s squad is Amanda Spratt, who has stood on the World Championship podium two out of the last three years.
Rohan Dennis is a rider to watch in the time trial, having worn the rainbow bands of the world champion in both 2018 and 2019. In the mountain biking Rebecca McConnell has flourished, stepping up to third in the World Championships in 2019 and 2020 while in the newly introduced sport of BMX Freestyle Logan Martin was recently crowned world champion.
Unusually, what the team doesn’t include is any reigning track world champions but, as Jones rather indelicately alluded to in a Tweet after that 2020 World Championships, the target is Tokyo. Australia walked away from the 2016 Olympic Games with one silver and one bronze medal from cycling, both coming from the track, when based on the performance of the nation’s athletes in the run up, the Australian Olympic Committee’s benchmarking study had been predicting a total of eight medals with six coming from the track. That prediction came after a bumper year at the Track World Championships in 2015, with Australia netting four gold medals and eleven in total. If Australia delivers the same inverse pattern to that displayed in Track Worlds again this time around, the nation could be in for a big Olympics.
Road race and time trial
Richie Porte, 36, will be lining up at the Olympics for a second time. Given the Tasmanian rider, who came third at the Tour de France in 2020, is well established as one of Australia’s leading climbers it’s no surprise that he’s leading the four-man squad as it attempts to secure a medal on the climb-filled course. He’s fresh off the Tour de France and given this year he raced in a support role at his Ineos Grenadiers team it is not surprising he has no spectacular results to show for his three weeks in France. He did however win the lead-in race, the Critérium du Dauphiné, a good indicator of his capabilities when racing as team leader when things run to plan. They didn’t in the last Olympics, where he crashed, so he’ll no doubt be hoping to avoid that fate this time and take advantage of another Games that is delivering a course tailor-made for the climbers. Porte is also on the start list for the time trial, a discipline where he has delivered a number of top ten results this year.
Rohan Dennis, 31, is heading to his third Olympics. He took a silver medal in his first, racing on the track as part of the Team Pursuit. He then returned at Rio on the road, focussing on the time trial but things didn’t go to plan as he looked to be heading to the podium but then a broken aero bar made a bike change necessary and he finished in fifth. Since then he has twice been the time trial world champion, winning in 2018 and 2019, but finished fifth in 2020 as a raft of fierce new competitors in the discipline stepped up. Dennis is also likely to be valuable ally for Porte in the road race, with the Ineos Grenadiers rider last year proving just what a strong support he could be in the mountainous terrain, by shepherding teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart toward the maglia rosa at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
Lucas Hamilton, 25, will be lining up for his first Olympics with the Victorian replacing Australian champion Cameron Meyer for the road race after the rider stepped aside to spend more time with his family as they dealt with his father’s illness. It has already been a big year for Hamilton, who has been moving up to a leadership role at Team BikeExchange this year. He has finished in the top ten overall at three WorldTour stage races in 2021, taking eighth at the Tour de Romandie, 10th at Volta a Catalunya, and fourth at Paris-Nice. Hamilton also lined up as his team leader at the Tour de France, though that race didn’t go quite to plan with a crash on the first stage taking time and then one on the 13th stage putting him out of the race with an injury to his right shoulder, but fortunately he recovered in time to make it to Tokyo.
Luke Durbridge, 30, was a late addition to the squad after Jack Haig crashed and broke his collarbone at the Tour de France. The Western Australian may be racing his first Olympics but he brings a large bank of experience. The rider who turned professional in 2012 has won the national time trial title four times, the road title once and has represented Australia at two Commonwealth Games. The Western Australian may not be known for his climbing ability, but he is a powerful workhorse and some of his performances in the Tour de France breaks on hilly stages bode well for his ability to hang in there when the road turns up so he can provide valuable support in the road race.
Amanda Spratt, 33, has long been earmarked as Australia’s leading contender for the Tokyo Olympic Games women’s road race as it has a course that suits and she’s a rider that’s shown an ability to deliver at big events, with podium finishes in 2018 and 2019 both at the World Championships and the Giro d’Italia Donne. The rider from New South Wales is heading into her third Olympics and while the run-in hasn’t been ideal, with some of the momentum that she seemed to have in 2018 and 2019 disappearing, as a Giro d’Italia Donne crash last year took her out of that race and the World Championships. She also had a crash at the Italian ten-day race this year, though fortunately it wasn’t bad enough to stop her making it to Tokyo.
Grace Brown, 29, will be lining up for the road race and time trial with potential to be a pivotal player in the search for medals for Australia in both. It is Brown’s third season as a professional and the former runner has come ahead in huge strides over the past year, stepping up to her first European podium in October and shortly thereafter delivering her first European win. Then this year it has been podiums aplenty as well as two Women’s WorldTour wins. with the string of results shifting her into the top ten of the world rankings. Also, in a result that bodes well for the time trial, she delivered third in the mountain time trial at the Giro d’Italia Donne.
Tiffany Cromwell, 33, will be heading to the Olympics as road captain, using her experience to guide the team in the road race. Cromwell was somewhat of a surprise selection, having herself given up hopes of being selected for an Olympic squad after more than a decade of trying. However, the rider who has ten times lined up to represent the nation at World Championships, opened the door to selection with a strong spring campaign where her value as a powerful support rider was repeatedly on display.
Sarah Gigante, 20, has for a number of years clearly shown she is a rider with enormous potential but during the Australian summer she made it quite clear that she was ready to make the step onto the world stage and start realising that potential. The Victorian, who in 2019 stepped straight out of the junior ranks and into the green and gold jersey of Australia’s elite national road race champion, won the Santos Festival of Cycling and also took out the nation’s elite time trial title for a second year running. She then had a solid start to her European campaign before breaking her collarbone, elbow and fibula at La Flèche Wallonne. Fortunately, the timing of her recovery has left her ready to start racing again at Tokyo, where she will line up in the road race and the time trial.
Rebecca McConnell, 29, is set to represent the nation for a third time at the Olympics and in 2021 she’s entering the race with strong form and results behind her. The rider from the Australian Capital Territory, who finished 25th in London and had to withdraw during the race in Rio, has also raced two Commonwealth Games with her best finish a bronze medal in 2014. In the past two years at the World Championships the Australian has also taken the third spot and has also been delivering strong results at this year’s World Cups, including a third place at Nove Mesto.
Dan McConnell, 35, is heading to his fourth Olympics with the husband and wife team the sole representatives of the nation in the dirt discipline. McConnell’s best Olympic result to date is 16th at Rio, which he achieved despite a broken wheel. The rider who claimed second in the 2013 World Cup series has also represented Australia at multiple Commonwealth Games, claiming bronze in 2014.
Kaarle McCulloch, 33, is the sole remaining member of the women’s track sprint team selected for Tokyo following the retirement of Stephanie Morton, as there isn’t a strong pipeline in the discipline. That means she won’t be in a position to take on the team sprint, an event where Morton and McCulloch had taken gold and silver during the 2019 and 2020 World Championships. It is also the event where she won bronze with Anna Meares in 2012. Recent top results outside the team sprint include a silver in the Keirin and bronze in the time trial at the 2019 World Championships.
Matthew Glaetzer, 28, has already twice represented Australia at the Olympic Games and the two-time world champion has finished just one spot from a medal-winning position perhaps more times than he’d like to be reminded of. In his two appearances at the Commonwealth Games, he has taken three gold medals but his biggest career victory has to be returning to form and lining up for the Olympics after spending late 2019 being treated for thyroid cancer.
Nathan Hart, 28, rode at Rio, finishing fourth in the Team Sprint with Glaetzer and Patrick Constable. The rider from Canberra has also represented his nation at two Commonwealth Games with the first in 2014 where he won bronze in the Team Sprint and then on Australia’s Gold Coast where he picked up third again. At the 2020 World Championships, it was another third, which was Australia’s highest finish in the event at Worlds in eight years.
Matthew Richardson, 22, was a British born athlete who moved to Australia and was spotted by the Western Australia Institute of Sport. Originally a gymnast, Richardson made the shift to South Australia to join the Cycling Australia Podium Potential Academy and he was selected to race for the nation at the 2019 World Championships. Then in 2020 at the event, he won bronze, alongside Hart and Thomas Cornish, in the Team Sprint.
Annette Edmondson, 29, is heading to her third and likely last Olympic Games and claimed a bronze in the six-leg Omnium in London. A training crash among the women’s Team Pursuit squad spoiled the team’s chances of going for a medal in Rio, with Edmondson the only one avoiding coming down. After Rio, she took a year out from track to focus on the road before turning her attention back in 2018. She then won gold as part of the Team Pursuit squad at the Commonwealth Games and also won bronze in the Individual Pursuit.
Alexandra Manly, 25, will be lining up for the track endurance squad in her first Olympics but she has represented Australia in the Commonwealth Games, another member of the gold medal-winning Team Pursuit. The Western Australian was also the 2019 World Champion in that discipline and the Points race.
Ashlee Ankudinoff, 30, has a long track record in the team pursuit, winning her first World Championships title in the event in 2010 and then again in 2015. Rio was the Sydneysider’s first Olympics and she’s also competed in two Commonwealth Games, earning gold in 2018 through the team pursuit. Then at the 2019 World Championships, she added another two world titles, taking victory in the team and individual pursuits.
Georgia Baker, 26, lined up in Rio and the training crash amid the team pursuit squad was just one of the many obstacles Baker had to overcome around that time. Losing her father suddenly to a heart attack in 2015, the young rider then in 2017 was diagnosed with her own heart condition, requiring surgery. She was quickly back, though, and the Tasmanian was part of the gold medal-winning Commonwealth Games team pursuit squad in 2018 and the world title-winning team in the discipline in 2019.
Maeve Plouffe, 22, is a four-time national champion that won team pursuit gold at the Track World Cup in Brisbane when she lined up alongside Ankudinoff, Edmondson, Manly and Baker. Her first World Championships was in 2020 and Tokyo will be the first Olympics for Plouffe, who is from New South Wales.
Alex Porter, 25, is another rider who has raced and succeeded at the Commonwealth Games, taking gold in the Team Pursuit with a World Record, but is a first time Olympian. The South Australian used to be a football player till he was spotted in a talent identification program and encouraged to take to the boards. In 2016 he took his first Team pursuit world title, delivered again in 2017 and 2019.
Kelland O’Brien, 23, started out riding the BMX while growing up in Victoria, then tried mountain biking and road before settling into track cycling. In 2017 when he moved into the elite ranks he quickly took his first world title in the Team Pursuit and took bronze in the Individual Pursuit. He was part of the Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning squad too and then in 2019 they broke the World Record again while winning another Team Pursuit world title. O’Brien also came second in the road race at Australia’s Road National Championships this year and third in the time trial.
Leigh Howard, 31, moving back to the track after time on the road Howard was part of the 2018 Commonwealth Games squad that scooped up gold in the Team Pursuit. He had success on the track earlier in his career, taking silver in the Omnium at the 2008 Track World Championships and winning the title in 2009. Then in 2010 and 2011, he raced alongside Cameron Meyer to claim the Madison.
Luke Plapp, 20, stepped into the track limelight when just before the 2018 Junior World Championships James Moriarty broke his collarbone and Plapp stepped in, winning gold in the Points Race and Madison as well as bronze in the Team Pursuit. Then when O’Brien broke his collarbone before the 2020 Track World Championships Plapp again stepped up and filled his role in the Team Pursuit and now he is set to make his Olympic debut with the squad. The rider who impressed at the Santos Festival of Cycling and then went onto win the elite Australian time trial national title, even though he is still an under 23 rider, is expected to turn professional on the road following the Olympics.
Sam Welsford, 25, was a part of the winning Team Pursuit squad at the 2016 World Championships and then went onto represent the nation in Rio, reaping a silver medal in the event. Then in 2018, it was Team Pursuit gold at the Commonwealth Games and he was also part of the team that went on to break their own world record at the 2019 World Championships. He also won the men’s Scratch.
Anthony Dean, 30, made it to the finals of the BMX racing in 2016, winning each of his semi-finals but then getting caught up in traffic and finishing eighth. Since then the South Australian has taken sixth in the 2019 BMX World Championships and second place in the Shepparton World Cup in 2020.
Lauren Reynolds, 30, is lining up at her third Olympics with the West Australian having made her debut in London, though she crashed in the final. In Rio, she finished 11th overall after missing out on the final. She qualified for a spot on her third Australian Olympic Team with two top-6 finishes at the Shepparton BMX Supercross World Cup in 2020.
Saya Sakakibara, 21, will be making her Olympic debut in BMX racing. The Queenslander has already made a mark in Tokyo, taking gold at the Olympic Games test event. The Japanese-born rider – who is currently ranked seventh in the World and took silver in a World Cup round in Shepparton in 2020 – was hoping to line up alongside her older brother though she had to continue working toward her Olympic dream without him. After a horrible accident at a World Cup round in New South Wales Kai Sakakibara was left with a traumatic brain injury, but he has made it to Tokyo to see his sister realise their shared dream, as he is carrying the Paralympic flame in the torch relay.
Logan Martin, 27, will be one of the nine riders lining up in the men’s BMX Freestyle, which has just been introduced to the Olympic Games, and what’s more he’s doing it fresh from a World Championships win in France. It’s not his first world title as the Queenslander has a long history of top performances in the sport, including winning the International Festival of Extreme Sports in 2015 and 2016 and taking silver in his debut X-Games in 2016 – an event he went on to win dual gold at in 2019.
Natalya Diehm, 23, has managed to make her way back to represent Australia in the BMX Freestyle after a fourth knee reconstruction. The three-time national champion who was contemplating walking away from the sport will instead be making her debut at the Games, along with the sport, as one of nine women competing in its first Olympic showing.