As Grace Brown was preparing for the first leg of an Australian clean sweep of the Commonwealth Games individual time trials, the task ahead was brought into harsh focus. English rider Hayley Simmonds, a bronze medallist on the Gold Coast four years ago now working as a commentator while injured, articulated perfectly the demands of the event.
“It’s called the race of truth,” Simmonds said on the BBC. “In the end, it’s just you and the pain in your legs and thoughts in your head. You cannot hide behind your teammates. It is literally the strongest rider who will win.”
By midway through Thursday afternoon on a complex course in Black Country, Wolverhampton, the evidence was clear. Brown was the strongest woman by far. And Rohan Dennis, twice a world champion in the discipline, was finally the Commonwealth champion after posting a time of 46:21.20, with his early strength and speed critical.
In both races, English riders finished second. But that is generous to silver medallists Anna Henderson and Fred Jones. In reality there was daylight behind the Australian champions. Both gold medallists had plenty of time in the latter stages of the time trial to consider their thoughts.
Brown coasted home more than 33 seconds clear and Dennis eased late when triumphant over a field including 2018 Tour de France champion Geraint Jones by just over 26 seconds.
While Australia’s netballers suffered a shock loss to Jamaica on day seven of the Birmingham Games, Brown and Dennis rode superbly to justify their favouritism. Watching Brown, who finished fourth in the Tokyo Olympics, over the course as she reeled in rival after rival was like watching Pac-Man mow down the ghosts in the classic arcade game. The 30-year-old chewed them up and charged on in pursuit of the next target on the way to a winning ride of 40:05.20 over the weaving, hilly and tactically complex 28.8km course.
“The team didn’t tell me I was ahead until the last five kilometres, so I assumed no news was good news,” she said.
Brown came to cycling later than most. Raised in the Victorian town of Camperdown, the gateway to the Otway Ranges and Great Ocean Road, she headed off to boarding school in the big smoke as a teenager.
In Melbourne she was an outstanding athlete. Long distances were her go. She was quick enough to compete at national level, but her body was not designed for the rigours of long-distance running, with niggles and injuries ultimately frustrating her.
But her discipline to training, combined with the independence gleaned from leaving home early, served Brown well when she jumped on a bike in her early 20s. She drew fans with her aggressive, attacking riding and the wins at professional level started flowing. So strong a rider has the Australian become, Brown was the clear pick to win here.
Well before she crossed the line, it was clear the pre-race favourite was riding extremely well. As she said afterwards, she did was able to do what was expected of her. “I had the target on my back. I tried not to take on too much of the pressure of being the favourite, just staying calm and focusing on what I had to do,” she said.
Dennis claimed a silver medal in the event in Glasgow in 2014, a year he won the first to two successive world championships in team time trials. He added individual successes to his distinguished resume with successes in Innsbruck and Yorkshire in 2018 and 2019. Last year he won bronze in Tokyo. But he wanted to stand alone atop the podium with a gold medal in a major Games. Desperately.
“I’ve finally got that top step. It’s taken [me] 12 years since Delhi. The Olympics was my first individual medal at an Olympic Games, so it is hard to beat,” he said. “But it is a different feeling being on that top step. It is a little hard to compare. It is special, either way.”
At Alexander Stadium, para-wheelchair star Madison de Rozario claimed a second gold medal of the Games when adding the T54 1500m to her success in the marathon last week in a thrilling race.
The 28-year-old, who also completed the double on the Gold Coast four years ago, was able to hold off compatriot Angie Ballard in a tactical race when becoming the first Australian para-athlete to win four Commonwealth Games gold medals.
Australian world champion Eleanor Patterson and compatriot Nicola Olyslagers qualified for Saturday’s final when clearing 1.81m with their first jump. Oliver Hoare also qualified fastest for the men’s 1500m final in the morning session after recording a time of 3:37.57.
But there was disappointment for Stewart McSweyn, who was not able to start after falling ill with the flu. Fellow Australians Kathryn Mitchell and Ash Moloney have also been forced to withdraw due to illness, though Kelsey-Lee Barber is cleared to compete after recovering from Covid-19.
Sarah Edminston won a silver medal in the women’s F44 discus, continuing her strong run in international events since 2017.
Elsewhere, China-born diver Shixin Li claimed a silver medal behind England’s Commonwealth Games flag bearer Jack Laugher in a superb performance in the 1m springboard diving. The 34-year-old recorded an overall score of 437.05 points, 10 points behind the triple Commonwealth Games gold medallist.