20/04/2024
Grace Brown at the 2020 World Championships in the Individual Time Trial

Grace Brown at the 2020 World Championships in the Individual Time Trial. Credit: Grace Brown - Twitter

Grace Brown is one of the rising stars of women's cycling as she races for Team BikeExchange. She will play a key role at Tokyo 2020 for the Australian women's road race team.

Grace Brown was late to cycling, but now she is making up for lost time. She has quickly become one of the best climbers in the peloton and will be showing her wares as an attacking rider for the Golden Girls.

Read about the team, and her teammates Tiffany Cromwell and Amanda Spratt here.

Grace Brown only turned to cycling while studying at university, but quickly found the right gear. She’s since become a rising star of the sport and will carry plenty of Australian hopes at Tokyo 2020.

“I was a runner basically all my childhood, from primary school through high school and while I was at uni,” Brown said.

“I didn’t start cycling until I was 23 when I was a bit riddled with injuries from running and fed up with the process.”

Meteoric Rise

Just six years after her first year racing with St Kilda Cycling Club, Grace Brown is lining up for the Olympics. She finished second in both the road race and the time trial in 2021, backing up her strong performance in 2020 (second and third respectively.)

In 2019, Brown joined Mitchelton-Scott (an evolution of the Greenedge program), where she immediately made an impression, becoming the National Champion in the Time Trial.

On top of her emerging prowess as a time triallist, Brown started to raise eyebrows as a climber, finishing highly in the mountains classifications at the Women’s Tour Down Under and OVO Energy Women’s Tour.

October 2020 really showed Brown’s star was further on the rise. In the space of 19 days, she finished in the top 25 in 4 ‘Spring Classics’. After finishing 13th in La Fleche Wallonne, Brown finished second in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, 21st in Gent Wevelgem and 14th in the Tour of Flanders.

The highlight of the period was undoubtedly Brown’s first elite level European win, as she rode solo to break away and win Brabantse Pijl. Brown went on the attack with 18km to race, and rode across the line alone, raising her arms in triumph.  

Brown attributes much of that success to her life before cycling, both running and the rest of the life experience she has accumulated.

“Having a little bit more life experience under my belt has helped me. I would have loved to have been a junior cyclist, and had all the technical skills,” Brown explained.

“But I didn’t have that, so I have to use the other things that I’ve worked on over the past decade.

“Physiologically, I have trained the engine that I have now since I was really young.

“My few years when I finished uni and went into the corporate world, and I learned a lot there about myself and how to be successful and work hard.”  

Finding her Feet

Racing with Mitchelton-Scott meant that Brown has been part of the Australian set-up for most of her career, and enjoying the benefits that have come with it.

“It was really nice, especially for my first few years, having the Australian family around me, as that familiarity and the culture, and for Australian cycling fans, it’s more recognisable,” Brown said.

“Most Australians will be fans of the Greenedge team, rather than other teams, so it’s nice to be associated with that.”

It also meant that Brown got to ride with Amanda Spratt. Spratt feels that despite Brown’s brief cycling career so far, she’s well placed for the Olympics.

“You’ve got Sarah [Gigante] and Grace, and it’s also her first Olympic Games, she hasn’t been racing for so long, not as long as Tiff and I,” Spratt said.

“We’re quite clear about the goals there, and what we can do, and I think it’s not just about one rider in our team, we have a really strong team and that will be our strength.”

Spratt is not the only Olympic teammate that Brown has raced with. In her first year of top-flight racing, in the National Road Series, Brown raced on Holden Team Gusto. The development rider on that squad was then 16-year-old, Sarah Gigante.

Gigante idolised Brown and her teammates at that time, and took them as role models for herself.

“I was in absolute awe of those women and they were so professional. Grace is an absolute monster on the bike and a machine, so it’s really special,” she explained, when asked about being on a team with her hero.

Brown is still humble though, and still feels like a fresh rider at times.

“I’m still finding my feet in terms of being a role model, because two years ago I didn’t know anything,” Brown said.

“I’m conscious of the fact that people pay attention to what I do… so I want to make a good example of how you can be a successful cyclist and doing it in a way that’s good for your life balance and body.

“It’s still a little bit hard to get my head around it because it’s been so rapid, going from being this rookie to suddenly being named as a favourite for so many aces.

“I still see myself as the same person, but now I can do more, and others recognise my strengths more, and it’s helped me grow into my own skin a little bit.”

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Brown is not the prototypical cyclist. She spent a few years after university working in a business advisory, and IT consulting. Brown believes that the experience has helped her develop as a cyclist.

“You can really cross-pollinate a lot of the skills from business and sport, there are definitely similarities” Brown explained.

“I think the fact that I left a life in Australia that was really good, and I’m not afraid to go back to that… has given me the freedom to really go all in and fast-track things and not be afraid of failing.”

Brown’s skills from the corporate world include the ability to learn from those around her and her environments.

“I’ve picked up little things from most people along the way, and you see what other do and what works, and you choose that for yourself,” Brown said.

“I’m quite self-reflective, and I’m a bit of a big picture person, so I don’t get caught up in little details so much.”

Just the Beginning

That attitude has seen Grace Brown rise to the top of the peloton, recently shown when she finished fifth in La Course and is one of the favourites for the Giro Donne.

“For a while, I wasn’t sure how long I would do this for, because there are so many sacrifices you have to make to be over here, and competing on the other side of the world from your support network,” Brown said.

“Since I’ve been having more success, it seems much more worthwhile, and there is more purpose to my racing.”

Brown has taken to the favouritism well, showing that purpose in her racing. Her first WorldTour victory came this year at Brugge-De Panne, and third at the Tour of Flanders.

Brown’s ability as a one-day racer in particular is a key reason why she has been selected as part of the Olympic team. Her performance at La Course, where she finished fifth after a brutal finish.

Brown’s debut at the Olympics is not the end of the road either. She has plans for more racing for the rest of the year, with other targeted races.

“I have the World Championships, which is a big target of mine,” Brown said, explaining the need to reset after the Olympics.

“I’m pretty excited about them [the World Championships] being in Flanders, and then I’ll be doing Paris-Roubaix, and then the Women’s Tour of Britain.”

And 2021 isn’t the end for Brown either. Despite the late start to her career, Brown plans to race for a while yet.

“Now that I am where I’m at, I would like to race at least another two years,” Brown explained. “It’s always a matter of reassessing and seeing where I’m at, and weighing it all up.”

Where Grace Brown is currently, is a pretty impressive place for someone who only started racing six years ago. Brown’s rise gives her a good chance to rise again, at the Olympics as part of the Golden Girls, for the Australian women at the Road Race.

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