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COVID-19, homesickness and doubts: Chloe Hosking puts it all behind her to take first win in 11 months

Chloe Hosking was sidelined with COVID-19 at the start of the year, leaving her wondering if she should pull the plug on her season. She didn't and now she's back to winning ways.

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Chloe Hosking has been through a lot this year.

Emotional interviews seem par for the course in 2021, but few have been as emotional as the one Hosking gave following her win at the Ladies Tour of Norway on Sunday.

Who could blame her?

Hosking has had a lot to contend with in 2021 after contracting COVID-19 during the spring. It meant she had to spend six months on the sidelines, and the Ladies Tour of Norway was her first race since Gent-Wevelgem in March.

Also read: Chloe Hosking wins final stage as Annemiek van Vleuten claims overall at Ladies Tour of Norway

The victory in Halden on stage 4 was a glimpse of the Hosking of old, leading the way in a long sprint and holding enough power to the line that her rivals could get nowhere near passing her. The emotional outpouring from Hosking at the finish was the release of the build-up of pressure, frustration, and challenges over recent months.

“I am just so proud of myself, and I am so thankful for the team throughout the whole process, who always told me there’s no pressure Chloe, come back when you’re ready,” Hosking said in Holden after her win. “So, to finish with a win in a WorldTour stage race…wow! It was all worth it, I guess.

“I definitely did not expect a win here. I could see in my training that I was coming up and coming up, but I was really looking at Norway to help me build for the races that are coming later. But honestly, I love this race, I love this stage, I have finished fourth on this stage before. I think this is my fourth try, and I finally got the line.”

Hosking signed for Trek-Segafredo over the winter, and she started her tenure with the team in solid form, taking third at Le Samyn des Dames and seventh at the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne in March.

When Hosking got the disappointing news soon after Gent-Wevelgem that she had contracted COVID-19, she had to reset her goals but hoped she would be back in short order. Her teammate Ellen van Dijk got the virus a short while after the Australian and she would be back in action at the end of May.

It wouldn’t be so simple for Hosking, and she went on to develop pericarditis (an inflammation of part of the tissue that surrounds the heart). It meant her recovery would take far longer and forced her to take it easy, something that often proves difficult for professional athletes.

“I feel like it was all worth it. There were a few months during the four and a half months I was off where I thought should I go home? Should I call the season over? I kept working hard and stayed focused and to win in my first race back is a bit surreal. It wasn’t my plan, but I’m really satisfied,” Hosking said.

Far from home

Hosking always comes across as a very relaxed rider, who takes what cycling throws at her in her stride. However, her struggles with illness this year knocked her sideways.

The lengthy lay-off and health issues were challenging for Hosking, but missing home and her family was much harder.

“It was more mentally tough,” Hosking explained. “I was never physically super sick, but I was being told that I had to take it easy. Australia is so far away, and it’s even further when we can’t get in, and my family can’t come here. So, I felt alone – really alone – for a lot of the time.”

Hosking’s comments were not a slight on the support she has received from her team over recent months, but the reality that many Australian riders — and other Australian ex-pats — are having to deal with.

Being forced to up sticks and move to Europe to pursue a professional career is difficult for all of those not from the continent but COVID-19 has made it much more challenging for many, especially the Australians. It could be difficult enough at times, but the Australian government’s strict border controls have made returning home practically impossible for local riders based in Europe.

Fellow Aussie Sarah Gigante reported having similar feelings of loneliness when she suffered a major injury at Flèche Wallonne in April.

“Suddenly Australia seemed really far away when I’m like, trying to walk through the airport,” Gigante told VeloNews in July. “With COVID, in particular, I don’t think I would have gone home anyway, but just the fact that I couldn’t go home even if I wanted to just seems to make it a little bit harder.”

Hosking and Gigante will both have to wait until the off-season to have a chance of returning home, but that could prove to be as big a challenge as coming back from illness and injury. For now, both have shaken off their injuries, and Hosking is back on the top step of a podium for the first time in almost a year.