Good Results from the 2012 Track National Championships
What a championships!!!! I have finished these Nationals with nothing but a smile. I managed to go better than I’d hoped I would and I’m feeling very positive given the significance of this ‘Olympic’ year.
My first event was the Individual Pursuit. This was a very important race for all the track endurance women as it could be the difference between confirming your spot in the team for the London World Cup or not. With the Olympics as the ultimate goal along with the Melbourne World Championships, this final World Cup is an important one to gain a ride at. It will mean you are in a better position when looking at the team to be selected for the World Championships, as well as gaining crucial experience against your international competitors. Along with trials and constant scrutiny at training for the three weeks leading to the National Championships, the Individual Pursuit was also going to be taken into consideration.
My previous personal best time over 3km was 3min37seconds, which I posted at the 2011 track nationals during the Omnium. Josephine Tomic was the defending Individual Pursuit champion, last year posting a time of 3:34. When my coach mentioned that he thought I could do a 33, I literally gasped- a ‘33’ was 4 seconds faster than I’d ever gone before. I hadn’t seen my times at training, so I didn’t know exactly where I was at. I had been feeling good at training and my weight had dropped to 64kgs, the lightest I had been in a long time (I wasn’t dieting, so this could only mean that my training was working; I was getting fitter). As we got closer to the event, I was starting to believe in myself more and more. I wanted to ride a 3:34, but a 3:33 would be the ultimate goal.
My coach Tim Decker and I decided that I would try and ride the qualifying round at a 3:34.5 pace, a pace that I was confident I could do. I was riding a big gear as it was a hot, fast track. My race plan was to get on top of the gear, then settle in for the first kilometre, keep it smooth for the second and then hold on for the third. It’s almost inevitable that female riders will die off towards the latter part of an Individual Pursuit, especially in my case coming from a sprinting background. But that was the plan, I’d go by feel and use Tim (who was ‘walking the line’) as a guide.
I was in the third-last heat, against Sarah Kent. Being in the 3rd-last heat wasn’t ideal, as you don’t know what time it’s going to take to qualify for the final – whereas the last two riders (in the final heat) just have to beat the fastest time set before their heat. I had to ride a fast time and that was that.
Every Individual Pursuit feels the same to me. Every race you are giving it everything you’ve got for three kilometres. The only thing that differs is the time. Last time I did a pursuit was in the Omnium at Nationals in December. I went out in a 1:10 kilo (which is fast for a woman) but I didn’t have the fitness to finish it at that pace, blowing out to a 1:17 final kilometre, resulting with a 3:39 pursuit. This time, I went out at a 1:10 pace, but HAD the fitness to keep it going. I did slow down a bit, but nowhere near as badly as 2 months ago. My kilometre splits were 1:10 then 1:09, finishing with a 1:11. I finished with a 3:30.5!!!!!! This was far faster than I’d ever hoped to go and it didn’t sink in for hours after the event. A week later and I’m only just starting to recognise the significance of this time. I had broken the Australian “All-Comer’s-Record” – a record that marks the fastest time ever ridden in Australia, by a person of any nationality. This record had been set by New Zealander, Sarah Ulmer and had stood for eight years. The only Australian to beat that record was Katie Mactier when she rode at the 2004 Athens Olympics. This was incredible. I had achieved a mark that I hadn’t even considered reaching, let alone this year.
The reason it took so long to sink in however, was because I wasn’t the National Champion. I had set out that morning to win the Individual Pursuit and after qualifying fastest, that meant coming back out to the velodrome at 7:30 that night to verse Ashlee Ankudinoff who had qualified 2nd in her own personal best time of 3:32.
I was nervous. I could not stop thinking about the race to come. I had never qualified for a pursuit final at a national level before and therefore had never had a chance to ‘race’ a rider for the title. Times are irrelevant in a Pursuit final, once you have qualified for the gold/silver all you need to do is beat your opponent and the gold medal is yours. The same method is applied for the bronze/4th ride-off. I put all these ideas behind me and focused on the fact that I was in the form of my life and had two seconds to play with over Ankudinoff. I was in the best position and knew that Ankudinoff would be going through the exact same mind-games as I was, only worse.
The crowd was huge that night in the velodrome. And it consisted almost entirely of South-Australians. I had a feeling support would be on my side that night. It was hotter, faster and anticipation was building. I went through the exact same processes as before the qualifying. My warm up, kitting-up and timing was the same. My bike was locked into the starter’s gate and before I knew it, the countdown was running and I was looking at my coach, just as I had done some five hours earlier. “Exactly the same as you did before”, were his last words. I knew what to do; just that- exactly the same as I had done before. Which is almost what happened; I went faster! I rode another 3:30, but was half a second faster, clocking a time of 3:30.071. What was going on?!! It is so completely unusual for females to be able to back up and do a similar time in a final (if it’s held on the same day) let alone go faster. This was completely unexpected and so positively uplifting, but not as uplifting as finding out I was the new Australian Individual Pursuit Champion!!!! Ankudinoff posted a time of 3:37, which left me in 1st, Ankudinoff 2nd and Josephine Tomic in 3rd.
What a day. I hadn’t just won, I had smashed my own personal best time for the Individual Pursuit by over 7 seconds and had broken the All-Comers record twice. This was far beyond where I’d hoped to be at that stage of my life and I was ecstatic. I couldn’t celebrate for too long though as I had the National Point Score to race the following evening.
The Point Score was the next thing on my list to have a good crack at. I had never had an excellent Point Score before and I really wanted to step up and demonstrate that I can also be a good ‘bunch-racer’.
A Point Score is a race where there is a ‘sprint’ every ten laps, with points awarded to the first four riders across the line (5, 3, 2 and 1). If someone manages to gain a lap on the rest of the field, they will get an additional twenty points added to their score. If someone loses a lap, they will have twenty points subtracted. The rider with the most points at the end of the race is the winner.
I felt positive about this 100-lap race. I was in good form and I had nothing to lose. I just wanted to go out there and have a crack. My goal was to ‘chip-away’ at the sprints and if a ‘move’ went, to try and follow it and be at the front of the race. I also had my South Australian teammate Sinead Noonan riding alongside me, whose aim was to ‘ride for herself’ in the first half and if things weren’t working for her she’d help me out in the last fifty laps. I ‘sat in’ for the first sprint, allowing other riders to ‘battle it out’ for the points. I figured a lot of riders would fight for the first sprint, so the second one might be easier to win. Sarah Kent took out the first sprint and I managed to win the 2nd sprint, along with the third. I was feeling good and was starting to get really comfortable within the race. Sarah Kent tried to get away a couple of times, along with a few riders from the ACT; but all of these attacks were brought back – much to my advantage. In the fourth sprint, I came second to Ashlee Ankudinoff. This was ok because I felt that she had so much speed that I may as well save some of my energy and ‘sit on’ the wheel to get second. I didn’t want to burn myself trying to win that sprint as there was a high possibility of not getting around her.
Unfortunately, the scoreboard had stopped working as a result of lightning hitting the power-box at the velodrome. This meant that we all didn’t know where we were sitting in the scheme of things. We didn’t know who was winning and which other girls had enough points to threaten the title. Along with help from my South Australian teammate Sinead Noonan, I managed to win the fifth and sixth sprints and was feeling relatively confident about my standings in the race, however after this sprint, the pace eased up and Western Australian Sarah Kent saw a great opportunity to attack and ‘get away’. ACT cyclist Rebecca Wiasak responded to this attack and bridged across to work alongside Sarah. They had half a lap on the field and were getting further and further away. Everyone was pretty stuffed from the sprints and each time someone tried to chase Sarah or Rebecca down, one of their WA or ACT teammates would jump straight onto us and keep us from getting away. Before we knew it, Sarah and Rebecca had ‘taken a lap’ and were therefore awarded twenty points to their name. They had also taken out the points from the seventh sprint whilst taking their lap, so without a scoreboard we had no idea who was in the lead. I was certain they were in front of me and I had no idea if I still had a chance at winning the ‘damn thing!’ I was really starting to hurt, I no-longer felt comfortable and each sprint was taking more and more out of me.
I managed to pull something out to win the eighth sprint, but boy was I hurting. The only thing that was keeping me going was seeing how much my competitors were hurting. Sarah Kent had just taken a lap! Of course she would be hurting more than me. I just had to keep my cool and give it everything I had. Amidst all the scoreboard confusion, my coach Tim Decker had managed to do the math whilst standing on the inside of the track waiting in the ‘spare wheel zone’. He yelled out that I was 4 points behind Sarah. Crap!! It was close! But I still had a chance to win it. I would need to win BOTH of the next two sprints. I could only tell that much, ‘win the two sprints and the title will be yours’. I managed to get myself into a good position coming up with ten laps to go and won the ninth sprint despite searing legs. Sarah didn’t place in the ninth sprint, which meant that I must be one point in front of her. I wasn’t able to calculate this at that point in the race because I was hurting so badly I couldn’t concentrate! But luckily everybody else was also feeling the pain at this stage, with no-one attempting to raise the pace. Sinead Noonan sat on the front, controlling the race, as the rest of the riders sat behind her, all riding at the top of the track, high above the blue, not wanting to feel the wind on their faces. The bunch size had drastically reduced throughout the race, with only half of the fifteen starters remaining. It was all going to come down to one last, final sprint.
Sinead swung off the front of the bunch and came back to find me struggling near the back of the field. As the riders were still in a single-file succession, near the top of the track, it left a big gap free at the bottom of the track. Sinead did exactly what a great teammate would, dropping down beneath the rest of the riders, with me on her wheel. With three laps to go, she had hit the front of the bunch, in the perfect position to give me a lead-out for the final sprint. Startled riders started to try and ride around us, but it was too late. Sinead was going at a high enough pace, that with me ‘protecting’ her from behind, by moving up and keeping riders on my hip, they struggled to come around. With one lap to go, I knew this was it. I jumped out of the saddle as Sarah Kent tried to come around me, rode around Sinead (whose race was now finished) and led the final sprint all the way till the finish. I just managed to hold on, with Sarah getting second across the line.
I had WON!! By a mere three points!!!! I couldn’t believe it! I was so stuffed, in that much pain, but it had all been worth it! Thanks to some imperative support from a wonderful teammate; Sinead Noonan, I had won my first major points race!!! And boy what an exciting race it was. For a 100 lap race to consist of riders taking laps and other riders focused on sprints, for it to come down to the last of ten sprints to determine gold from silver was ‘bloody brilliant’! It was also great that the racing was broadcasted live on SBS, so for those who stereotype women’s bunch racing as being ‘boring’, I know we gave them a run for their money! Rebecca Wiasak’s efforts taking the lap with Sarah had also payed off, with her winning the bronze medal.
I had made it two from two, but naturally, with my final race the next day; the women’s scratch race, I wanted to add one more to the tally! The race wasn’t until 7:30 that night so I had all day to rest up from the day before. Luckily I woke up with a bit more energy than I had going to bed the night before, so by the time I got to the track I was ready for one more race of the national championships.
The scratch race involved a few attacks, with a lot of ‘looking around’ and ‘following wheels’. Once again Sarah Kent tried to get away, as did a few ACT and WA riders and Tassie girl Amy Cure. Every attack was brought back though, as teams couldn’t afford to let other riders take a lap (unlike the points race) as a lap would mean an almost certain win. There was only one sprint in this, so no-one wanted to stuff it up. The pace was constantly on and I was feeling ok. A few times I started to struggle, but once again I had the precious help of Sinead Noonan who helped bring back plenty of attacks for me. I wanted it to come down to a bunch sprint, because I knew that if I timed it right, I could beat the rest of the girls.
Coming up with 5 laps (of the 40) to go, it was looking like it was going to be a bunch sprint. Although I was pleased, your timing and positioning still needs to be perfect. One stuff up and that could be the difference between winning and missing out on the medals. The ACT-riders formed a ‘lead-out train’ with their strongest rider, Rebecca Wiasak sitting in third-wheel. I felt like this would be a good spot to be in, as the pace would gradually get faster and faster with the idea that the ACT riders would leave Rebecca feeling fresh and fast to finish it off. If I could sit on her wheel and possibly out-sprint her to the line, then that would work perfectly. As Rebecca is a more ‘endurance’ rider than me, I felt that I was faster in a sprint, so I was feeling confident. It would also mean that my opposition would have to come three-wide around me to the finish which would detract some of their speed and make it harder to get there.
Everything was going accordingly to plan, the ACT riders were getting faster and faster and when I looked over my right shoulder, no other rider was making a ‘drastic’ move to get to the front. Amy Cure was on my right, but looked comfortable sitting there in that position. Coming up with one lap to go, it was time to move up around the ACT girls before the final sprint. But that’s when ‘all hell’ broke loose. With a clanging of wheels behind me, it wasn’t long till the loud ‘thud’ of riders as they crashed behind me. I braced for an impact but nothing came and I suddenly remembered there was one lap to go. I hadn’t seen what had happened, but I jumped out of the saddle, accelerated and gave it everything I had for one final lap. Along the back straight, going into the final bend, West Australian Bella King came around me with such pace that I couldn’t keep her on my hip – as I would have liked. I hadn’t even SEEN Bella in the final laps, but knew that when she gets organised, she is fast. I knew that if I stayed where I was she would ride straight around me, so I tried a tactic used during my old sprinter days. I backed out of the sprinters lane going into the final bend and used Bella’s draught as she went past to drag me along. It gave me a bit more pace and slung me back up alongside Bella along the final straight. I was coming at her but missed out by half a wheel. I had finished in second with Melissa Hoskins of WA in third.
I was still baffled as to where Bella came from, but it wasn’t until after the race that I found out what had happened in the race. Apparently with one lap to go, Amy Cure was on my wheel as I had gone past Rebecca Wiasak. A gap had appeared between Amy and Rebecca and Melissa Hoskins had managed to squeeze into it. Amy didn’t realise and came ‘down’ on Melissa, who hit Amy’s foot and bounced back down into Rebecca who unfortunately couldn’t keep the bike up, falling in front of her teammate, Sorelle Bowman. When Mel had hit Amy’s foot, Amy’s foot had come out of the pedal, which made her go right up the track in order not to crash. Bella King was behind all this, so when Amy had moved up, it created a huge gap in the middle, so Bella took the opportunity and went for it.
That’s the beauty of scratch races, everything can be in control, then within seconds, the whole race is turned upside down. You have to be able to adapt and take the opportunities that are presented to you. Full credit to Bella – she was faster and better on the day. I did what I could, but didn’t manage to get three from three!!! Perhaps next year? Haha we’ll have to wait and see!!
Overall these National Championships were far beyond anything I’d hoped for. I had set out with high hopes but came back gob-smacked. I was so pleased to win my first National Point score and was happy to back up the next night to finish second in the scratch race. But most excitingly for me, I never expected to do such a time as I did in the Individual Pursuit and have taken it all as confirmation that my training is working! It is so satisfying to know that the effort that I put in, day after day is paying off. To be doing times like these in January is really positive given my ambitions for 2012. Hopefully I can keep improving and scrape a few more seconds off these times in the months to come!!
We’ll have to wait and see!