December 8, 2007
The 2008 Oceania Championships were held in Invercargill, NZ on the 18th of November 2007. Invercargill (dubbed as 'the friendly city') is New Zealand's southernmost city and I've been told it's the closest city to Antarctica. The city's architectural heritage reminded me of the main streets in places like Geelong and Ballarat.
The 18km road circuit was 60k out of town and featured a couple of short sharp hills, dead roads and a longer uphill drag before descending down to the finish line. The scenery was beautiful and although it was extremely windy the weather was expected to be much worse than it was on race day, we expected rain and freezing cold temperatures - instead we were blessed with sunshine!
Australia's women's road team consisted of only three riders; Bridie O'Donnell, Ruth Corset and myself - Davina Summers was also representing Australia as a club nomination. The four of us were certainly outnumbered by the twenty five kiwis. We knew we needed a clever race plan to beat them.
The four of us travelled to the circuit together, along with Australia's AIS women's road coach, David Short. We discussed and decided on a clear and very specific race plan which we executed perfectly. When we arrived at the race start we drove a lap of the circuit and decided where and when each one of us would perform our individual duties.
We entered the race feeling like we had an enormous task ahead. Winning the Oceania championships is important for any nation involved as it rewards the winning country with an 'extra' rider at the following world championships - in this case the 2008 world road cycling championships in Varese Italy - the home of the AIS and many Australian cyclist.
We learnt during the 112km road race that some of the Kiwi's were as equally desperate to win the championship, but their motivation was not to earn that extra worlds spot for New Zealand, they were after the generous 80 UCI points that were on offer in order to qualify them a maximum of three riders in Beijing.
The track events during the week provided us with the opportunity to observe the fitness levels of some of our most feared kiwi competitors, specifically Joanne Kiesanowski and Cath Cheatly who ultimately played the main rolls for NZ during the road race.
It was difficult for me to sit back and watch the track events as track racing has been my main focus in the past and I really wanted to be out there racing - but as I walked out of the velodrome my focus shifted immediately back to the job at hand, the road race. Road racing is and will be my main focus for the next few years with support from my Italian professional road team, Menikini-Selle Italia- Gysco.
Our race plan was to send Ruth Corset (our strongest climber) away on the first hill - Ruth powered away from the bunch just 2km into the race on a steep short power climb. This move took pressure off us (the Aussies) until New Zealand's Serena Sheridan drove it over to Ruth and pulled their lead out to 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
The New Zealanders who were back in the main bunch stopped taking turns, hoping to let the breakaway increase its lead. I had been informed by one of the kiwi's that Serena was feeling much stronger than Ruth out in the break, the kiwi's in the main group were forcing us to chase. We (Bridie, Davina and I) were faced with the decision to chase or to have faith in Ruth out there in the two person break.
It was our national team director David Short who made the call - he instructed Bridie and Davina to chase with about 35kms to go in order to set the race up for a sprint finish. The pressure all of a sudden had shifted back onto the us! Bridie and Davina did an unbelievable job, with just the two of them, we brought the break back. I've never witnessed such commitment from team-mates - the strength of these two girls was absolutely amazing - everyone was suffering behind them.
Bridie and Davina delivered me to the final 500m where I found myself on second wheel, the wheel of New Zealand's Cath Cheatley. I was pleased to be on the wheel of one of the strongest riders in the world but unfortunately Cath died, or purposely swung off much earlier than I would have liked, I had no choice but to kick and start my sprint early. I noticed a gap behind me and felt confident but the line was still so far away and I started to tire - Joanne Keisanowski was coming at me fast… luckily the line arrived before she did and I won, we (Australia) won!
I honestly would not have won the Oceania title for Australia without the team commitment from Bridie, Davina and Ruth.
More next month!