Annette Edmondson continues road and track ambitions into 2017

From talent discovery at school to world champion on the track and beyond

This feature appears in the latest issue of Procycling magazine.

Olympic bronze medallist in the omnium in 2012, world champion in the omnium and team pursuit in 2015…Nettie Edmondson's track achievements are considerable, although they only came once she made the decision to switch from sprint to endurance events. Can the 25-year-old Australian continue her journey towards success on the road too?

Annette Edmondson knows full well how to take advantage of her younger brother's good nature. Alex – a second-year pro with the Orica-Scott team – has got his own apartment in Girona, Spain, this season. His older sister, on the other hand, is homeless – at least while she's racing on the road in Europe with her Wiggle-High5 team.

"I've asked him if I can stay for a couple of weeks. And he's said yes," Edmondson says. "But I think I'll be able to stretch it out to five months or so…"

It's all in good fun, of course. And you get the impression that they'll get along just fine: the Edmondsons grew up living in various countries and that Wherever I Lay My Hat song appears to be the soundtrack to their lives.

"My older brother was born in Scotland, I was born in Australia, and my little brother was born in Malaysia," explains Edmondson. "My parents worked for Shell – my mum as a teacher and my dad as an engineer in oil and gas. We spent time living in Oman, a couple of years in Malaysia, and the Netherlands for a bit, and didn't move back to Oz until I was six or seven. So, yeah – we've certainly had a varied upbringing in different countries."

It's made the nomadic lifestyle that is being a pro cyclist that much easier, apparently, too.

"Just having that opportunity to live overseas as kids, and to know that it's possible to make it work… I think that did influence some of the decisions I made
later on, and has made living overseas and living this kind of lifestyle a little easier," Edmondson explains. "When you're 21 or 22 and trying to move from one country to another, navigating new transport systems, dragging a bike box and a bag… It is possible! You might not speak the language but you can make it work. I think my upbringing has played a part in that."

All for road, all for track

When she's not bullying her brother into letting her live with him or schlepping her bike and belongings around Europe, 25-year-old Edmondson – who prefers the less formal Nettie to Annette – very successfully combines racing the road and the track.

Her Wiggle-High5 road team allow her the freedom to race for Australia on the track at World Championships, World Cups and at the Commonwealth and Olympic Games but, says Edmondson, with 2017 falling between an Olympic and Commonwealth year, she's keen to try to ramp up her road racing.

She's certainly not short of success on the road: Edmondson won a stage and the overall of the 2013 edition of the Tour of Chongming Island in China, as well as a stage of the Lotto-Belisol Belgium Tour the same year, and a stage of the women's Tour Down Under in 2016. It's just that it's not quite as impressive a list as her track palmarès: gold in both the omnium and the team pursuit at the 2015 World Championships, and bronze in the omnium at the London Olympics in 2012, as well as being the reigning Commonwealth Games scratch race champion.

"It's certainly tough doing both but it's about being selective with the races that you target," she says when asked to explain how she makes it work.

"I think that this year is about trying to play a bit more of a role in some of the tougher road races: those events with rolling hills — maybe even the longer Dutch races, which should suit me if I'm in good road form."

The problem with riding both a track and road season, Edmondson says, is that breaks are few and far between.

"But, equally, you don't want to have too much time off as it then takes a lot longer to find that fitness again. I do get a little bit jealous when I see some of the road girls coming home and having a month off to enjoy themselves. But I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy the challenge, and I do really like the variation in training, which keeps me interested.

"After a track season, I really look forward to getting back on the road; when I get to fly over to Europe and hang out with my road team, it's great. There are so many different nations represented on the team, and so I really enjoy it: learning from other people and getting along in a different world in Europe."

Talent Discovery

As a child, Edmondson took part in just about every sport going — except cycling.

"I did everything," she says. "Soccer was my main sport; I played for about three different teams at once during the week: for my school, district and a club. And then I did volleyball and basketball, and in athletics I'd do both the 100m sprint and also long-distance cross-country running."

So when the South Australian Sports Institute (SASI) visited the 13-year-old Edmondson's school, she fully hoped to demonstrate that she had the perfect physique for one of her preferred sports.

"We were told that they'd send off all the data – height, weight, arm-span, how fast you could run, how high you could jump, that sort of stuff – and that they'd then be able to tell us which kind of sport we were best suited to.

"Some people didn't get a letter; some people did, and I think because I was so sporty, I was, like, "I have to get a letter!" she laughs.

And she did: but the suggested sport wasn't at all what she expected.

"I'd never even thought of cycling as a sport, if I'm honest," says Edmondson.

"I was a little bit disappointed. To me, cycling was just a recreational activity: you rode your bike to the BMX track, or chased your brothers around on it, or rode it to get an ice-cream. It was a vehicle.

"But as five other kids got chosen from my school, I decided to give it a go. We went down to the velodrome in Adelaide and had a four-week trial period to see if we enjoyed it and wanted to then stay on for a year-long programme. I didn't enjoy it that much, actually, but the five others did and were going to continue, so I decided that I would, too. They gave us a bike, some shoes, a helmet and kit, and we trained a couple of times a week.

"By the end of the year, I was the only one out of that group of schoolkids to continue."

And is the rest, as they say, history? Not exactly.

Edmondson developed as a sprinter on the track, and scored a silver medal at the Junior World Championships in 2008.

"I was good at sprinting but then the following year I just wasn't enjoying it as much. Then my training buddy, Steph Morton, got injured, so I was training by myself. And then I'd see the junior girls for the team pursuit training at the track: four girls who'd ride in together, do their efforts, and then sit down and chat together, and it looked like so much fun.

Plus there were two spots for sprinters at the Junior Worlds but for some reason, the two years I did it I was the only one chosen, which I think played a major role in why I didn't enjoy it any more. The sprint boys were great, and involved me, but it's just not the same when you don't have someone to compare yourself against at training. So when I saw those four endurance girls, I just wanted to be a part of that."

Edmondson also went to the same school as fellow professional rider Tiffany Cromwell, now at Canyon-SRAM.

"She was a few years ahead of me but she used to put up photos on the internet of her riding down to a lake in Italy, and hanging out over in Europe for the road season, while I was in Australia in the middle of winter and track season. There weren't a lot of people racing at my age and at my level, so I did feel a bit like I was quite alone doing the track."

And so, in 2010, Edmondson took a break from cycling.

"I had no plan as to when I might go back to it," she remembers, "and I spent a good four months in tears half the time, wondering whether or not I had made the right decision.

"I spent some time soul-searching in Indonesia, doing volunteer work with kids there, and then came back and picked up some part-time jobs – teaching kids to ride bikes at schools and also working in a coffee shop. But as someone who had become used to having a goal to suddenly be goalless… That was when I realised that I needed to go back to cycling."

Edmondson knew that she needed to make some changes to make it work and to keep things interesting.

"That's when my coach at the SASI, Tim Decker, suggested that I gave the omnium a crack — to try to make the half-switch from sprint to endurance. It still had a couple of sprint events, so it was perfect. I would train my endurance up, and then see how I went."

The six-event omnium had also just been announced as an Olympic event for the 2012 London Games.

"Everything happened really quickly after I came back," says Edmondson. "The first five, six months were really hard but I was motivated and I was ready. I was seeing changes, and I was getting fitter, and after eight months I became national champ in the omnium, so I knew I was on track."

Edmondson was then selected for the Australian Olympic squad for London, both in the omnium and the team pursuit, and the excitement increased further.

"We honestly thought we could at least get silver in the team pursuit in London, so when we missed out on a medal entirely, finishing in fourth, it was heartbreaking."

The bronze medal Edmondson won in the omnium, therefore, was special.

"That was really the start for me. I was there in the mix with the best in the world, so it was about trying to keep that going and to see where it would take me."

And it would eventually take her to two world titles, in both the omnium and the team pursuit.

"Finally!" she smiles. "I kept getting seconds and thirds at the 2013 and 2014 Worlds, and then finally at the 2015 Worlds I managed to pull it off, after we'd put 100 per cent focus into the team pursuit, thanks to our coach Ian McKenzie.

"And having won the team pursuit, the pressure was off me in the omnium. I just tried to enjoy it, knowing I had the fitness, and the magic happened," she laughs.

Wrecked in Rio

Along with the Great Britain team, the Australian women's team pursuit squad went into the 2016 Rio Games as one of the gold medal favourites.

But just three days before the event, it all came crashing down – literally – for Edmondson and her team-mates.

"It was hard. It was tough," she remembers. "We were the world record holders and were hoping to break the record again in the event. So to then crash just a few days out from competition…"

Edmondson was lucky to be the only rider not to crash.

"We broke a lot of our equipment, and the girls were pretty battered and bruised: Amy Cure and Georgia Baker came off 'best', I guess, but still with haematomas and some missing skin, and then Mel Hoskins had to go to hospital to check that she was all right, and had a huge haematoma, and was walking around on a walking stick for a while. And Ash Ankudinoff did her AC joint in her shoulder, so she was completely taped up.

"But the good thing was that these girls knew that letting it get to them wasn't going to achieve anything, so it became all about going out there and giving it a crack, and trying to do the best we could. There was nothing we could do to change it, and we were in the form of our lives beforehand, so who knew what we could do? We didn't let it mentally get to us but I think that physically it took out a lot more than we'd hoped," she says of the team's fifth place.

Now, Edmondson is ready to commit more time to the road in 2017 but will turn her attention to the new madison event at the Track World Championships in Hong Kong in April this year, as well as already having her eye on the track for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

"Well, the Commonwealth Games are in Australia, of course, and the women's team pursuit has recently been announced as a new event there, where we'll have a real shot at taking gold, so…" she tails off, smiling. "Plus the Games are early in the year [in April], straight after the Track World Championships, so I'll then be able to fit in another pretty good road season after that!"

She may live the life of a nomad, deftly juggling her track and road careers, but Edmondson leaves you with a strong impression that her cycling journey may have only just began.

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