News feature, December 22, 2005
Despite Katherine Bates' consistency on the track - last week hauling in gold for the individual pursuit and silver in the scratch race - the rest of the Australian track squad left Manchester somewhat light-on in the medals stakes.
Considering that Athens Olympics gold medalists Ryan Bayley and Anna Meares were on board, was the team's relatively poor showing at the UK round of the UCI's track world cup a sign of a team that's underdone for the season ahead?
"Clearly we are in a re-building phase", said Cycling Australia's high performance manager, Kevin Tabotta, who went to Manchester with the squad. "Some still have or are recovering from back injuries, and some in the team is now six weeks behind in their schedules.
Bayley and Meares, the world's leading male and female sprinters in 2004, are both on their way back from injuries in 2005. According to Tabotta, the Manchester round of the UCI track world cup provided the riders with "a good way of saying, 'this is where I'm at now, in terms of international competition'. It's different to the local racing they've had, plus with the racing that came beforehand, and the travel, they can assess where they're at".
But he admitted, "yes, it was not the medal haul as it's been in the past".
The aforementioned Bates, however, "did it (won gold and silver) on her experience and hardness, really. Kate went into her events like a bit of a 'diesel'. The strength was there, but not her top-end. That said, she still has plenty of room for improvement.
"We're using it (the track world cup rounds) as a launch-pad for the Commonwealth Games, and it's better not to be firing now. The Poms (English) are in the same boat. They were beaten by New Zealand in the teams pursuit, and sure, New Zealand put in a good time and rode well, but we know they (England) can do much better."
For Katherine Bates, lining up to race in Manchester was "an interesting experience for me. Normally, before an event like that, I do a lot of track work, but this time I hoped that confidence and experience would carry me."
Bates had come off her annual break with some road work, and then spent a week on the track with national endurance coach Ian Mackenzie. It was enough for the experienced rider, as Bates won gold in the individual pursuit with a time of 3.40 and then backed up to take silver in the scratch race on the final day. But it was a slow start, as she recorded a disappointing - for her - fourth in the points race on day one, with emerging American rider Sarah Hammer winning the gold.
On day two, Bates' times in the IP were not exactly glacial, and despite the previous day's effort, Hammer posted the fastest time in qualifying (3.38.958). But then in the IP final the American finished behind Bates, who won with a time of 3.40.574.
Still, the times in Manchester are some way off the extra-terrestrial world record of 3.24.537, set by New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer in the 2004 Athens Olympics. As Bates admitted, "Sarah's time is a bit out of the ordinary, you could say, and it does make me feel a little slow. But, it (Manchester performance) is the time I can do 'off-the-bat'," she said, referring to her minimal preparation.
"I was unable to ride in my normal way," she said. "I had strength, but no speed, so I didn't ride in my normal way (in the points race)." Bates is usually seen at the front of the endurance races, bridging gaps and being one of the most consistent riders in women's track racing.
Next year, the Commonwealth Games are one of her major targets and with Ulmer not contesting the pursuit - rather, the Kiwi superstar is concentrating on the road time trial - the major competition will come from fellow Australian, Katie Mactier.
"It's a bit of a challenge for me," Bates said about the prospect of racing against the Victorian, Mactier, who is reigning world champion in the discipline, and Athens silver medalist with a time of just over 3.27.
This year at the track world championships in Los Angeles, Mactier took the gold in the IP ahead of Bates, with a time of 3.38.72 on the somewhat 'slow' Californian velodrome.
But on the previous day, Bates had won bronze in the 25km points race, the longest event for female track riders. Mactier didn't enter the points race and next year in Melbourne, these events are reversed, so Bates will be able to attempt the IP before the energy-sapping points race.
It's expected the two Australians will push each other to their limits on a good track but before that, Bates and Mactier will actually race together for a composite team in the upcoming Jayco Bay Classic series of criteriums around Melbourne next month (see official race site). An extraordinary inclusion in this same team is Alexis Rhodes, one of the five Australian riders seriously injured in Germany last July by an out-of-control car, an accident that took the life of Amy Gillett. "She's bloody inspirational," Bates said of Rhodes' determination to race again.
Like many endurance track riders, Bates will spend most of her time on the bike racing on the road, with a packed schedule of races coming up before the Commonwealth Games.
"I'll only be really getting on to the track for preparation about 10 days before they (Commonwealth Games) start," she said, "but that should be enough. I'll be ready."