News feature, January 6, 2006
As part of Australia's squad for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games, Victorian Institute of Sport rider Joel Leonard will be one of the favourites to win gold on home turf come March. Without quite the same profile of riders such as Ryan Bayley or Shane Kelly, Leonard is a talented contender who has proven himself as a worthy speedster over the last two years. And with experience behind him, Leonard will be a vital part of Australia's chances on the track in Melbourne.
One of the drawcards at this year's Nationalgrid Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals, Leonard is hoping that the hard racing offered in the Apple Isle will keep his preparations for the Games on track, saying that at the moment, "I'm just trying to keep a general level of fitness. This week's a tough week of racing, so it'll toughen me up around the edges."
Following the carnivals Leonard will head back into the gym, something he can't wait to do after a solid week of racing. But before that he's shown his credentials as a serious medal contender at the Melbourne games by taking wins in the keirin at Launceston and the scratch race in Devonport, in the process showing he has the endurance many people previously wouldn't have been aware of. More importantly, however, is that Leonard has shown real speed on the tough conditions of Tasmania's outdoor tracks.
The 24-year-old national keirin champion was particularly happy with his form in Launceston and the first night of Devonport, saying, "The form at the moment's been pretty good - over the past week I rode a 1.02.09 for the kilometre time trial," and with plenty of flying lap attempts in each night's racing so far this week, that time may be whittled down in the near future.
Leonard's goals going into the Christmas carnivals were to, "Get a bit of endurance in the legs for the back of the time trial with a good week of racing, plus there's good money, and I'll try and enjoy myself as well." But there were a few setbacks going into the week of racing, with a knee injury causing a little bit of trouble. "I've just been getting over a bit of a knee injury that I suffered in training last Wednesday. I'm just trying to work through that with some physio and plenty of icing up and trying to get rid of that."
Latrobe wasn't the best day for Leonard, with young riders Matt Goss, Adrian Hanson and Leigh Howard getting up for the big wins of the day. But he's not too bothered about that, considering it was only day one. "The dead outdoor track didn't really suit me down to the ground - but it's all good training, all time out on the track."
All of Latrobe's big winners were teenagers - so how does Leonard rate the up-and-coming talent? "There's a lot of good talent coming through the first and second-year Under 19s; riders such as Leigh Howard, Scott Sunderland and Daniel Ellis. They've got some sprinters and some endurance riders, so it looks promising."
And as a more experienced rider in the field, do any of the young riders come to him for advice? "I'm rooming with Leigh Howard, so I'm trying to 'teach the young rookie the ropes', and I also went on an AIS training camp with Daniel Ellis and Scott Sunderland earlier this year in Rockhampton. I spent three weeks with them and they're a good bunch of blokes."
As European-based riders such as Brad McGee and Michael Rogers encounter problems with their professional road teams over travelling to Melbourne for the Games in March, younger riders such as Sunderland, Howard and Ellis may be presented with the opportunity to represent their country at a higher level. Leonard think's this is a good thing. "It gives them a chance to ride with the top-echelon riders and gain a bit of experience, so there's always an opening, which is good."