By Kristy Scrymgeour
With the anniversary of the AIS women's team tragedy in Germany occurring today and events taking place to remember Amy Gillett who was killed when a car ran into the team whilst training on the streets of Thüringen, Cyclingnews caught up with Australian National Coach Warren McDonald to find out how the women's program had recovered from the disaster that also seriously injured Amy's five teammates.
Only two of the girls are back to racing a year after the accident. Kate Nichols is in Germany and will start Thüringen Rundfahrt this afternoon while Alexis Rhodes made a remarkable recovery to win the Australian National Criterium Championships in January and then go on to be selected to represent Australia in the Commonwealth Games in March. She raced a short stint with the AIS team in Europe earlier in the year and is now back in Australia finishing her studies and continuing her recovery to get back the resilience she lost over the break.
Lorian Graham, Katie Brown and Louise Yaxley are still recovering from the accident with lingering injuries. All of them are determined to get back on the bike and back to the level to which they reached at this time last year, but it is taking a lot longer than they had hoped.
"When it happened last year," said McDonald, "I knew it would take a long time for them to get over their injuries and get back to an elite level, but of course athletes always hope that it's going to be a quicker process. Lorian, Katie Brown and Louise still have rehabilitation to come and it's frustrating for them. Alexis and Kate Nichols are back racing and have age on their side too. They'll continue to get stronger and stronger."
The riders in the accident were the next generation expected to come through to be the cream of the crop when Australia's current top riders like Oenone Wood, Olivia Gollan and Sara Carrigan retired. "We knew when this happened," said McDonald, "that we would have a gap but it has turned out to be a little great than I thought. Shayne Bannan [High Performance Director] commented that ‘it is like a whole generation has been lost.'"
"The talent is there," added McDonald, "we have young riders coming through but you can't just throw them into to a full year of racing. You need to build them up over time."
Hence this year the AIS team has done short stints in Europe. The first block was only five weeks, after which most of the riders returned to Australia and a new group returned to Europe for a second block. A third block will come through Europe for the final part of the season.
"So in some ways we've lost a year to 18 months for the developing AIS riders and it's going to take a couple of years to fill the gap. Possibly next year will be better for the young ones as we do have a lot of talent and we are also excited that our top riders Oenone Wood and Olivia Gollan have confirmed that they'll go through 2008. Sara Carrigan may also be back after her break this year."