By Gerard Knapp
Saturday evening at the Australian national track cycling championships saw a number of firsts, including the inaugural 3km women's team pursuit to be held at a national level. This led to some good-natured speculation: was the winning time a new world record, given the event had not been held before at this level?
On hand at Dunc Gray Velodrome in Sydney was the UCI's vice-president and track racing chief, Ray Godkin. When pressed on the question, he would only say to the best of his knowledge, he was not aware of any recorded time for this event being considered the world record.
The teams pursuit for women will be introduced into the UCI's Track Cycling World Championships in 2008, providing more opportunities for endurance riders, especially some of the world's leading road riders, to compete at an international track racing event.
While only three Australian states fielded squads, the new event was generally well-received by the crowd, riders and coaches. It also helped that the final ride-off for gold and silver between New South Wales and Western Australia was a very close, see-sawing race, with both teams holding down narrow leads over the 12 laps.
The winning time of 3.39.08 by the NSW team of Amanda Spratt, Skye-Lee Armstrong and Toireasa Gallagher, was fractions ahead of the WA U19 trio of Sarah Kent, Camille Pallett and Josephine Tomic, who finished in 3.39.34. But the new event was staged on Saturday evening, February 10, at the end of a very busy program for all the riders, and there was only an hour between the qualifiying ride and the final. The other state to enter a squad was that of Victorian riders Jessica Berry, Tess Downing and U19 rider Lisa Friend, who rode 3.41.3 in qualifying.
It's considered the winning time will be soon be improved, as Spratt had ridden a 3.42 for an individual pursuit silver medal over the same distance two days earlier, and the current world record for the women's 3km individual pursuit is held by New Zealand's Sarah Ulmer, with a time of 3.24.537.
However, within minutes the event had changed from something of a novelty to serious competition, as the young women rode to their limits and Spratt in particular put in a three-lap turn to bring home her team.
Each of the riders had been in many endurance events over the previous six days, and the teams pursuit was put at the end of the program to avoid affecting the riders' performances for qualification events for this years' world track championships, to be held in Majorca in March. Still, Spratt really anchored the NSW squad and rode the final three laps on the front without a break, as Gallagher's job was to ride until 1km to go and then pull out.
In the women's event, the team's time is taken on the second rider to cross the line, and the NSW pair of Spratt and Armstrong still fanned out on the final bend, as did the WA trio, to ensure they got the best possible time as they crossed their respective finish lines.
So while it got off to a stutter - the first-ever qualification ride by WA was a false start - it finished with a bang, as the young women of NSW and WA really fought out the final and put on an exciting race. Afterwards, other female endurance riders were heard to be asking coaches to help put a squad together for next year.
And if it's anything like the mens' teams pursuit, there will be bragging rights and pride in the title for years to come.
"It was a bit of an unknown really being a new event and it was an exciting prospect," Spratt said of lining up in a teams pursuit for the first time. "We knew we had a good shot but WA has three juniors with world class times in the individual pursuit so it's great to come in and pull it off."
So was Saturday night's ride a world record? Well, if not a record, it's a benchmark and believed to be the first time the event had been held at a national level. However, a Cycling Australia official pointed out that for a world record to be ratified, it needed electronic timing equipment to one thousandth of a second, and for mandatory doping controls to be taken afterwards (neiother were available for the national titles).
For complete coverage of the 2007 Australian National Track Cycling Championships, click here.