American to defend pursuit title despite full schedule
Three-time individual pursuit world champion Sarah Hammer will go for a fourth title at the UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, Netherlands next week despite having a busy schedule that also includes the team pursuit and six -race omnium.
Hammer has been training this winter in Mallorca, which has helped save on travel stress and ensure good training conditions.
"Mallorca might be our new base for the lead-up to the Olympics," Hammer told Cyclingnews. "You can't really beat the weather here during the wintertime."
As her compatriots like cyclo-cross racer Katie Compton have found, limiting mental and physical stress outside competition is key to success at the highest level of the sport. Being acclimated to the time zone well in advance has helped the American settle in and get the best out of herself in competitions like the Manchester World Cup, where she won four of the six omnium events en route to the overall win.
"One of the biggest things we realized last year was how much [being in Europe] helped with the World Cups and world championships - it just takes so much less out of you than when you're having to go back to the US."
After breezing through victories in the omnium at the Cali and Manchester World Cups, Hammer said she expects the level of competition to be higher at the world championships.
"I didn't know what to expect was pleased with how both Cali and Manchester went. Obviously in both world cups it wasn't the full field we'll see at the world championships, but I feel like I got to see all the competitors who will be strong. I haven't not raced against anybody. Worlds will definitely be fun, and it will be exciting. The omnium is so crazy - anything can happen. We're in for a good race."
Even though the omnium and team pursuit have become more important as part of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games schedule, the individual pursuit, now axed from the Games, remains special to Hammer.
"It's hard for me to give up [the pursuit]. Next week might be my last hurrah at the world level. ... I think in the original [track worlds] schedule it would have been prior to team pursuit, and if it had been like that I probably wouldn't have raced it. I want to give my best to the team pursuit. But I feel comfortable doing all the events. Training's been going good, and with the schedule I want to do at the Olympics, both the omnium and team pursuit, there will be a lot of racing there, too. It's a good practice I think."
Making the transition to a new event may have looked effortless when you scan through Hammer's omnium results, but Hammer highlighted the differences between the pursuit and her newest focus.
"The omnium is kind of funny. It doesn't hold as much pressure compared with individual pursuit - you don't know what's going to happen so you can't get too stressed out. With the individual pursuit, you can get stressed because you're so hyperfocused.
"With the omnium you can get stressed thinking about what can happen in certain situations because it's so chaotic. But I am still learning the mental aspects, and that's a huge portion of it - trying to keep that focus throughout the whole competition. You have to try to keep focused on just that next race that's going on.
"I'm having a great time trying it, and I can only think [the competition] is going to get stronger and stronger as girls get better in each of the events and figure out how it works. I hope to get stronger and stronger as well.
Hammer named Canadian Tara Whitten, the defending champion, Dutch rider Kirsten Wild and Malgorzata Wojtyra (Poland) as the ones to watch.
"There are a lot of people who are strong. Tara is current world champion, she's a great racer and a great time trialist - the whole package. Kirsten obviously is a great racer as well. It's the first time I've raced against her since I don't do much road racing. Being in her home country is going to be a big motivator as well. The Polish girl has been a strong contender over the season as well."
As for her first love, the individual pursuit, Hammer also holds the world record in the event and says that even with the 3km distance being part of the omnium, for anyone to threaten her record it will have to take place outside the omnium.
"The conditions in the omnium will never make for world record breaking times. The pursuit is such a tough event, I still think it holds value for people. Hopefully we'll have some good riding for individual pursuit this year, with myself, Alison Shanks, and Wendy Houvenaghel. Who knows what we'll see for times - but in my experience, an omnium pursuit feels nothing like a regular individual pursuit."
The UCI Track World Championships start March 23.