Rebecca Henderson may still have another year racing the U23 category but she will be competing against the elites when she lines up in the Australian colours on Saturday for the 2012 Olympic Games women's cross country mountain bike race. Henderson has been busy this season racing in the U23 category, training and racing to ensure she was given the single spot for the London Games.
"I knew I had put some really good results on the board, I knew that I should be selected, but it’s really difficult to know what the selectors are thinking. It was a huge relief when I got the call. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t," she told Cyclingnews.
She was confident that her abilities and results would not be overlooked but considering her rivals for the Olympics were racing the elite category, it was difficult for some of them to accept that she would be selected.
"I think some of the Aussie girls found it difficult to deal with competing against me for the Olympic spot when we were not directly racing against each other in the World Cups," Henderson told Cyclingnews.
"But I feel that my performances were at a much higher level in the World Cups, and I worked really hard to ensure my race times were good."
Henderson has ridden above her own expectations this season, highlighted with multiple World Cup podium finishes and taking second overall in the U23 World Cup standings. While she could move up to the elite category next year, she will remain in the U23’s for the 2013 season, intent on capturing her first World Cup victory. Henderson understands that while chosen to represent Australia against a field of top senior women, she still has much to learn before entering the elite ranks full time.
"Racing in the elites will come around soon enough. I still have a lot to learn about racing and I still have plenty of improvement in the under 23s. I would love to win a World Cup next year," she said.
The 21-year-old is modest in her Olympic ambitions but according to her coach, partner and fellow Olympic teammate Dan McConnell, Henderson "will surprise herself" during her biggest race to date. Henderson rode the course during the test event last year and believes the course suits her.
"If I can keep my head screwed on right and have a good day, I can have a good result. I’m not completely sure what position I am aiming for. I am hoping for a top 20 or better.
The Olympics will be a real learning experience for the young mountain biker who hopes to return to represent her country in the next Commonwealth Games and 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
"I want to have a really strong performance, and know that I raced as hard and as fast as I could, but there is so much I will learn along the way - I really have no idea what I am in for in relation to the whole experience," Henderson told Cyclingnews.
Henderson will have little time to rest following the Games. Four weeks is all that separates the end of her Olympic race and the world championships where she is aiming to be amongst those receiving the medals.
"It would be great to finish off the season with a strong performance. I would be absolutely stoked if I could get a medal at the Worlds."