Twenty-one-year-old chasing team pursuit spot
The courageous, silver-medal-winning performance of Tasmania's Peter Loft in the men's points race at the Cycling Australia Track National Championships may have been the event which lifted him into public consciousness, but it was another performance that made the 21-year-old particularly happy.
Having just returned from the Mexico World Cup, where he'd been a last minute inclusion to the Australian team, he was unsure of his form, but the individual pursuit on the opening day of competition was set to be his benchmark for what was to follow.
"I ended up getting fifth, so I was a little bit disappointed with that but still happy with the effort and so was my coach Gene Bates," Loft explained to Cyclingnews. "That made me a bit more positive for the scratch race and points score."
Loft, along with Budget Forklifts teammate Luke Ockerby, made sure that Tasmania really stuck it to their more-fancied opponents from the dominant states in both big-lap events
"You look at the racing field and you see guys like Glenn O'Shea, Alex Edmondson - Olympians, world class, all that. You just try and forget about that because if you start thinking negatively from the start you're never going to have a good ride," said Loft.
Just having Ockerby in support was a bonus for Loft, who had ridden the Oceania Championships in Invercargill late last year, solo.
"When Luke said he was coming over - I've been racing with Luke since I was a kid - I was quite happy just because I knew that two is always better than one," Loft explained.
Loft's mindset against his opponents swung into action as the lap counter ticked down to just over 100 laps to go in the points race, stealing a lap on the field which largely sat up. Loft stayed close to the wheel of South Australian O'Shea, but it was his teammate Edmondson who chipped away at Loft's lead via the intermediate sprints.
Edmondson eventually claimed the lead off Loft with three sprints to go, but the Taswegian put up a determined fight, again attempting to get a lap on the field but the South Australian pair nullified the attack. The 2013 Australian title would come down to the last two sprints with Loft pipping Edmondson high on the track meaning the margin was just one point. After 160 laps, the South Australian prevailed but he had plenty of praise for Loft.
"Loft was very strong tonight, very relentless, so I had to try and keep up the front on him and I managed to do that, just," Edmondson said.
When the Australian Cyclones team was announced earlier this week for the UCI Track World Championships in Minsk later this month, Loft was not included for what would have been his first world titles at a senior level - he competed at the world juniors in 2009 - but he admits it would have been a stretch to get the nod for Belarus.
"It would have been pretty hard from my position," he told Cyclingnews. "You need to be doing the training camps to get a spot in there. From where I was sitting I knew it probably wasn't an option but what I did [at Nationals] will help later on with next year."
The "next year" that Loft is referring to is of course the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, where he is hoping to break into the team pursuit squad.
The Australian elite men's endurance squad is undergoing a transitional period, with stalwarts Rohan Dennis, Jack Bobridge, Luke Durbridge and Cameron Meyer all making the decision in the last 12 months to move on. With a new combination to take Australia through the next Olympic cycle yet to be settled on, Loft is concentrated on coming up with results that make the selection panel sit up and take notice.
"The team is quite young so I don't see anyone else being a threat," he said. "You've got to put your own best foot forward and it will all happen."
For now, Loft's focus will go back to the road in preparation for the upcoming National Road Series which kicks off in Perth in April. He admits that the juggling act required with ambitions in both disciplines can require a delicate balancing act, but is grateful for the support of his Budget Forklifts team.
"It's pretty hard to fit in a break but I was always for the track," Loft said. "My team's happy with that."
2013 looms as a big season for the team which placed four riders in the top-10 individual standings last year. While around half of that squad remains in place for this season, Loft is confident that Budget Forklifts can again be a force in the NRS.
"It's going to be very interesting; the level [of racing] has also stepped up again," he said. "It will also be interesting to see how we adjust to it and see how all the other teams adjust to it.
"We're quite confident in our team this year - we've got some good guys coming up and we've also got some guys who stayed on who could go well so I think we're up for a pretty big year."
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