Australian feels she's earned the right to challenge for title
Anna Meares has her eyes firmly on winning her first ever sprint world championship in her 10th attempt but with career-best form in the event, it's a position not without sacrifice.
Asked by Australian media just what her program will be at the 2011 UCI Track World Championships in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, Meares takes a breath before her measured response: "I'm going to ride three events: the team sprint, the individual sprint and the keirin."
The 500m time trial, an event in which the 27-year-old has twice been World Champion (2004, 2007) is off the list.
"That's been a very hard decision to come to and I think it took Gary [Cycling Australia Track Sprint Coach Gary West] a good couple of months to build up the courage to bring to my attention," said Meares, and you believe her. She will tell you it's a decision based on "need" rather than want.
There was a defining moment for the darling of the Australian track at last year's world championships in Copenhagen. It was day four of competition and fighting it out for the women's sprint crown were Shuang Guo (China) and Victoria Pendleton (Great Britain). Meares and Simona Krupeckaite (Lithuania) were left scrapping for bronze with the latter winning 2-0.
Meares puts the end result down to one thing and that was rider schedules. Pendleton and Guo didn't take on the time trial on the first day of competition whereas the Australian and Krupeckaite had. It was all in the legs.
"I know that as hard as it has been for me to give up the time trial this year, I need to do it if I want to be the best chance possible at winning the [sprint] title," Meares said.
"I don't want to not ride it... it's been really difficult but the compromise with Gary was that if I miss this year, I don't care where the 500 falls in the calendar of events in next year's world titles in Melbourne – I will be riding it. If the event before the sprint final and I'm in the sprint final - I'll be riding it. This year for me it is about achieving something that I've never achieved."
Two wins does not equal a rainbow jersey
Meares may have beaten arch-rival Pendleton in the sprint twice already this season however, the Australian says the world championship result is no forgone conclusion.
"Look if Vicky lost every race between now and the Olympics she would still be the biggest threat in the field," she said bluntly. "You can not by any means lose any respect for the fight and drive that she brings to this event.
When it comes to her own standing in the sprint, Meares is brutally honest.
"Coming out of the Manchester World Cup I was pretty excited which turned into nervousness because I guess I've never been in a position where I've been challenging for a sprint world title," she said. "I've been close on occasions; other times I've not even been in the contest."
For Meares, her current position as a genuine challenger for the sprint crown is something she's earned. While she says she feels relaxed about what lays ahead, Meares is also excited. The 2011 World Championships are where everything is coming together for her - physically as well as mentally.
"I go back to 2002, 2003; I wasn't even in the contest," she said. "2004 was almost a surprise to me let alone everyone else in the world that I made it through to the final and I got silver. 2005 I was a bronze medallist. 2006 I was top eight. 2007 again bronze medallist. 2008 I was injured. 2009 I didn't race. 2010 I was fourth so, for a long time I've been around the mark but I've never ever won the damn thing.
"Gary said to me you really have to work very hard, sometimes for a very long time to be ready to be challenging for the title, let alone winning it. Challenging and winning it are on two totally different levels in my eyes."
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