When 23-year-old Luke Davison (Synergy Baku) found himself crowding the top step of the men's team pursuit podium at the 2014 UCI Track World Championships in Cali, Colombia there were a million emotions racing through the young Australian's head, but as he tells Cyclingnews his first thoughts were of sheer relief.
"It was big step for all of us," said Davison upon returning from Colombia to Sydney last week. "We had gone to the ends of the Earth in terms of training, including being in Canberra for a month for altitude camp where we were having 40-degree days, and we were just sitting there thinking 'this better pay off.'"
"But when you are standing on the podium you just kind of forget all the pain and all of that time spent away from home.
"It was also very reassuring to do it with those four guys that you were suffering with everyday on the bike," he said of his teammates Glenn O'Shea (24), Alex Edmondson (20), Mitchell Mulhern (23) and Miles Scotson (20)."
Davison, a former junior world champion in both the omnium and the madison (with Thomas Parker) in 2008, was a replacement for Scotson in the finals after Scotson had already assisted the team in qualifying and ensured that five Australians would be collecting gold medals. This would prove to be a brilliant move by national team coach Tim Dekker.
"Lasse Norman Hansen from Denmark is just a freight train," said Davison of Hansen, the 2012 Olympic omnium gold medallist Australia faced off against in the gold medal final. "He was pulling two-lap turns and he is amazing.
"I was starting first in the world cups [Mexico]," continued Davison, himself the omnium World Cup winner in December. "But Tim put me at third wheel and said we needed someone who had that anaerobic output at that point when we needed to try to get back in front of [the Danes]."
The switch paid off. The Aussies rallied in the second half of the race to win the gold in a time of 3 minutes 57.907 seconds, while the explosive Danes finished just slightly off pace in 3:59.623.
"We have always been like a dog on a bone," said Davison. "We are very quick in our first and second kilometres, but then struggle on our third and fourth. But in Colombia if you actually look at the data it shows we lifted in the third kilometre. It was always the plan set by Tim."
Dekker had told Davison prior to race he needed to deliver in the second turn a 2.5-lap drag to get the Aussies back in position and just hold on.
Davison's remarkable extended turn with fresh legs limited the amount of swings, which according to Davison can equate up to .1-second timesavings per swing.
"A 2.5-lap turn is pretty hard," said Davison. "If you look back at the 2004 Olympics, maybe even 2008, it was the first time they started to do extra which was 1.5-lap turns opposed to conventional one lap turns – even at the junior level.
"We have realised that every time you swing off you lose .1 of a second so now it's becoming a matter of millimetres so everyone is trying to eliminates as many .1's as they can."
Close to calling it quits
At age 19, however, Davison's world championship eventuation was dangerously close to collapsing. Davison took a self-imposed sabbatical for almost a year as he found difficulty in coping with the demands of racing and the huge adjustment of living in Europe.
"Still to this day I am pretty dumbfounded when I see guys like Jack Haig," said Davison. "He is so young and performing so well and when I was in U19s, I thought I was riding well, but I was not anywhere near the level that he is at and for me it was a huge difference."
Having only raced track as a junior, Davison found the transition to the road a rough one. Even the jump in gearing from U17 to U19 and then to the opens was another reason Davison claims he struggled to keep up.
"I got thrown to the [Australian Institute of Sport] in Italy where it's arguably the pinnacle of U23 racing and I was just getting absolutely destroyed and that's when I started to question 'what am I doing? Is this right for me? Am I good enough to make it at this level?'" confessed Davison.
"These are massive steps for teenagers. I think they are recognising now that there are very few athletes that can make an instant switch to the top level."
Seriously needing to take some time off and reassess his goals, Davison told Cyclingnews he nearly came close to "calling it quits" – for good.
"I had a about a two- to three-week window where I seriously considered giving it up," he said. "I didn't want to look at a bike for a while.
"I have always loved bikes. I am obsessed with bikes. I don't just so much sit on Cyclingnews to look up the race results, but I am interested in bikes as I find the actual technology interesting and how it all works. So over a few months I slowly got back into it with some mates."
Davison pretty much tried everything within a six-to-12-month block – from continuing his education, to sales, to even a job in real estate. He left no stone unturned looking for happiness off the bike.
"With work and uni, I figured out the reality of life isn't that pretty," he said. "I'd rather be on my bike and actually enjoying life.
"When I was young I looked up at the guys like Brett Lancaster and Graeme Brown – guys that were winning the Worlds. That was such a step up that I couldn't even fathom it.
"And now that I've reached it, I have to wake up and realise this is a pretty good gig that I've got going."
Davison's time away from the bike also allowed him to develop more socially as a person and become more multi-dimensional. His hiatus from competitive cycling provided him valuable life skills that he says have played a large role in his newfound maturity.
"I was forced to socialise at uni and actually talk to people about different things other than cycling," he said. "Rather than just be so immersed in this bubble of a world that is cycling. Working in sales I had to communicate with people and actually understand others and not be so self-centred."
His successful return to cycling includes winning stages in the Tour of Gippsland, Tour of the Great South Coast and Tour of the Murray River, en route to capturing the 2012 Australian National Road Series championship as a member of Budget Forklifts. Now the newly signed Synergy Baku rider has his sights set on some rather lofty "pursuits".
"For me it's the Commonwealth Games and eventually Rio," said Davison. "I had such a big block going into the world champs that I will have a bit of down time rebuilding and then go into a road block to build up my base again.
"I will start preparations for the Commonwealth Games in June with the race in July. But ultimately the men's pursuit at the Olympics in Rio is the payoff in track."
However Davison's dreams don't end there. Since the cold 5am winter starts as a youth with Davison wearing his "Lotto" jersey given to him by his parents for Christmas, he has always dreamed of green.
"The road has always been the dream since I was young," he said. "I remember watching Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke battle it out at the Tour de France to win the green jersey.
"I liked them because I always felt they were so stubborn to win and that's how I've always felt about myself. I may not be the fittest person, but I would sit on a wheel with my heart beating through my chest for a chance to sprint across the line first.
"The green jersey is the pinnacle for me, but I still have a long way to go."