The top track racers who have their sights set on the World Championships and Olympic Games this year face the challenge of staying fit and healthy through the entire World Cup season. Beginning in November in Sydney and ending at the worlds in Manchester at the end of March, this means riders must log thousands of miles in travel, crossing time zone after time zone, all while trying to avoid the inevitable airline bug or injury from the strain of competition or crashes.
For some who fall ill or are hurt, skipping a race is not an option, and they are forced to push through the pain while competing at the highest level of the sport. In the Los Angeles World Cup, two such determined riders were Belarus' Natalia Tsylinskaya and American Sarah Hammer.
Sprinter Tsylinskaya gave no indication that she was suffering from a severe bout of food poisoning. She went undefeated from the 1/8 final in the morning all the way through the final against American Jennie Reed at 10:00 pm local time. Speaking through a translator, she said, "I was alternately shivering and hot, sometimes dizzy. I would just lie on my back on the floor of the infield until it was time for me to race."
Once on her bike, the World Cup leader hid her illness well. Her head down, the serious expression could have easily been mistaken for the face of a woman deep in concentration rather than someone who was just hoping to stay upright and get through the round. "When I got on the track, I was just racing from pure instinct. I barely remember anything from the races."
American Sarah Hammer, twice a World Champion in the individual pursuit and one of the country's top contenders for Olympic gold in Beijing has raced every World Cup, struggling to regain her top speed in the face of a nagging back injury that was made worse this summer.
"It's been something that's been bothering me for about a year and a half, it was nothing, really. But I entered a men's road race this summer and totally tweaked it." While the injury is relatively minor, it doesn't mean that she isn't in pain. "I have a tear and a small bulge [in a disk], but it's not anything that I need surgery for. The frustrating part of it is it's not something they can just say 'I know why you're hurting so bad'."
However, the ever optimistic Hammer has chosen to see as much positive in the situation as she can, even if missing out on the gold medal final on Friday was hard on her psyche. "It's kind of a learning experience," she explained. "In Sydney and Beijing, I went in just to get points; I knew my form wasn't there. I took what I could from there. Here, I wanted to win."
"I learned a little from it - what my body needs. I might have just been a little stale, and I think the hard effort in the morning was what I needed. Since I've had the back injury, we've had to adjust my training. Now I think I've learned that I need that effort. I went from a [4 minute] 41 [second time in the qualifier] to a 4'38 - it's a decent chunk."
Hammer is confident that she can work around the injury and get back to the form that propelled her to two consecutive world championships. "I have a good team behind me helping me through this. I've been lucky I haven't had a lot of obstacles like that in my last two years, and it's really grounded me and made me realize how much I enjoy the moment, the ability to dig in and attack."
"It's not an easy road for anybody, getting to the Olympics, and this is something I need to overcome. We couldn't be doing anything better than we are."