Shanks sparks the Commonwealth Games fuse

India the focus for pursuit world champion

Women’s individual pursuit World Champion Alison Shanks secured a silver in last night’s women’s individual pursuit at the Melbourne Track World Cup, but has indicated that next year’s Commonwealth Games is the focus as the new track season begins.

The Melbourne event is a homecoming of sorts, as Shanks began her international career with the last Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, in 2006. “I only started track cycling about four-and-a-half years ago,” Shanks told Cyclingnews. “Being at the World Cup here is bringing me back… when I walked in the other day the Comm’ Games memories from 2006 started coming back.

“That was where my international career really started and I’ve been slowly working my way up the ranks since then,” she explained.

The Dunedin, New Zealand woman is following in the footsteps of an illustrious compatriot; Sarah Ulmer still holds the world record for the women’s individual pursuit, having taken it in an amazing ride during the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. Shanks says there’s no weight of expectation however.

“I don’t really see it as pressure as such,” she said. “I think it’s pretty exciting that New Zealand still has that world record and I guess it would be my ultimate aim to try and break that to keep it in New Zealand.”

Shanks qualified second fastest for yesterday’s individual pursuit, putting her in the gold medal final against British rider Wendy Houvenaghel. Despite going down in that match up she’s generally pleased with where her form sits early in the season. “It’s pretty early season for me – I had my first race last week at Oceania Games before coming here,” she admitted.

“We’ve got a long season ahead with world champs in March, which we’re obviously peaking for, and then Commonwealth games in October. It’s a pretty big season for us and I’m pretty happy with we’re my form’s at right now,” added Shanks.

She explained that the Commonwealth Games in India next year will be a major peak of the New Zealand squad and all efforts at this stage of the season are made with that in mind.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the program we’ve got at the moment – I’m getting good support from the national cycling body and with the Commonwealth Games in the middle of next year we’ll be having a really specific track build up straight after worlds and through the year until October,” explained Shanks.

She added that despite being world champion in the individual pursuit, she could be a bigger cycling commodity if she won a Commonwealth title. “Commonwealth Games is big in New Zealand; apart from the Olympics, it’s the next biggest thing in New Zealand,” she said. “It’s funny, because a lot of the New Zealand public hold it in higher regard than any of the World Championships. It is a big deal for the sponsors and supporters back home.”

The entire New Zealand cycling program has built momentum in the past few years as the Commonwealth Games has approached. Shanks explained that the aim is to continue development in the women’s ranks.

“For my first three years, there was really only me and a couple of other scratch/points race riders; now we’ve really got a whole program and in the last year we’ve focused on seeking out some potential women’s talent,” she said.

“We have a squad of seven women now and everyone’s pretty close [in terms of rider level] so there’s that competition within the squad that helps everyone to come up,” she said. “There has been an increase in funding from the federation and a real focus, especially with the development of the women’s team pursuit. It’s a really exciting event, it’s new, but I can see [room for] a lot of improvement over the next few years.”

Personally, that means Shanks will be foregoing any road aspirations in the near future, although she did compete in this season’s Cascade Cycling Classic. “I don’t really spend a heap of time [in Dunedin] any more – I get over to America in the [southern hemisphere] winter – I wasn’t associated with a team this winter but I entered a few races as an individual,” she said.

“I did Cascade Classic in Oregon and then based myself up in Boulder for a month. We’ve taken a different approach and [I’ve] been a specific pursuit rider rather than just a roadie who does a bit of track. Having that flexibility of not being confined to an actual road race schedule has enabled me to focus a little bit more on the track season,” she added.

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