Without a team, Neylan's courage rewarded with maiden victory

World championship silver medallist too good in Geelong

"It is an emotional victory," she smiles as reality begins to set in. "It's actually my first big race win. I've never actually won a race as big as this. I'm absolutely thrilled."

A silver medallist at the 2012 World Championships to Marianne Vos. A bronze medallist at the 2012 Australian Road Championships to Amanda Spratt. A silver medallist at the 2015 Australian Road Championships to Peta Mullens. Apart from "maybe a club race", victory has so far eluded Rachel Neylan throughout her career. On Saturday, the win that the 32-year-old had worked so hard for against the odds, finally came to fruition. Neylan, riding for the Building Champions squad, dug deep, attacking and then attacking again to eventually take the solo win over Valentina Scandolara (Orica-AIS) and Tessa Fabry (High5 Dream Team) in the women's event at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

Without doubt, standing on the world championship podium next to Vos was up until this day, the biggest result of Neylan's career. There too, she was forced to go on the attack and dig deep. In Geelong, Neylan found her zen and it was a familiar feeling.

"I think I've mentally, physically emotionally gone back to that place where I was back in Valkenburg," she says. "Let me tell you, it feels good to be back."

Following the 2014 world championships where she rolled the dice in a bid to take Australia teammate Tiffany Cromwell to victory, Neylan returned home and based herself at the property of coach Brad McGee in the Southern Highlands of Sydney – close enough to family, isolated enough so training was the focus. Without a team for 2015, as had been the case in 2014, Neylan knew that she would need results over the summer in Australia and then New Zealand to be in with a shot of landing a contract and remaining on track for the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

"It speaks pretty loud," Neylan says. "I've just been on the cusp. I was very, very close at Nationals and it really shows a lot that I've changed in terms of my racing intelligence and my racing confidence."

A late-comer to professional cycling, having been a physio with the Australian rowing program, Neylan only started racing in Europe in 2010. Since then, there's been nasty crashes, teeth knocked out, teams that have folded and a lot of self-determination which on occasions has done Neylan's chances admittedly more harm than good. Signing with Hitec Products off the back of her world championship silver medal, Neylan pushed herself through a knee injury and then struggled, missing a shot at going one better in Florence, in the backyard of her European base.

"To miss what was my home world championships in Tuscany which was so close to my place in Lucca, was painful," Neylan reflects. "I had to dig deep and learn a lot from that year and experience. Obviously not re-sign with Hitec I think it takes you to a place where you have to ask yourself 'what are the mistakes that you've made' coming down from such a high of standing on a world championships podium, it was the best day of my life, and just having such a bad run with injuries and with unfortunate circumstances.

"It takes a lot to come back from that but I had a little bit of experience before 2012 in the resilience department so my career and story over the last six years has been quite incredible and I love sharing it with people."

Much has been written about the trials and tribulations of Neylan's career to date. Next she'll head across the ditch for the Tour of New Zealand and race with the Australian development team. After that, unless a late opening materializes with a trade team Neylan will have to compete in mixed teams to get the racing she needs in Europe. It's a path she's trod before and will again. Never one to get bogged down by misfortune, Neylan is nothing but determined.

"The opportunities are there and it's taken a fair bit of resilience and confidence to start the season without a contract, but my career had never been run of mill," she admits. "I am prepared to have that deep faith and confidence. Things are going to happen the way they do and if it's meant to be, you let your legs do the talking and that's the bottom line." 

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