With New Zealand's national road titles taking place over the coming weekend, Courtney Lowe has reiterated that she is chasing another year in the black and white fern jersey but will enter the race in less than ideal condition. The 22-year-old from Tauranga has been plagued by a foot injury over the last three months which she sustained tramping in the mountains near her Oregon base.
"I'm training hard and some days are good and on other days the foot plays up. We've not managed to get to the bottom of the problem yet," Lowe said.
Injury or no injury, Lowe knows she won't be able to catch this year's field unawares on the 120km Cashmere circuit on Saturday as she did last year. Lowe entered the race having undergone surgery on her hip prior to the nationals. "I hadn't ridden much before last year's race and just had a great day. After the surgery on the hip, no-one really thought I would be a factor," Lowe said.
"There's going to be more pressure this year going in as the defending champion."
Lowe's main goal for the year to earn a place in the New Zealand Commonwealth Games squad and a win on Saturday would get her one step closer to achieving her aim.
Tour de Vineyards winner Reta Trotman and experienced Olympian Jo Kiesanowski are the favourites for the honours on Saturday, with Emily Collins, Linda Villumsen, Kate Chilcott and Sophie Williamson also likely to be factors.
Williamson has won multiple national junior club road titles and has tasted victory in the Benchmark series, but will be riding her first senior elite national championships.
"I'm not really sure what my form is going to be like. I've been doing quite a lot of criteriums and track racing. I'll definitely try and make sure I'm there for the sprint at the end," Williamson said.
She was a spectator when her brother James won the men's elite title in 2012. "I feel like I've already done the race four times, but I've actually only watched it every year. It will be interesting to see what it's like being in it."
While the national title is a goal, Williamson, like Lowe, looking to gain selection in the New Zealand team for the Commonwealth Games in July and August. Williamson won two silver medals on the track at the junior world championships in Invercargill in 2012.
"Hopefully I can double up on the track and the road at the Comm Games, but if not I have got a plan B to go and race with my team in the States," Williamson said.
"Either way I'll be happy, but obviously everyone wants to represent New Zealand at the Comm Games."