A week ago at a combined road and track AIS training camp in Bright, Victoria, reigning world omnium champion Michael Freiberg was told he would not be going to the Track World Championships in Melbourne.
Understandably the news came as a bitter blow for the 21-year-old, who will now not get a shot at defending the world title he took in Apeldoorn last year, and more importantly the non-selection also closes the door on his Olympic hopes – with little chance for recourse now between the Worlds and the London Games.
"It's really hard for me, and I'm not happy about it. I asked the selectors for a reason when I was told, for my own piece of mind," said Freiberg to Cyclingnews. "I was surprised to learn that there had been a unanimous decision from the board that Glenn O'Shea was a better rider than me - in all respects - and that I wasn't even in the top-7 for the team pursuit.
"That was hard to take, and something that surprised me, but that's how my performances have been rated by the panel."
It's a stark change in fortune for the West Australian. 12 months ago he seemed sure to contest worlds, and at least be on the long-list for the London Olympics. Of course, Cycling Australia is blessed with a surplus of track talent in an Olympic year, and that means hard decisions have to be made, and this is one of them.
Glenn O'Shea who is a teammate of Freiberg's in the Jayco-AIS road team seems to have sealed his spot, though the final announcement for the endurance squad is expected later this month. If he does get selected it'll be thanks to spirited performances in the Beijing and Astana rounds of the Track World Cup series.
O'Shea's result in Beijing, where he took the overall Omnium title in convincing fashion seemed to turn the tables in the adopted South Australian's favour.
Freiberg however remains at least a little disillusioned. He says he feels there had been little communication as to what the selectors would be looking for, and interestingly he says it was his focus on the non-timed events (points race, scratch race, elimination race) that he believes may have ultimately cost him.
"It would have been tactically the wrong move to be in top condition early in the year [November, Decemeber] so I was really trying to make progress in the bunch races. You can always improve in the timed events but points and elimination you have to know, you have to learn.
"I actually felt that after Astana against a world class field I'd done enough to earn my spot for Worlds. Now I'm a little bit confused."
Team pursuit the big decider
Freiberg's logic may well have played into his own downfall. Cycling Australia has put a premium on gold in the team pursuit, and as such has been leaning towards bringing a pursuit-oriented omnium rider to sure up their medal chances – rather than spreading themselves too thin and 'carrying' an omnium rider at the expense of a stronger team pursuit.
O'Shea has been racking up results in the stand-alone individual pursuits as well as the omniums, and has been one of the most consistent performers in the team pursuit outside of Hepburn, Bobridge, Dennis, and Edmondson.
In the national championships in late January he was part of a record-breaking team pursuit, in a South Australian squad that could've been mistaken for the Olympic team.
O'Shea did miss the London World Cup through illness, which Freiberg says would have helped to put any comparisons to rest – a performance from the South Australian there against the top class field would have justified the selector's decision to take him to worlds, but Freiberg laments that "now we'll never know".
Though it's not yet over, Freiberg has been told that "three or four" riders would have to fall seriously ill if he is to still have a chance – and realistically, it's not going to happen. That has him now questioning his future in track, but won't make a final decision on giving up the boards until some time after Worlds.
"In my mind I haven't given up that there's still a possibility I could make the Games team - however slim - but I'll definitely be taking stock in the next few months.
"If the Olympics isn't going to happen, I'll be focusing on the road, and a result in Oceanias would be a great start to that."
Freiberg is currently in Queenstown, New Zealand for the Oceania Road Championships.
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