When Rachel Neylan won the silver medal at the 2012 world road championships in Valkenburg behind Marianne Vos, the Australian justifiably hoped great things for her career – especially after she had suffered a fractured jaw in 2010 and pelvis in 2011 and had ridden on two teams that had folded.
The 32-year-old didn’t foresee a challenging 18-month spell that would see her undergo major oral surgery, a season-ending knee injury that ruled her out of the selection for last year’s world titles in Florence, and then being hit by a Range Rover while on a training ride in Adelaide in February.
Add to that the pressure of her father Tony being hospitalised in the south of France while visiting her in August between the Route de France and Trophee d’Or Feminin, and undergoing a quadruple cardiac bypass.
His illness came at the height of the selection process of the Australian team for the UCI Road Race World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain - from September 21-28 - but the Jayco-AIS rider was within train distance to manage the medical process and help her mother Susan who flew over.
Little wonder she said, “I can’t wait to get in the green and gold and put it all on stage again,” after being named in Australia’s women’s road team.
One for all, all for one – as in 2012
Also in are: Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized-lululemon), Katrin Garfoot (Orica-AIS); Loren Rowney (Specialized-lululemon), Carlee Taylor (Orica-AIS) and Lizzie Williams (Jayco-AIS/Specialized Securitor).
Neylan is not going as a leader, despite her winning silver two years ago. “I am not realistically putting my hand up as a team leader,” she said. Neylan is again intent on helping the team clinch the best result possible, whether that is with Cromwell leading the way or any other teammate.
But Neylan does not hide her joy for her return to the Australian team, saying: “It’s a huge privilege and honour. What matters is performance on the day. It is a fantastic step forwards it’s by no means an arrival.” But she agrees that knowing she can rise to the occasion, as she did in 2012, should give her more confidence come her second world titles.
“I know a lot more about myself as a rider in big races,” Neylan said. “I have a lot more self belief in what I can do at the pointy end of a race.
“But also I know what I am capable of contributing to the team. What made us successful in 2012 was that we were committed to a team result. If we can replicate the same attitude, mentality and ethic there is every reason we can produce another result. That’s the most important factor.”
Neylan’s road to selection
Neylan concedes that “realistically I haven’t had a season where I have been bouncing on to podiums.” Being hit by a car in Adelaide and the ensuing injuries limited her number of racing days to five before June. But she hit strong rides in La Course (July 27), the Route de France (August 10-16), the Trophee d’Or Feminin (August 23 - 27) and the Tour Cycliste Feminin International de l’Ardeche (September 2 -7) – and in the latter two tours, finishing fourth in the time trial of both.
As Neylan said, “After being nailed by the [car] my spring was full of residual injuries - all after my rehab from the bone stress injury last year.”
Neylan said her selection was “helped” by her “history and performance in big races” and form in back to back racing from late mid-August to September under the eyes of the head Australian coach Martin Barras.
“I had five race days before June this year. So I did a repeat of 2012 and took myself to altitude when the national team [Jayco-AIS] had a pause. “I went to the mountains and did a solo three weeks of a solid and epic climbing, then came down and did the Internationale Thuringen Rundfahrt [July 14-20] and La Course, and then I did those three tours.”
“So I hardly had any races all year and did about 20 races back to back.”
Talking tactics for Ponferrada
Neylan said that the Australian team will travel to Ponferrada next Tuesday and in time for a thorough reconnaissance of the world’s circuit. “We have an extraordinarily strong team,” she said. “A lot of the riders are similar in terms of performance capacity – in terms of climbing capacity, in terms of sprint capacity. It will come down to how hard the race is raced and those teams like the ‘Dutchies’ who are in incredible form.. We will sit down and discuss our tactics as a team and we will be directed by our head coach [Martin Barras]. But everybody is 100 per cent committed to producing a result. We also have cards to play.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax)