For Rachel Neylan, 2013 was a disappointing year plagued by injury without the opportunity to improve upon her silver medal at the 2012 world championships. After reflecting on where she wanted to be to challenge for an Olympic berth in Rio in 2016, Neylan will spend 2014 with the Australian national women's Jayco AIS team. Her decision came after "a lot of reflecting, talking to people and aligning goals".
Neylan may be moving on from Hitec-Products, but she thanked the team and Karl Lima for support during year verging on an annus horribilis. "The support by Hitec throughout a frustrating season was amazing. I've got the utmost respect for Karl Lima (team manager) and the way he has organically grown and managed the Hitec team to number four in the world," Neylan told Cyclingnews.
"It was a learning experience even though I wasn't ever racing at one hundred percent. It was a brilliant year and being able to race as a domestique for Elisa Longo Borghini, Chloe Hosking and Rossella Ratto. It's an experience that I'm really grateful for."
In 2012, Neylan capped off her season with silver at the Worlds but in the space of 12 months, the Australian found herself in the UCI commentary box. It was a reminder that the highs in professional sport can end quickly and it's hard fall from the dais when it's injury not skill that's letting you down.
It was in September that Neylan met with Brad McGee, her now coach, and Kevin Tabotta in Tuscany post-Worlds to talk about where she was and what she wanted to achieve on the bike. "We reflected and assessed my goals, my options and my development thus far and ideally where I'd like to be in 2014, 2015, 2016," she said.
"We came to the decision that Jayco-AIS would probably be the best place, being a positive learning environment, having a good structure, organisation and race program. It'll give me a framework where I can have the best opportunity to do what I love and be the best that can be. It would probably be the best situation for my continued development in alignment with national team objectives."
Neylan has had a longer pre-season than past years and her goal of winning the green and gold jersey in January has been affected as a result. She is hoping for a competitive ride on the Buninyong course followed by the Santos Women's Cup. After the domestic racing, Neylan will compete in the Oceania cycling championships with the aim of medalling to keep her name in the ring for world championships selection. "I'll certainly be a better race condition by then," she said.
The Worlds are the number target in 2014, "I'm prioritising the later season results. Worlds next year is a hard course in the Basque region of region of Spain so it'll be nice and hilly."
Missing the Worlds for some riders may be a disappointment while for Neylan the opportunity to wear the national jersey is a fundamental reason why she loves getting out on the bike. "The green and gold is the reason I started cycling and is the reason why I do ride my bike," she said.
When it was announced that Neylan couldn't race the Italian Worlds circuit, she described her response as "heart-breaking, it was incredibly, incredibly frustrating and heart-breaking." Although in hindsight, the pain of missing the race has made Neylan "hungrier" for success. "I think when you're faced with dealing a situation like that physically and mentally, you're forced with no other option but to become a smarter athlete," she said.
Following Oceania cycling championships, Neylan has targeted Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Fleche Wallonne and "getting some good solid race consistency through April and May", explaining that "it's nothing more complicated than the fact that I want to get back to being a world class bike rider performing consistently."
After the early season when the weather begins to heat up with summer, Neylan is looking to stand atop several podiums. "I’ll be looking for opportunities to prove myself in August and September in the Tours, which is a big goal. Then to be selected in the Worlds team is the ultimate objective," she said.
The opportunity to race with the national team is one that Neylan is thankful as it allows her to continue racing at the top level in Europe with good support. The mix of experienced and younger riders on the team is one that Neylan welcomes and hopes to provide help when possible.
"I think all the girls have been selected on fantastic merits. I know what it's like to go through that selection camp and it's not easy" she said. "I've got utmost respect for how Jayco AIS women are selected and it'll be an absolute honour to ride with those girls and be part of their development. If I can play a part and help contribute to their European launchpad than that's a really nice position for me to be in."
When Neylan was starting out, she appreciated how important it was being able to talk to compatriots who had gone through the same experiences and were willing to lend an ear and a hand.
"During their early stints in Europe, I think it's really important to have older riders to look up to, a mentoring role to younger girls coming through is something I enjoy being part of. When I started racing in Europe, I always used to pick up the phone and talk to girls like Katie Mactier, Emma Rickards and Nat and Kate Bates. That was priceless for my development"
Besides playing a mentoring role for the younger riders, for a rider closely aligned to the national set up, the opportunity to work with familiar faces and a system that she knows has been successful was an added bonus.
"I'm looking forward to re-uniting with Martin Barras in the national team, racing in an intelligent, positive, stimulating team environment"
2013 for Neylan demonstrated the absolute extremes of professional sport, but it was also a year that will spur her on for future success.
"I feel like I have progressed mentally and physically out of this. It has provided me with no other option but to take my athletic performance higher. Pocketing those little bits of skills and experience that you go through overcoming a difficult year will always prove to have a silver lining."
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