Twelve months ago, Sam Welsford was trying to cement his place in the Australian team pursuit squad for the UCI Track World Championships and upcoming Rio Olympic Games. In 2017, the 21-year-old now finds himself as one of the senior figures in the endurance squad and a lynchpin for Australia's aspirations at next week's World Championships.
At the London Worlds, Welsford rode the second wheel for Australia in all three rounds, including the gold medal winning final over Great Britain. At the Olympic Games, Welsford was the fourth wheel as Great Britain reversed the London result for a third-straight gold medal in the discipline.
"I still have the same motivation and probable even more hunger now considering we came away from the Olympic games with a silver medal last year," Welsford told Cyclingnews ahead of the April 12-16 championships in Hong Kong. "To lose by point seven of a second is pretty heart breaking, so you don't want to let that happen again."
A post-Olympic Worlds often lacks the same buzz, attention and start list as nations recalibrate and plan for the next Olympic cycle. While the team pursuit squads in Hong Kong are barely recognisable from Rio, Welsford isn't showing any lack of respect for the Worlds with the Olympics still fresh in his mind.
"It's the pinnacle of our sport and to come down from that, you are always going to struggle but my passion for the track is still high regardless, and I want to get as many world championships on the boards as possible and try to improve myself in different aspects of track cycling as well. Not just team pursuiting," he said.
A key rider in the team pursuit set up alongside Alex Porter, Callum Scotson and the returning Cameron Meyer, Welsford believes it will be a tight battle for the gold medal. But he believes in the versatile squad Australia are taking to Hong Kong to defend the world title.
"It is going to be a whole different ball game with a post–Olympic worlds considering new teams, young guys coming through and older guys stepping away from the track for the year," he said. "I think we have a really good shot at the team pursuit first off, we have a good training group and we are training pretty hard for it. The Dane's will be really competitive, they always are and always come out really fast. The New Zealand team, the Italians and even Great Britain despite the fact that most guys stepped away this year, they will be solid on the track. You can't count out anyone in team pursuiting."
Welsford is also looking for individual success alongside the team pursuit. A national title last month in the scratch race followed on from his Cali World Cup omnium success in a boost for his confidence.
"I had a bit more of a shared focus for the world this year going in with a TP and omnium focus. I can be a bit more confident in my ability after the Cali World Cup where I picked up the win there. It will be a whole new board game at the world champs, though, but I am really looking forward to it," he said.
"It is a bit different as you do different training and you are on your own compared to the team pursuit where you have three guys around you. there is more freedom and personal reasonability in your result because you are the only one there and don't have any teammates to help you. It is all about making the right decisions and being independent."
The recently changed omnium format, down from two days and six events to one day and four events, is likely to reward greater consistency. A fact that Welsford is banking on.
"In the omnium, it is always a hard race because it hard to predict considering it is only four events and one day. If you have a bad event it can put you back a few points so the main aim is to be consistent, and I think I am quite good at," he said.
Post-Hong Kong, Welsford will put the track bike to one side and have a stint of racing in Europe with the national U23 team to get a "taste of living like a European professional". Welsford will return to the boards later in the year with a recon of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games velodrome and then the World Cups, where he hopes be to wearing a rainbow jersey or two.
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