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Wood quits on top

A picture from the past: Oenone Wood is retiring as a professional cyclist

A picture from the past: Oenone Wood is retiring as a professional cyclist (Image credit: AFP)

Oenone Wood took the peloton by storm with two consecutive World Cup titles in 2004 and 2005. Despite this, the popular Aussie has decided to call an early end to her professional career to return home and restart her career as an electrical engineer. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins looks back at the career of probably the most mispronounced rider in cycling.

There will be a number of high-profile retirements from the women's peloton this year, most of whom will be of an age where one might expect it, but there is one notable exception. Australian rider Oenone Wood turned just 28 years old this week – an age where most cyclists are entering the prime of their physical condition – but has decided to call an early end to her highly successful career.

"The main reason is family," explains Wood. "I have spent most of the last seven years overseas, so I don't see my husband, friends or family anywhere near often enough. That is not something I would choose to do forever. I am also quite keen to start my career in engineering."

That big reason for her retirement is the factor that most riders from the southern hemisphere have to deal with when forging a career in Europe. Spending several months at a time several thousand miles away from everybody you know can make things much tougher for them. "I think being so far from home does add an extra challenge to the sport," she agreed. "I think that's probably why the Aussie team is a fairly tight knit group."

The inequalities of the two gender sides of the sport really make themselves known in this area. Men, who can earn many times more than even the best paid woman cyclist, can generally afford to have their wife or partner join them in Europe; women on the other hand have to leave them behind. "It certainly is made easier if you can move your family with you to Europe," Wood added.

Oenone Wood's career in Europe began with meteoric success. Riding as a member of the Australian National Team – in her national champion's jersey – in 2004 she took the first round of the World Cup in Geelong. She had a series of podium finishes in a number of the other races that won her the season-long competition at the age of just 23. Her presence in the favourites group in the Olympic road race in Athens allowed teammate Sara Carrigan the luxury of sitting on breakaway companion Judith Arndt of Germany. Carrigan won the gold medal but Wood just missed out on a medal, ending in fourth behind Russia's Olga Slyusareva.

This highly successful season earned the young Aussie a contract with the German Nürnberger Versicherung team for the next two years.

The 2005 season began in an almost perfect fashion with Wood winning the Australian time trial championships and then the Geelong Tour a month later. Second place in the Geelong World Cup, followed by third in the now defunct Primavera Rosa gave her the lead in the competition once again. She became the first woman ever to successfully defend the title. Three stage wins in the Tour de l'Aude were followed by two stages and the overall in Le Tour du Grand Montréal. It showed that there was more to Wood than just a single day racer.

The season ended with her sitting at the top of the UCI rankings, and with a bronze medal from the World championship road race behind her German Nürnberger Versicherung teammate Regina Schleicher.

Such success would be hard to repeat in subsequent seasons, however. While the 2006 season began with another victory in the Geelong Tour and featured more stages in the Tour de l'Aude and the Giro d'Italia, she finished sixth in the World Cup and slipped to ninth in the World rankings.

Read the full interview.

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