Six months ago, 20-year-old Tauranga cyclist Courtney Lowe thought her young career may have been over. On Saturday, she bounced back from surgery to claim the women's New Zeealand championship road race honours at the Calder Stewart national championships in Christchurch.
In her first race since the surgery in August last year, Lowe out-sprinted a select group of proven professionals to claim the victory in a desperate sprint from Auckland teenager Georgia Williams (Kiwi Velo) and Canterbury's Jo Kiesanowski (Team Tibco).
The 26-strong field had been whittled down to just eight for the final lap of the 120.5km course including six climbs up the demanding Dyers Pass Road.
It was an emotional victory for the young Tauranga rider, who beat home former champions Kiesanowski and Rushlee Buchanan and fellow Olympian Linda Villumsen, who won the time trial yesterday.
"There were times that I thought my cycling career would be over," said an emotional Lowe. "The problem was in the artery in my leg. A lot of riders get it and I talked to Cath Cheatley and Josh Atkins who both had the surgery.
"I decided on the operation in August and this is the first time back. I would not have got here without my coach Andy Reid. He believed in me and just got me to keep going. I owe it all to him and my dad."
This year the organisers dropped the final climb in favour of a final 20kms on the flat which proved a key.
"I was definitely struggling in my final time up the hill. I think if there was another lap then Reta Trotman would have been hard to beat. She was so strong up the hill all day."
The race was sedate in the early stages as the field gradually whittled down. A five-strong break put a minute on the peloton on lap three before Olympic mountain biker Karen Hanlen and Nelson's Karen Fulton pushed clear. But after five laps, the race was back together and it proved a war of attrition until the final elite group of eight emerged.
While Villumsen took it out, it was initially Kiesanowski and Williams who took up the best running until Lowe's final burst on the line.
Williams' effort for runner-up following a third place in the time trial was an outstanding return in her first year in the senior ranks.
"I only just had enough in my legs. I was feeling really good before that and then I wasn't sure how I'd go in the sprint," Williams said.
"I am really happy considering. I had real bad luck on the second to last climb when I dropped my chain but I got back on. I'm stoked. There were lots of strong riders in that group so I'm happy."
Kiesanowski, seventh in the omnium at the London Olympics and the 2003 champion, said the heat proved a real factor.
"It was really hard out there and hot. I especially noticed it on the last three laps. I was pouring water over me constantly. It was a hard race, we were going really hard up the climbs and dropping people off the back each time so it just a race of attrition and I was just happy to be there in the final eight of us going to the line."
Kiesanowski said she was unable to take advantage of the strong lead-out from Villumsen on the final lap. "Linda did an amazing job helping me for a lead out and I'm just really disappointed that I couldn't finish it off. My legs were just extremely tired when I went to sprint."
The men will race 183.7km on Sunday at 10 am local time.
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