I went into the Apeldoorn World Titles nervous yet excited for I knew how hard I had worked all season along with the people around me. I knew I was capable of reclaiming the World Title in the team sprint even though I felt it was going to be the toughest reclaim to date and I knew I could really challenge to win what would be my first ever Sprint World Title crown. Little did I know of just what was waiting for me half a world away in the space of 4 days in March?
The team departed for Holland and embarked on what seems now to be the usual 35 hour trip half way around the world. The day we left was our team mate Scott Sunderland’s birthday, how fun for him to spend it on board an airplane with all his team mates. Half way bound for Singapore the air hostess bought out a cake for Scott and everyone sang Happy Birthday.... everyone but me of course for I was in the lavatory with my noise cancelling headphones on and so had no idea what was going on. Needless to say that I was very confused when I came out to see everyone so chirpy and eating birthday cake.
Upon landing in Amsterdam we drove 2 hours to a small and quaint town called Apeldoorn, population approx 150,000. It was a very beautiful place where the roads were for cars and special red laid pathways alongside the roads were for bikes and bikes alone and boy did the people use them; whether they were young or old they road their bikes casually to school or in groups of friends. You could hire bikes and ride anywhere you liked. Cars had to give way to riders even at roundabouts. It was a very different attitude towards a bike rider than that which I am used to and one that was so good to see.
While in Apeldoorn a number of days earlier then we normally would be for a world cup, there was time to do a little bit of sightseeing and we visited the Het Loo Palace, the summer residence of the Danish Royal Family and it was a sight to see. We started at the stables which on their own were pretty cool, and then we got to the palace itself after walking down tall tree lines cobble stone roads where we were greeted with a palace that’s impeccably manicured gardens seemed to span for hundreds of meters to its incredibly lavish interior decorations. It was an afternoon well spent enjoying the sights of an era and a history that we as Australians are too young to have.
But before long, the sightseeing was over and it was down to business. Competition started at the velodrome which was an amazing venue to say the least. The velodrome sat below ground level while its stands seemed to offer nose bleeds to its occupants as they rose above the ground. Below the velodrome were concert halls and an indoor athletics venue. This was all I was able to see in the short time I was there. The track itself was a hard one to get a feel for. It was sluggish and offered no free speed. It was shallow in the bends until you got smack into the centre where they felt quite sharp. There was no flat at the top of the banking from transition to transition, you were essentially riding uphill to a point and then downhill the rest of the way. It was going to be a challenge both physically and mentally on all riders.
Day one of competition saw the women’s 500m Time Trial in action. Given this is the first time I had voluntarily sat out of the event it was a sad moment for me, for only 13 women started the race. Hopefully a sign the UCI will see that the event is struggling given the incredible load and emphasis on the Olympic events to follow it in the final 4 days of racing forcing the hand of a lot of women to not waste energy and final results which in turn equate to Olympic qualifying points.
Day two saw the Team sprint in action where I teamed up with my very successful partner in crime, Kaarle McCulloch. We were last off in the qualifications and the times were not as fast as last year but that didn’t mean the effort and energy expenditure was any less given the difficulty of the track. To date the British were the fastest to qualify in 33.3 seconds and we were off against China who had given us a serious run for our money at the Manchester world cup. The bikes were locked in and the countdown timer started and before I knew it we were away. I felt great. I felt strong and smooth and got Kaarle off to what was one of my best start laps ever, we had a handy lead on our Chinese opponents, now we had to hang on and see where we faired against the British. Kaarle crossed the line a mere few hundredths of a second faster than Jess Varnish and Victoria Pendleton and we slotted into first for qualifying. It wouldn’t be long until we were back up on the track though in what could have been the final at the Commonwealth Games had the British sent their A team.
We lined up for the final time and you could feel the tension but I could also feel the passion. What it meant not only to Kaarle and I to be able to win tonight but to Gary and all the support staff as well. We walked up to the track, the bikes got locked in and again we were away. There were a lot of British supporters in the crowd but Kaarle and I had some very special supporters of our own there. Kaarle had her Mum, Dad, Step dad and Little sister Mackenzie, while I had some great mates in Rook, Pip and my husband Mark. I peeled with a lap to go setting Kaarle up as far ahead as I possibly could of the fast finishing Victoria Pendleton. Kaarle for the second time had hung onto an 18.68 standing lap from me and now had to hang on for all the pain in knew she was feeling in those legs. She had 0.49 seconds at the lap to go. At 125m to go she put time into Vicky, she led by 0.5 seconds, at the finish you could see Vicky had closed the gap but not by enough and we won by 0.25 seconds. A job bloody well done by both Kaarle and I. For the third year running we were the best team in the world. But celebrations were kept to a minimal because the one I really wanted was about to commence the next morning.
Day three of competition and it was Sprint time. Qualification kicked off and the track was claiming victims left right and centre. People who couldn’t get a feel for line or gear were struggling to match times ridden previously throughout the season. When I went 4th last Panarina from Belarus was the fastest qualifier in 11.120 seconds. When I crossed the line I looked up at my time only to see 11.120 seconds still on the board. Thinking the clock stopped I rolled around not sure of what was going on until I realised that I indeed had ridden the exact same time down to the thousandth of a second as Panarina. That doesn’t happen too often. As the final big three riders went, Simona Krupecaite, Shaung Guo and Victoria Pendleton none of them surpassed our time. How would the seeding work? Who would get top spot? Well it was deemed that because Panarina had the fastest last 100m split that she would be given the fastest qualifier spot and I would be second. A shame to me because this meant if it all panned out I would meet the defending world champ in the semi final, something which didn’t go so well last year. But there was a lot to get through before that could happen.
So it was onto the sprint rounds. Round 1 I progressed through against Won Gyeong Kim from Korea, then through round 2 against Jess Varnish of Great Britain. The final match up for me this night was the quarter finals again Kristina Vogel of Germany where I was able to again progress through with a win in 2 straight rounds. This meant that on Day 4 the semi final would be a final in itself. I would be against Vicky Pendleton of Great Britain. In the last 6 years she was World Sprint Champion 5 times, 4 of them the consecutively from 2007-2010. Last year I met her in the semi final and lost in 2 straight rounds. That was after already three days of racing under the legs as opposed to her having only 2 for I rode the time trial and she did not. This year I had defeated her in Melbourne and Manchester in the world cups and strategically at these World Titles I did not ride the time trial in the hope I would save the energy required for this very moment. It would all come down to this.
Day 4 and the anticipation of the sprint finals could be felt in the air. Warm up went to plan and I felt good. I knew I had to be on from the very get go. Race one saw Vicky leading and me following, I jumped and made my move as the bend straightened towards the back straight. I found myself moving very quickly past Victoria and before I knew it I had my whole bike in front of her and crossed the line. I was one up. But I wasn’t getting confident. The job wasn’t done and I was up against one of the toughest sprint opponents possible.
Race 2 and I led out giving Vicky the perfect set up for her style of racing. What was I thinking? I don’t know but it saw her take the win to make it one a piece and we were headed for a decider.
Race 3 and all eyes were on the velodrome as we rolled out. The nerves were ever present, the desire and emotion simmering in my stomach and my heart. Oh I wanted this win and I wanted it so badly. I drew the front and I was to lead for the final time, but that was not my plan, I slowed in the back straight after half a lap and saw Vicky was close. Perfect to set up a stand still. I got into position and tried to balance steadily but my nerves were making it difficult for I could not stop my foot and my lead balance leg from shaking. I tried four times to set into the right position but I couldn’t hold as steady as I could normally but lucky for me, Vicky was having even more trouble than I and after a couple of minutes, Vicky found herself in the lead and myself content and happy to follow. I stayed there for another lap, close, stalking, waiting for the right time to make a move.
With 1.25 laps to go I saw a chance to pin Vicky on the fence; something that I haven’t been able to do in years against her. I sat there and held her high. Through the bell she was still on the fence but backing out of the position I had her in. When it looked she had enough room to dive under I dived for the sprint lane and then it was a mad dash to the line where I held her off by half a bike length. I clenched my fist and said to myself, yep you did it. You’re into the final! Bout bloody time J
As I sat on the rollers it was hard to stop my mind from ticking. And the predominant thought that came to mind was a version of me talking to myself like I was an NFL player about to head to the super bowl. “Now you have just knocked out the favourite, the most dominating woman in sprinting modern history, do not let this opportunity slide. You’re in the final.... own it!” It’s funny how your mind can work under pretty stressful situations J
I lined up for my first world sprint final since I was there last in 2004 where I won silver. In 10 years of being an elite sprinter representing Australia I had never won this event. Silver in 04, bronze in 05, top 8 in 06, bronze in 07, did not start in 08 due to injury, did not start in 09, 4th in 2010.... Oh how I had been dancing around the top step so many times, tonight I wanted so badly to finally dance on top.
Race one against Simona Krupecaite of Lithuania. Yep that’s right. The former world 500m Time Trial record holder in me verses the current world 500m Time Trial record holder in Simona. I had seen how she had defeated Panarina in the semis. She left her run very late in a hope that the opponent would fatigue in the finishing straight. All the races were close but she won in three. I had to lead the first race and I knew what she would do, or at least I had a very strong feeling as to what she would do. I stayed low and slowly increased my speed to keep her happily behind me and low. I managed to give her enough to remain behind me to almost half a lap to go before I decided it was time to boot it. I put a bike length into her and that was where we crossed the line. I was one race up. Just needed one more.
I got off the track and you could feel the anticipation and hope in the pits and in my coach Gary West. But also the trepidation. No one was counting their eggs too early. And it wasn’t long until I was up again in what would be my final race of the night.
I drew position 2 and followed Simona. I let her dictate the race set up and I had one plan. To use my jump once and capitalise on my biggest strength. As we came into the bell we were high on the track and she was beginning to see she could pin me to the fence. The moment she saw the opportunity to do so I accelerated forward as hard as I could. She was in my way and so I had to lean into her and give her a little nudge to make room for my path to the bottom of the track. I don’t think she was expecting that. I dropped my head down the back straight gritting my teeth and screaming silently in my head as loud as my subconscious would go, through the final bend, I took a look up the home straight, saw Gary winding his arm, I looked again between my legs and with 15m to go I realised I had a few bike lengths on Simona and so I sat up, raised my hand in triumph and then promptly broke into tears as the enormity of what I had just achieved sunk in.
In that moment I had become the first Australian female to win a world sprint title. Some truly great female sprinters had gone so close. Silver to Michelle Ferris also coached by Gary west in the 90’s on three occasions, silver to my sister Kerrie in 2002 and silver to myself in 2004. But for me I had finally made the successful transition from time trial rider to sprinter. I had let go of what I knew I was good at and spent time after time working on something I wasn’t so good at, and in the end, after all the toils and pain and struggles and sacrifice, I finally had achieved it. World Sprint Champion.
I gave my coach Gary a high five on the way past before I stopped on the fence to give my husband Mark an emotional embrace and steel a kiss. The tears in his eyes, the pride in his smile, everything that he too has sacrificed for me and helped me was for this result also, so for him to be there to witness it was extremely special. He said to me, “Go enjoy this babe, I’m proud of you” and with that I took off my helmet, rolled to Gary and gave the man a huge hug for all his hard work and drilling of me this past few years and particularly this year. Man it was truly a sweet sweet moment!
I walked off the track to hugs from every staff member and every athlete all themselves with a few glazed over eyes. Despite all the hugs one of the most treasured was one given to me by Sir Chris Hoy. He made the effort to come to see me after the Keirin final he had competed in to offer me a hug and his congratulations. It meant a lot and was something that made me feel very special.
After such a high it was difficult to wind down. Presentations, media, recovery, stretching, warm down, dinner and finally bed. Ah bed. I was up early the next morning for keirin heats and all I could do was lay there in my bed replaying in my mind the events of the night. Sleep was not going to have its way tonight.
With a few hours sleep and with weary legs I lined up for the keirin on day 5 of competition. I made sure that I was through in round one so I could go back to the hotel and catch some more sleep. I took no chances and it worked. I caught another 2 hours sleep and I woke up for the semi feeling much better. But there was one small issue. I had run out of skin suits. My calculations of washing was wrong and I had only one clean skin suit left for the night and that was my team sprint skin suit which had world bands on it. Hand washing my skin suit last night after the sprint finals obviously wasn’t on my mind. So I had to ride my clean suit with the rainbow bands taped up as I was not a defending world champion in the keirin. No problem.
The semi final came around quickly and I lead it from start to finish ensuring that I gave myself the best chance to make the final and I crossed the line second securing that birth. Surprisingly Vicky Pendleton who was in the same semi did not progress nor did the defending world champion for the event Simona Krupecaite.
The final lined up with myself, Fateha Mustapa of Malaysia, Lisandra Guerra of Cuba, Shuang Guo of China former world keirin champ, Olga Panarina of Belarus and Clara Sanchaz of France a dual former world keirin champ. To me and Gary the plan was clear. Keep an eye on GUO and SANCHEZ! The draw worked out perfect for me for I had Guo in front of me and Sanchez behind me.
When the bike pulled off I was 4th wheel in the line up still with Guo in front and Sanchez behind. Guo began to move to the front with 2 laps to go and so I followed her wheel through and Sanchez did the same with me. Down the back straight one and a half laps to go, Guerra leans on Guo, gets tangled up and goes down. Guo wobbled dangerously and I began to prepare to fall by going over the top of her, but somehow she stayed up and I was thanking my lucky stars. We all swung wide to avoid the crash. Guo had stopped as had I and we were like a pair of flamingo cranking our necks around as far as possible to see what had happened. I turned my head the other way and saw Sanchez was high on the track and beginning to wind up. Crash or no crash it was game on.
I accelerated around Guo at the bell who seemed very rattled and affected by the fall, understandable given she crashed heavily in Melbourne at the world cup breaking her collar bone. I was in the lead no with 200m to travel and I was in full stride. Sanchez made her move out of turn two and she move quickly to my hip. I drifted wide and corrected my line into the final bend. I could hear her breathing heavy she was so close to me. I knew I was feeling the pinch and with an unimpeded run she would likely roll over the top of me down the home straight so I legally and within the rules moved into her causing her to bork momentarily and take to pressure of the pedals. It was all the buffer I needed to get more distance between us and that was the end of it despite a late charge by Panarina at the line to take silver over Sanchez.
I crossed the line almost stunned unsure of how to react for I had just own my third gold medal of the championships. The gamble to not ride the 500 had paid off so much more then what we had thought. My training and hard work through the year and past years was finally showing some solid and consistent performances. I had become the only woman along with Victoria Pendleton to win three world titles at one championship. Something that I know is the result of our sport still evolving. Take the great Felicia Ballanger from France who was so dominant in her day. She only had one event and late in her career she had two events. Now the women sprinters have four.
I feel privileged to be a part of a sport evolving for the better for women’s participation and I hope I can leave it better for those who follow in generations to come but most of all I feel well and truly satisfied and pleased for having achieved my goals and more. Now it’s time to set the bar higher and keep on dreaming for the next 15 months are big and busy so stay tuned. Enjoy the photos and a big thank you to Paul Sloper for his great action shots of the racing.