It's a sunny afternoon and I'm relaxing on the grass at Xanadu winery in
the Margaret River. Far from escaping the circus of bike racing, I'm in
the thick of it. Around me are 1400
of Australia's keenest mountain bike riders, their families, and a throng of inquisitive locals.
At the finish line each day is small village, with bike companies represented, local food retailers and organisers' tents. Most days finish at a winery, a brewery, or a coastal hamlet with views that make one marvel.
I am at the Cape to Cape MTB race, a four day stage race a few hours south of Perth. Aside from all the riders and their bikes, it is far from the usual scene I encounter at a race, and I have to say, I rather like it.
There aren’t too many surprises with the announcement of the Australia team for the UCI Road World Championships, but on the women’s side, there are some glaring exceptions.
In Amy Cure, Tiffany Cromwell, Gracie Elvin, Shara Gillow, Lauren Kitchen, Amanda Spratt and Carlee Taylor, Australia will put its best squad on the road.
However, Oceania Champions Taryn Heather and Amy Bradley have been excluded, on the basis that they have not got sufficient form to be competitive, prompting some, like cycling all-rounder Peta Mullens, to question the decision.
There is a certain art behind maintaining form and motivation through a season, and even with the best of intentions, come September, there are many counting the days until they can switch their alarm clocks off and unplug their power meters. Kate Bates recalls her time as an athlete and the delicate balance of keeping the fires stoked late into the year.
Forget the physical tolls of racing and training for a moment, the real difficulty of life as a professional athlete is keeping mentally agile throughout the year. Whether or not you reach the lofty goals that you’ve set for yourself during the season, the winding up of an event or a season often brings a void. A feeling of ‘what now?’. Psychologically, it’s a never ending rollercoaster of motivations and emotions.
I was pretty full-on in my approach to training and racing early in my career, and I would attack big events, the Olympic Games, the World Championships, as though they were the be all and end all of my existence. The mentality I operated in was like a pressure cooker, always perilously close to a blowout. I was an athlete that operated in black or white, on or off.
As the 2013 season draws to a close, there remains one final test to be faced. A drama that will unfold on the hilly Tuscan roads of Firenze, a cycling heartland that sits among the world's best. In the bid for rainbow stripes, and a national first, the weight of a nation will fall on the shoulders of eight Australian women. Kate Bates takes a look at who should be lining up for the elite women's road race and time trial in Florence.
Australia has never had a world road champion in the women’s race. This year will be the 53rd edition, but it was only in 1997 that we saw an Australian take a medal for the first time. In doing so, Elizabeth Tadich paved the way for a new and inspired generation of cyclists. In the 15 years since, our success as a nation has taken a steep upturn. There are now four Australian women Elizabeth Tadich, Anna Wilson, Oenone Wood and Rachel Neylan, who have proudly earned a medal in the event.
Australian success in the road race is still a rather new occurrence, but after Rachel Neylan’s impressive silver medal in Valkenburg in 2012, the soon to be finalised Australian selection can dare to dream.
Every Tour de France is special in its own way - and for each onlooker, the standout moments are different.
The 2013 Tour has been one of many delights whichever way you look at it. The scenery has been nothing short of magnificent, the parcours was challenging and dynamic and the new generation of talent and personalities has kept us entertained.
But of many memorable moments, here are my top 5: