If she followed the advice of doctors, Sarah Gigante would not be on the Innsbruck start line on Thursday for the junior women’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships.
In May, the teenager crashed badly in a club race, suffering a broken elbow, shoulder and wrist. After stunning Australian cycling circles by winning the junior women’s criterium, time trial and road race at the national championships in January, it appeared Gigante’s 2018 campaign was over.
“It was pretty heart-breaking,” admits the Victorian.
When she told doctors she needed to be back racing by August, to contest the Junior Track World Championships and then compete at the Road World Championships a month later, they assumed she was joking.
“I wasn’t trying to be funny, so when they thought I was kidding I was devastated,” she recalls. “It had been an awesome year and then I stacked. I told the doctors I wanted to be racing by August at world level and they didn’t even think I would be riding a bike by then.”
But despite dislocating her shoulder on one of her first rides back on the bike, Gigante’s planned recovery schedule has proven to be no joke. Supported by messages of inspiration from her idols Amanda Spratt and Gracie Elvin, and fellow quick recoverees Mathew Hayman and Steele von Hoff, Gigante was in Switzerland in August.
Her silver medal in the points race made the hard work all worthwhile.
“I was pretty proud of myself just to get there,” she says. “I really didn’t know whether I would be in Switzerland, or now Austria.”
A month after her track silver medal, Gigante is one of two Australian representatives in the junior women’s category in Innsbruck. On Monday she finished 15th in the individual time trial.
“I gave it literally everything,” she reflects. “Even if I could do it all over again I couldn’t make up many extra seconds. I finished the race and I was on the ground – I was really happy with my own ride, and impressed by the other girls.”
On Thursday Gigante and Tasmanian prodigy Anya Louw will line up for the road race, a 70.2 kilometre course filled with climbs.
“I am really excited to mix it up with Anya,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the hills – hopefully that will break things up a bit. We’ll try to hold on as much as we can, and if we feel good go for it.
“They are really tough climbs so it will be a race of attrition – that’s good for us!”
Gigante admits to feeling inspired by Rohan Dennis, who on Wednesday won the elite men’s individual time trial world title. “Rohan Dennis just won and we had dinner with him last night,” she laughs.
“It is really awesome to see the Australians lighting it up on the world stage,” Gigante continues. “Those other nations look quite intimidating sometimes, but we are pretty strong ourselves – we need to be confident and ride like we mean it.”
While for most riders the world championships mark the end of the season as well-deserved holidays beckon, Gigante will get no rest after Thursday’s race. “The day I get back to Australia I have a trial exam – I’ll be pretty jetlagged,” the year 12 student explains.
Despite a busy cycling schedule, Gigante says she managed to balance her study and athletic commitments – until the crash.
“School distracts me from cycling and cycling distracts me from school – so it works well, they are pretty complementary,” she says. “But then when I broke both my arms that was a bit challenging – my Mum had to scribe all my homework.”
Although the two world championships in quick succession have kept Gigante away from school, her desire to perform well academically has kept the rider at the books even in Europe.
“I’ve now been over here for six weeks, but I have been trying to do as many hours of study as I can each day,” she says. “The only day I didn’t do anything was time trial day – I was too nervous!”
On Thursday, Gigante will have the opportunity to make her mark on the world stage – and potentially catch the eye of teams as she looks to cement a long-term spot in the sport. But the 17-year-old isn’t too concerned about what the future may hold.
“Cycling-wise I don’t know – I will just keep trying to improve,” she says nonchalantly. “Worlds has shown me how cool it can be. I want to get better and keep enjoying it – otherwise there is no point.”
More certain in Gigante’s mind is her desire to balance future sporting commitments with a university education – she has plans to study maths.
After all she has managed to achieve in 2018, you wouldn’t bet against her excelling at both.
Watch Sarah in action with Anya Louw tonight (Thursday 27 September) LIVE from 5pm on our site or via SBS On Demand.