• Rebecca Wiasak was too fast for the road nationals criterium field. (Getty)Source: Getty
It was an emotional win for Rebecca Wiasak (Fearless Femme Racing) as she defended her national criterium championship in Ballarat, fighting off the doubt of an uncertain future after having her Olympics dreams extinguished midway through last year.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
5 Jan 2019 - 5:59 AM  UPDATED 5 Jan 2019 - 7:51 AM

Wiasak launched her trademark last-lap flyer into the corner at the bottom of the final straight, running a fine line between aggression and folly as she pushed it to the limit in the bend. She emerged with a gap over the field as the road rose up towards the line and Wiasak wasted no time in hitting out first and challenging the rest to chase her down.

None were able to come close to the two-time world individual pursuit champion, with Wiasak saluting a victory with several bike lengths advantage.

"I tried a few times through the bottom corner,” Wiasak said after the race. "Just to see if I could get a gap, and I could see in the windows of the shops that I was getting a little gap.

"With the headwind finish, I thought that if I could get a gap it would be hard to close and get on my wheel.

“I was too scared to watch… people screaming, I heard my dad screaming like I’d already won, and I thought my legs could go at any moment and it was still 150 metres until the finish, so I didn’t want to salute until I crossed the line.”

“There were some really strong teams represented so to come out again as an individual and win is just unbelievable and there were definitely some tears at the end of the race.”

There’s a hierarchy of needs for most humans that can make the pursuit of cycling unappealing, particularly from a financial standpoint if you haven’t made that top level of the sport. It’s a problem that Wiasak and cycling mad fiancée Ben Hill – also a full-time rider for Slovenian team Ljubljana Gusto Santic – know well.

Two devastating crashes for Wiasak in 2018 – one at the Tour Down Under and the other at the Noosa Criterium – added to a tumble into a ravine for Hill at the end of 2017 that saw the unlucky rider stranded in China for months with spinal fractures.

A piling-on of bad news came with the dismissal of Wiasak from the scholarship holder positions within the Australian Cycling Team, with Wiasak effectively losing her income along with her dream of Olympic glory.

Prize money earned from racing is their primary money-earner now and each loss hurts.

“I made a big error yesterday when tied for the overall at the Bay Crits,” said Wiasak. “That was worth $3,500 for the win and of course I lost my scholarship and funding for last year and I’m currently unemployed so it’s really hard to see the bank account, but a green and gold jersey is something money can’t buy.”

The mounting challenges and disappointments of life in cycling nearly prompted a massive change.

“When I got axed last year from the track team my plan was just to spend the year with Ben and his first thing was ‘do you want to have kids’,” said Wiasak. “I was surprised because I didn’t think it was on his radar but he was like ‘if that’s what you want to do, then we’ll start the next phase of our lives’.”

That sea-change may be delayed. As the saying goes ‘one door closes, another opens’ and the possibilities within cycling are widening for Wiasak.

Wiasak’s now famous final lap flyer is a tactic born from her track abilities to maintain a furiously high tempo for short spans, a trait that stands the Canberra local in good stead for criteriums in the US, where she has been a key player in recent years.

That ability could easily see a road team realise her abilities are capable of also being effective on the road at World Tour level, which Wiasak described as a ‘bucket-list dream’.

Intriguingly, an opportunity has also opened up for the 34-year-old to target the time-trial spot vacated by Katrin Garfoot for the 2019 world championships and the 2020 Olympics.

“I definitely wasn’t finished yet, I knew I had more to give,” said Wiasak. “I can’t give it on the track unfortunately but there’s definitely an opportunity to do the time trial.”

The time-trial is the event that Wiasak has concentrated on most for these national championships, a scary notion for her competitors given the dominance of her win in the criterium. Wiasak however, isn’t underestimating her rivals for time-trial gold.

“Lucy Kennedy (Mitchelton-Scott) was here on the course today,” said Wiasak, “just watching and putting her legs up, and a number of the other girls were doing the same thing, while I’ve been doing the Bay Crits, this and driving around everywhere.

“I think this year it’s going to be more of a benchmarking thing and see what work I have to do. If there’s another opportunity I’m definitely going to take it.”

Re-invention and innovation have been keys for the former runner who became a journalist, transitioned into elite cycling as an individual pursuit specialist at a later age and now has opportunities to branch out into new fields.

Roadnats: Jones finally gets the crit title he desperately wanted
A long path, paved with the pain of near misses, had been the story of Brenton Jones (Delko-Marseille Provence) at the national criterium championships. That ended when Jones edged out Tristan Ward (Team Bridgelane) to win the 2019 edition.