Sat at home with two rainbow jerseys, two gold medals and my race number neatly folded on the table next to me in the peace and tranquillity of my home. It's an amazing feeling to know the experimental track season I've just had has ended so well. I wasn't alone in my experimental training over the past few months, as most of my team mates on the GB team for the Para-Cycling Track Worlds had also been working on a few different options to their race repertoire. With well known sprint kings, Jody Cundy, Barney Storey, Anthony Kappes and Jon-Allan Butterworth all stepping up to ride the 4km Individual or Tandem Pursuit, my voyage into the unknown of coming into individual events off the back of team pursuit training was in very good company indeed.
Sarah Storey on the Podium. Photograph kindly supplied by Eamonn Deane (Sports Massage Bournemouth).
Watching my team mates on the first night of finals come away with medals galore got me really fired up to be adding to that tally and I was excited to enter the velodrome on the morning of Saturday 12th March for Individual Pursuit qualification. As defending world champion I had the privilege of riding in the final heat and was seeded against World Silver Medallist from the last Championships Greta Neimanas of USA. Greta is a young and very talented rider across track and road and having recently signed for Kristin Armstrong, the 2008 Road Time Trial Olympic Champion, in her new team Peanut Butter and Co, I knew there would be a strong challenge to contend with.
It was clear blue skies outside, high pressure and cold inside so the conditions weren't what I'd experienced at my most recent race in the warmth of the Manchester Velodrome with the typical low pressure of a Manchester winter! My biggest challenge for the Individual Pursuit appeared to be my pace control, as in the limited training sessions I'd done on my own, I always seemed to forget I didn't need to accelerate on to the team pursuit speed I'd been doing previously! When the gate opened and I set off I kept my focus and started strongly, but not too quick and was able to catch Greta around the half way mark. With my world record schedule being walked by Chris Furber, I was right where I needed to be, but with the coolness of the track and the heaviness of a big team pursuit gear on the bike, I decided not to push all the way to the line as I knew I was on schedule to go through to the gold medal ride in the final as fastest qualifier.
Posting a 3.36.852, the third fastest time in history for my class, C5, I was comfortably through, with Greta taking second fastest, so we would meet again in the final. Having the pursuit prior to the 500m is always a good chance to see how your opponents are riding and it was interesting for me to see the return of the 500m Time Trial World Record Holder, Ju Fang Zhou of China. Zhou had been absent from competition since the Beijing Paralympics until the Asian Games held in Guangzhou in December last year, where she won the 500m Time Trial. Her time in Guangzhou was not as blisteringly quick as her world record but with a few extra months under her belt I knew she would be a threat for the World Title.
Watching her ride the 3000m qualification and miss out on a medal ride, some 17 seconds slower than her best, made me think she was saving everything for the shorter event. There was no time to wonder about that though, so I pushed all worries about her to the back of my mind and concentrated on completing the job in my favoured event, the Individual Pursuit.
With 10 hours between the qualification and final I headed back to the team hotel for some food, a couple of games of cards with my team mates and then a snooze and a snack before heading back to the velodrome to prepare for the final. It's a pretty relaxed atmosphere at our team hotel, no stress needed, keep a cool head and go out and do the job you have trained for.
Undoubtedly there are a few nerves as the events get closer, but having some light hearted banter and good morale always helps distract me from over thinking about races coming up. The success of your team mates also allows you to feed off the positive energy and with everyone riding so well we could support each other whilst not over stressing.
For the final, my plan was to set off a bit quicker and to see whether I could make another catch. It's always tough to know whether your opponents have kept something back for the final so a catch was not inevitable and I knew the pace I'd saved in the morning could come in handy for the final, should I need it.
In the event I started strongly, opting to stay on the big team pursuit gear and keep my legs used to the pressure I would feel when back on the track in team formation. Greta also started fast and for the first 500m it looked as though I was settling in for a full 12 laps. As I started to hit top speed though I started to see I was closing in and by the half way mark I'd reeled in the gap for a fire of the gun and a chance to celebrate claiming the title for the 4th successive Championships. I was so chuffed, and all the video feedback pointed towards a stronger start than the morning, it was time to rest up and see what the 500m would bring on the following afternoon.
Walking into the velodrome for my second event, with a white jersey and gold medal already packed for home, it was a sweet feeling but I knew all eyes were on myself and Ju Fang Zhou to see who would win a battle over 500m that so far she held at 5-0!
My 500m was the first final up in the final session of the Championships and with around 30 minutes to wait for my call to the start gate I completed my last preparations including some standing starts in the track centre and the last second chalking of my hands. It has to be last second or I'll end up getting chalk all over my visor! By the time I was settled in the gate, Zhou was still top of the leader-board with a 38.506. A time I knew was well within my grasp, but I had to really concentrate on getting the power out as with the temperature in Montichiari Velodrome still wobbling dangerously close to tipping over the 20 degree marker! I knew the conditions were tough and this was reflected in the times of my opponents.
There's no time to think in a 500m Time Trial. It's just a case of using every ounce of raw power you have to get the bike up to speed as fast as possible and then don't let off the pedals, keep driving. I came through the first lap and could hear everyone in the crowd screaming and Chris Furber yelling for me to “drive, drive, drive”. Flying through the second lap and then seeing Chris virtually run the final 20 metres with me to the finish, I just got my head down and charged across the finish line.
37.733, just shy of my personal best and whilst my start hadn't been any quicker than the rest of the field, I was almost a second quicker for the second lap!
Pulling on the rainbow jersey and standing to listen to the National Anthem being played for me again was a truly amazing feeling and I can't quite believe I managed to beat the world record holder. Every other time I've raced her, I've finished with a bronze, I'll have to keep working as it's still 5-1 to her though!
Sarah Storey with Paola Santini who was working throughout the championships promoting Santini Clothing. Photograph kindly supplied by Quentin Storey.
Packing for home also brought the news that I hadn't been included in the Team Pursuit group that will be travelling to Apeldoorn next weekend. It was the team selection that everyone had been waiting for and so many riders and staff from other nations had said they would keep their fingers crossed for me but in the event it was my turn to miss out this time and instead get a head start on the last full road season before next summer when we'll be combining track with road in the run up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
This season has proved to be an unprecedented catapult for me into the squad of team pursuiters and whilst the World Cup in Manchester gave me a chance to step up and ride fast, I always knew the schedule for a transition back into the Team Pursuit after Montichiari and the Para-Cycling Worlds would be tough.
With only two possible sessions before a flight to Apeldoorn, it would have been a big ask for me to slot straight back into the team. Competing in team events creates more considerations than an individual would normally face and even with all the will in the world, it's important to be realistic about what can be achieved when the decisions affect a team of people. My non-selection is a sign of the strength in depth we have in our women's team and I will be cheering them on for Worlds and looking forward to being reunited with them for the next and final winter track season before the London Games.
So for now it's time to celebrate such a successful end to my 2010/2011 track season, I am over the moon to have successfully defended both track world titles and to have learned even more about the balancing act I need to do with each of my 5 events across track and road. When I started the track season I didn't know whether picking up the team pursuit event would even be a possibility, so to finish the season knowing I have the engine and skills that might take me through to the final Olympic selection next year is a massive confidence boost.
It's time to enjoy a couple of easy days now though, before getting stuck in back on the road. It's been like Christmas in our house today as the equipment for Horizon Fitness/Prendas Ciclismo/Dolan RT has started to arrive, so I'm off to try on my new gear!
Sarah Storey x