My track season ended a little sooner than I had planned. I never finished the 'Road To Rio'. For years I have dreamed of becoming an Olympian. And this year I came so bloody close. I had all the vaccinations and uniform fittings but never made that flight to Brazil. Our squad was whittled down from 12 riders. I made the final six.
I was given an opportunity to appeal my non-selection. I hadn't even read the selection document. I just figured I'd got myself into the shadow squad and after a series of culls during the previous 18 months I was still there. So I was obviously still a chance.
Six riders. Five positions. My theory was train as hard as you can and be one of the best. You want to be in the top couple of riders every session. You don't want to be last. So every day I fronted up and put in 100 percent. I did everything right - recovery, nutrition. And I trained hard. It was easy to stay motivated. I was smashing out new personal bests in ergo sessions and in the gym. I am strong. That was never in doubt. I am committed and determined. That was also never in doubt. I felt I had ticked all the boxes.
So much of selection is out of your hands. Ultimately selection is all discretionary. I was nominated as the reserve and accepted that position. It was an intense campaign and one of great personal sacrifice but I continued to train alongside my team and do whatever was required, just in case. I had an itinerary in my inbox for flights from Los Angeles via Houston to Rio. But in the final week of our staging camp in California when all riders were fit, healthy and uninjured my flights got changed. This was always the likely scenario. But I was still hopeful my coach would change his mind and fill the 'P Reserve' spot that was available to him. That rider is an accredited reserve who travels into Rio and can get swapped in at any point should one of those selected riders become injured or unwell. It's a unique role and not easy for some athletes who go to the Games but don't get to call themselves Olympians. I was prepared for that and still wanted to be with my team.
My coach sat me down in that final week and instead told me to go home, clear my head, and have a break. He suggested a holiday. That wasn't in the plan. I could do anything and go anywhere in the world. I started researching possible holiday locations - Queenstown, Thailand, Hawaii - and then ran it past my boyfriend Ben. He still had the second-half of his season to race so any holiday destination would involve his bike, and him training every day. Not really the romantic bike-free holiday I had in mind. So he suggested we go on a road-trip. It was a three week holiday that would see us drive from Canberra- Mudgee - Canberra - Geelong - Mt Gambier - Portland - Geelong - King Valley - Canberra. This was all an elaborate plan so Ben could race two National Road Series events - Tour of the Great South Coast and Tour of the King Valley. As Ben is on a UCI Continental team in the Asian Tour he's unable to race for an NRS team and would enter as an individual and I would be his swannie. I set to work planning logistics and booking accommodation.
I was still undecided about whether to keep riding or have a break. I had trained for three years for a race I didn't get to do and it would be a shame to waste my form. So I entered a couple of races in Mudgee which were on the weekend after I landed back in Australia, and emailed my team manager Donna to let her know I could be a reserve for King Valley as I was going to be there already with Ben. I had no idea how my head would be so didn't really want to commit to anything.
In my 'break' I raced more than a dozen times. In between I did some brew rides, went Strava hunting, signed-up to Zwift and rode if or when I felt like it. And there were a lot of days where I didn't feel like it. It was an unconventional off-season with 28 days off the bike spread across three months.
It was so nice to get back into my High5 Dream Team kit and get back on the road after being so intensely focused on the track for the past couple of years. Although I did have to win my own wine at all the wineries we visited. We both managed to win enough prize money at all our races to cover all our expenses so it was essentially a free holiday. I had my moments, especially during the Olympics but got through with the support of Ben and my family. Plus, I am still the World Champion and will continue to proudly wear my rainbows as I chase a third world title.