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April 5/12 21:19 pm - Day Two: Lessons from the Track

Posted by Editoress on 04/5/12

Monique Hanley is a name that will be familiar to many of our readers. Monique is a Melbourne-based cyclist and Canadian Cyclist correspondent now working with us on her fourth world championship. For the opening day of these Track Worlds, Monique has investigated the 'race within the race' for the final Olympic Men's Team Sprint spot for the Americas between Canada, Venezuela and the United States.

Two-tenths forward, one match back.  It was a day of recognition and learning for Canada’s young sprint star, Monique Sullivan.

With the world’s female sprinters at their best, including a new World Record (from Australian Anna Meares), Monique Sullivan was in good company.  Her qualifying time for the individual sprint wasn’t just a personal best, it was a new personal ball park.  Sullivan slashed 0.2 seconds off her previous best mark, clocking 11.101 and ranking her a career best ninth in the field.  Where times are measured to the thousandths of a second, an improvement of such significance is unusual.  But not surprising to the twenty three year old.  It was confirmation of a finely tuned preparation which, according to Sullivan, was a team effort.

“I think (the time) shows as a group we are starting to figure out what works for me”, said Sullivan, who is coached by national head coach Richard Wooles.  “This season was really long with a lot of competition, but I think that we figured it out and it shows that I was able to hang onto my form for the whole season.”

The individual sprint isn’t just about posting the best flying 200m time, however.  The subsequent match sprints require tactical knowledge, supreme bike skills, knowledge of your opponent, and faith in your own ability.  On paper, the 1/16 round line up against Korea’s Hyejin Lee should have been fairly straightforward.

Lee had been ranked 16th from qualifying with a time of 11.228.  In previous match ups, Sullivan had been the victor.  With the inside position, Sullivan took the lead and controlled the early part of the match well.  It takes great skill to ride in a perfectly controlled line around the track while facing the opposite direction, eyes fixated on your opposition.  Sullivan had Lee completely covered, three bike lengths behind her.  In the second lap Sullivan began to gather speed and in doing so, moved up for greater height from the track.  It opened up an opportunity for Lee to swoop below and steal the lead position.

But Lee too remained high on the track, allowing a small opportunity for Sullivan to steal the front back with the exact same move.  As the pair hit the bell for one lap to go, the two riders were nearing top speed and both diving for the same hole shot.  There was a collective breath shortening in the crowd as the fascinated audience watched the track space between the two quickly disappear.  With Sullivan on the inside and Lee crouching down, a disastrous outcome seemed inevitable.  Sullivan eventually conceded the space to Lee, and in doing so applied the ‘brakes’ to allow Lee the full spot.

With only 200m to go, Sullivan’s only option was to reposition on the outside and re-accelerate.  The two charged down the back straight, with Sullivan desperate to regain the ground, her head down and her heart at capacity.

“It was fine that she took the lead on me (leading into the bell) but when I went underneath her, I needed to commit to that more,” said Sullivan after the race. “Once she came down and I didn’t go for it, that was kind of the end of the race and I basically had to put the brakes on and I didn’t have time to come around again.  If I had either committed to going underneath or over the top to begin with, it probably would have been a safer move.”

By turn four Sullivan had moved into the outside lane and was slowly pulling up to Lee, but it was too late.  With no more track left, Lee took the match with a 11.741 final sprint time.  After one round, the individual sprint was now over for Sullivan.

It was an important lesson for Sullivan, and one she will never forget.  “This time around I made a tactical mistake and it is hard to finish off with a mistake, but it is still one more thing to learn, and the more we can pay attention to how that mistake happened, the less likely that I’ll repeat it.”

While Olympic selection is so far looking good, Sullivan will not receive confirmation until the final UCI rankings are released in May.  Her 2011/12 season was spent with long bouts of travel to the World Cups in order to gain valuable UCI points.  A move to Los Angeles for winter training, and support from the Canadian national team and her personal sponsor, PCL Construction Leaders, has been vital for her preparations.  For this meet, she is rooming with Zach Bell and Tara Whitten, “and I think just hanging around them, their excellence just rubs off on me!”

But the match lessons Sullivan will take away from Melbourne 2012 will be just as important as the recognition of her commitment and improved times.  And the week isn’t over yet.  On Saturday she will contest the keirin, an event she loves.

“The keirin is my favourite event.  There’s a lot more that can happen with the keirin, it’s very unpredictable.  My 200m shows that we have got some things right with my form and hopefully we can get the tactics right.  And maybe with a bit of luck it will go well for me.”


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