Neylan nails worlds debut to score silver
South Australian Rachel Neylan has delivered a stunning performance in her debut appearance at the UCI Road World Championships in the Netherlands to claim the silver medal in the elite women's road race.
The 30 year old physiotherapist, who began racing in 2007, crossed the line ten seconds behind Dutch rider and outright favourite Marianne Vos, 27, who recaptured the road crown she first won in 2006. Vos, who also won the road race at the recent Olympic Games in London, completed the 128.8 kilometre race in a time of 3:14:29 holding off Neylan on the run to the line with Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini 18 seconds back in third place.
For Vos it was a case of relief after five sraight years of finishing second while for Neylan it was one of disbelief at claiming her first world championship medal.
"I can't describe it. It is unbelievable, I never ever dreamed today that I would be standing here with a silver medal around my neck," said Neylan who is the first Australian woman to place in the world title's road race since Oenone Wood claimed bronze in Madrid, Spain in 2005.
The women contested eight laps of the 16.1 kilometre circuit in and around Valkenburg that featured two climbs. Bemelerberg Hill is a testing 900 metre climb with a maximum gradient of seven percent while the 1.5 kilometre long Cauberg Hill boasts a maximum gradient of twelve percent with the summit located just 1700 metres from the finish line.
Neylan's role in the team plan was to cover breaks by making sure Australia had a presence in any moves and to help set up in-form team leader Tiffany Cromwell. She followed that script to the letter riding into a break that escaped on the Cauberg climb on lap five.
"It was completely today a team plan to work for Tiffany Cromwell," said Neylan. "But anything happens in cycling, I did my job I covered the breakaway, I was there at the right time."
The break hovered around 30 seconds until two laps from home when Vos launched a solo attack from the peloton bridged the gap.
"I kept on waiting for the chance for Tiffany to come across and for when the groups were going to come together," said Neylan. "The way that it unfolded I got the all clear once Vos came across and once I knew I was racing for a medal I just had to stay calm and play the right moves."
The penultimate time up the Cauberg Vos, Neylan and Longo-Borghini tested their rivals and rode clear. After the climb only American Amber Neben and Vos' Dutch team mate Anna van der Breggen were able to rejoin the lead trio.
"I knew I had the strength on the climb and on the last lap I went for it at the bottom (of the Cauberg)," explained Neylan. "I had nothing to lose, absolutely nothing to lose and I think no one expected me to be there at the end. I was definitely an underdog.
Vos however produced an explosion of power spurred on by the home crowd and surged past Neylan at the top of the climb to grab gold.
Neylan is a former hurdler and rower and began her cycling career in 2007 with Cycling Australia's National Talent Identification Program. She made her international debut in 2009 and has since then raced in Europe each season in the professional women's ranks.
In 2011 a fractured pelvis required a painful recovery with up to six hours a day of rehabilitation exercises. Back on the bike and almost ready to compete again she was hit by a car while riding on Grange Road in Adelaide re-fracturing the pelvis and forcing her back to square one of her recovery.
Midway through this year she parted ways with her professional team in what she diplomatically terms "undfortunate cirumstances" and was forced to fund her own way so she could line-up as a guest rider in various teams in European races.
"It was a sink or swim situation," said Neylan who was rewarded for her tenacity with a ride in the team for the world titles. "It is just an absolute dream come true to be standing here today, representing Australia. Just to be selected for this world championships team was such an honour. I can't tell you how happy I am."
Meantime in the men's under 23 race over eleven laps of the circuit dry roads and little wind worked against the Australians and produced a bunch sprint photo finish.
At the end of the 177 kilometres it was 20 year old Kazakhstan rider Alexey Lutsenko (4:20:15) who won gold in a photo finish ahead of Canada's Bryan Coquard and Tom Van Asbroeck of Belgium.
"From the start of the day we had the plan and the boys plan was to look after me and for me to give it a crack in the last couple of laps," said McCarthy. "For me to have a good result today the race needed to be hard, then put me in the right position.
"As you saw on the last lap, and with a few laps to go as well, I in the mix of the better climbers over the Cauberg and I guess you could say if the finish line was closer to the top of the hill it could have been a different story," he explained. "We gave it everything today and I'm really proud of the boys. We did everything we could just think we were a little unlucky at the end there to not come away with the result."
The Australians were active from the start with Michael Freiberg riding watch at the front in the early laps.
"The race started pretty slowly. No teams willing to take the lead early on. I went in the early break and got about eight minutes down the road at one stage so things looked good for us from my point of view," said the West Australian. "That's essentially what the team plan was. I went down the road just to be in the mix of it to have our bases covered and then my real job started when I came back to the peloton and we did that really well and covered most of the breaks."
Cycling Australia Under 23 Men's Coach James Victor says although the team didn't get a podium result he's pleased with the way they rode.
"The boys certainly put themselves in the race," said Victor. "Michael getting in that first move that was planned for either him or Nick to try and stretch the teams and make the race work hard, as hard as possible early just to try and not have it come down to a bunch kick.
"But unfortunately for us the teams who were looking for that bunch sprint saw it fall into place for them at the end."
Victor praised team debutant Adam Phelan who had an incident plagued first world titles and McCarthy for going for the win.
"Full credit to Adam because he had two bike changes and a puncture and he was still off the front on the last lap," explained Victor. "Jay had a go on the Cauberg to try and put himself in the results, he might have snuck into the top ten if he'd waited for the bunch sprint but he was going for the win and gave himself every chance on that last time up the Cauberg."
Tomorrow the junior men ride eight laps of the Valkenburg circuit while the elite men will ride a 100 kilometre route to Valkenburg from Masstricht before they contest ten laps of the circuit for a total distance of 267 kilometres.
2012 UCI Road World Championships are being staged in the Limburg region of the Netherlands, from 16 to 23 September 2012.
Australian Results Summary
Cyclones Australian Team
(RR = road race, TT = time trial)
(** selected 18 September as replacement for Michael ROGERS who withdrew due to illness)
Australia has qualified the following places for the Championships: