Peloton Watch
  Tori Saunders explains her decision to retire from cycling at 18  
  April 14th 2016  
  2015 Junior World Championship Women's Team Pursuit Podium (Tori Saunders third from left). © Kazakhstan Cycling Federataion  
  For Tori Saunders the past 18 months where she represented Australia for the first time have been in her own words a roller coaster ride. From making the Australian team for the Junior Track World Championships in 2015, and claiming silver despite the disappointment of only riding one of three rounds to missing selection in 2016.

Having stopped enjoying the sport she reached the point where she was going to bed dreading getting up in the morning to train. Faced with a difficult decision, Saunders who recently turned 18 weighed up her enjoyment of the sport as well as future career opportunities. Ultimately deciding that her path lay elsewhere as she looks to complete Cert III & IV in fitness, while also applying to join the Army.

How did you first take up cycling and how old were you?

I've been riding bikes since an under 11. I got into cycling because of my dad, he would take my younger sister (who always kicked my butt) and I to the velodrome on a Friday night and to the club crits on a Sunday morning. It wasn't something I did seriously though until I moved into the under 15 category.

Selected in Junior Track Worlds team last year what did it mean to represent Australia?

It meant so much to me to be able to represent Australia. It's a huge honour - something only a few people get the opportunity to do so I also felt it was a huge responsibility. There is no feeling quite like pulling on the green and gold jersey and its something that will always be special to me.

Claimed a silver medal in the team pursuit how did it feel standing on the podium?

Claiming a medal at Junior Worlds was certainly one of my goals for the 2015 season, but standing on the podium and receiving the medal felt different to the way I had pictured. As I had only ridden the first round of the team pursuit, I was feeling so many emotions all at once. I felt pleased and proud that I had contributed to the team - even if it was only in the first round, but I also felt that I did not deserve to be standing there on the podium with all the other girls as I didn't ride the second round and the final.

Missed selection for the Junior Worlds team this year how disappointing was that?

Missing selection for Junior Worlds this year was both devastating and a relief all at once. Representing Australia at Junior Worlds is certainly a challenging but rewarding experience. So while I was disappointed that I wouldn't be going for a second year, I was also sort of relieved that I wouldn't have to go through the roller coaster ride that is representing Australia at Junior Worlds. While Junior Worlds is an amazing experience, there is also a lot of sacrifice that goes with it.

When did you first start thinking about retiring from competitive cycling?

The first time I seriously started to question my cycling career was when I was told I wasn't going to be riding the second and final round of the team pursuit. The six months prior to this I had spent the majority of my time training for this race, I had lived away from home to have better access to Dunc Gray velodrome and my parents had spent thousands to get me over to Kazakhstan for Junior Worlds, so when I was told I wouldn't be riding, my first thought was "Is it really worth it?"

You had planned to target the road and NRS after missing Junior Track Worlds team what changed?

After Track Nationals, I continued training for Oceania Road Championships, until about a week before when it had come to my attention that it was going to be extremely difficult and costly for me to get all the way down to Bendigo. When the decision was made that I was no longer going to be riding for those reasons, I had some time off. When it was time for me to begin training again, I very quickly realised that I actually didn't want to ride my bike at all. I was going to bed dreading that the next day I would have to get up and ride my bike. It was then that I really spent some time thinking about my future in the sport.

With limited opportunities for juniors outside national programs on the track did that impact your decision on continuing in the sport?

Stepping up to under 19's and elite racing is certainly very different from racing as a junior (U17 and below). Last year I wouldn't have raced at anymore than five given events, which meant I spent a lot of my time just training. Living in Tamworth, which is about five hours away from Sydney this meant that I was spending a lot my time doing solo rides. Which could be anywhere up to five hours long and there are only so many times you can listen to the songs on your iPod without getting sick of them. Not making the national team for track this year only meant more solo kilometres and time out training by myself just to hopefully be in the bunch at the finish of an NRS race.

Ultimately what made you decide to retire? Was it a difficult process and decision to make?

There were two main factors that made me decide it was time for me to move on, these being not enjoying the sport and what would be the best career move for me. Ever since Junior Worlds last year I have been a bit hot and cold with my training and how I felt towards the sport and after some time off earlier this year it became clear to me that I really wasn't enjoying it like I used to. The second contributing factor for me was what would the best career move for me be. If I continued to pursue cycling, I would have only been able to work minimal hours due to time away training, and racing, putting the pressure back on my parents to pick up the slack, and anyone who has anything to do with cycling knows that it isn't a cheap sport. The decision to not continue racing competitively was still a difficult decision to make as it has been such a huge part of my life for the last five or so years. While I still may have been struggling with my love for the sport, it is certainly something that I will miss dearly.

What advice would you give to riders in the U15/17/19 age groups based on your experiences over the past few years?

My advice to any junior in the sport would be to do your very best and grab every opportunity that comes your way as. It will help shape who you are as a person and give you skills and life experiences that you can't get by sitting at home or in a classroom.

What is your best memory and your biggest accomplishment?

My best memory would have to be the second Junior Worlds camp. It was in this camp where I really became close with four of the other girls, after being away from our homes and living together for a month, I can honestly say we became like a family. I think my biggest accomplishment has two parts. The first part being selected to represent Australia and the Junior World Track Championships, and the second part being receiving a sliver medal in the team pursuit at the Junior World Track Championships.

What are you going to miss most?

What I'll miss most from cycling is the friends. I've made so many great friends along my cycling journey and I will certainly miss catching up with them at racing.

What is next for you?

I've got a few things going on in my life at the minute. I've been spending some time completing my Cert III & IV in fitness as well as applying to join the Army. If everything goes as planned for me over the next few months, I will be a qualified personal trainer, a part of the defence force and will have moved out of home beginning a new chapter in my life.
 © 2016