Peloton Watch
  A World Championship return leads to a bronze medal - Kaarle McCulloch  
  March 17th 2015 By Kaarle McCulloch  
  A three time World Champion in the team sprint between 2009-2011, Commonwealth Champion and Olympic bronze medallist Kaarle McCulloch has been at the top of the sport. McCulloch has also faced some of her most difficult moments as an athlete. A persistent knee injury and a battle with depression saw McCulloch unable to compete at her best throughout 2013 and much of 2014. With injury problems behind her, a new environment and support network McCulloch has rebounded and is again showing the form and desire that lead her to three world titles.

Ahead of the Australian Championships the pressure was on with McCulloch having to earn her selection for the World Championships. Less than a month later Kaarle McCulloch would again be standing on the podium in the team sprint with Anna Meares in Paris.

It seems surreal for me to sit here and write a reflection on my 2014/2015 season with a bronze medal to my name at the World Championships. If someone would have told me that would be my outcome this time last year I probably would have laughed at them as I did my slow tedious and boring rehab exercises.

For me my whole year basically revolved around the Australian Championships. I had to go there and ride a trial for the standing lap before competition started and that was my way back into the Australian Team. My trial actually went reasonably average. I had good form and I was in great shape but I didnít hit the required time, even though I rode a PB. I was worried I wouldnít be selected in the Australian team and so my attitude in the sprint was, donít waste this form you have. I was ecstatic to walk away with a PB in my flying 200 and the silver medal in the end and upon finding out selection for Worlds I was told it was my obvious super condition in the Sprint that was the selling point for selection (so the saying never say die has more significant meaning for me now!). I was over the moon when I found out that I was selected as my goal all season had been to get to Paris.

When I got the selection call I was probably the happiest I had been all year and I was pleased to see how happy my family and coach Sean Eadie were for me as they have been by my side through thick and thin the whole year. It was a nice moment for me to sit down and plan the worlds preparation with Sean. I had not much time between the Australian Titles and Worlds, only one week. So for me it was really just about making sure I stayed healthy (I got sick after the Australian titles) and just tapping away at the speed and strength - you canít really improve on form in 2weeks, all the hard work had been done, I just needed to remind my body to keep it there. I knew I was riding only the one event so it was easy to plan. When I found out I made the team my mum, stepfather and youngest sister also decided to travel across, I was happy to have them there supporting me as my mum especially has helped a lot to keep me focussed and getting my life back on track. I even got to visit some of Parisís famous sites with them and I enjoyed seeing them in the crowd on race day.

I met the Australian team in Singapore and began the usual Worlds Prep routine. In transit we always use the pool in Singapore, this helps with recovery from the flights and helps break the trip up - and its always fun! We had a good flight from Australia, landing in Paris early morning 10days before racing. Coming from a nice 32degrees and sunny in Sydney and going to a cool 0degrees in Paris is always a shock to the system! But lucky for us Ďtrackiesí the cold weather doesnít have such a huge impact on us!

We arrived at our hotel and had the usual troubles getting into rooms, having to wait a few hours for the rooms to be cleaned and ready for us. Having travelled a lot, when these things happen they donít really faze me so much any more. Its important when you travel to be pretty flexible in your mindset because things go wrong often, wether thatís a delayed flight or rooms not being ready - especially travelling from Australia. We luckily received all our bikes and luggage and our mechanics set to work building all of our bikes, which included something like more than 45 bikes. Day one saw us hitting the road to go check out the Velodrome - which for me was my only adventure on the road, Paris was too cold for me! Ha-ha

The Velodrome in Paris is amazing. I would have to say in term of favourite tracks its up there. The track is very round and is wider than normal so in flying efforts it felt like you were coming down off a mountain. I really liked it from the first moment I was able to ride it. The conditions in the track most days were super also and I knew when it was heated that it would be a fast track. I trained every second day, spending my days off watching TV shows and movies and enjoying rooming with Anna, and being around the team again. I enjoyed sitting late at breakfast talking to everyone and the feel in our team was really positive and supportive. Training days were also fun for me, getting to wear the green and gold and ride that track in particular in good form always adds to a good environment. When race day did arrive the track felt even more special - the French people were amazing and most sessions were packed to the house so the atmosphere was amazing.

Finally race day arrived. I was feeling a little bit nervous. My belief is that if you are not feeling nervous then itís not important to you, so I actually like the feeling as long as it managed. I was too nervous before nationals and that impacted upon my performance but as soon as I started warming up on race day in Paris I had my tunes going and I was in my world - Ďmy zone'. My race day warm up is pretty similar to what I do every day in training but just in an off track version. Normally we always try to stick with off track warm ups as warm ups on the track on race day are often dangerous. It takes about 1hour45min total before I am ready to race, but most of that time is spent sitting there is probably only 35minutes of bike time, separated with the rest and maximal efforts ranging from small gears up to race gears and wheels. Warm up for me is about feel. Itís about feeling warm, and feeling loose and explosive - so again I am pretty flexible with my warm up also, this is important. I have been racing at this level for almost 10years now and so I know how my body is feeling. Sometimes I need to warm up more, sometimes I have to do very little.

It was a unique situation for Anna and I as a team as it was the first time we raced together since London 2012 and we were in reversed positions. This time I was starting and she was in second wheel. We had done only two efforts prior to race day together so it was really just about going out and seeing what will happen. I think the unknown of the combination excited us and provided us with a positive challenge - we didnít really have any expectations, we had chatted briefly about the idea of being in the finals, but we didnít really know what we would be capable of.

I was slightly concerned about the exchange point on this track because the straights are so short the pursuit line comes at you really quickly, you have only just straightened up out of the bend and the line feels like its already there, in training I had been on the border of exchanging illegally so all I was thinking pretty much was GET OUT OF THE WAY! When I crossed the line I gave Anna our usual team yell! And was ecstatic to see our overall time of 32.8. I was even more ecstatic to learn I had ridden a PB of 18.73 in the standing lap! We had qualified in 4th and were due to ride off against Germany for the Bronze medal. I had no real expectations for the final. I knew as a team Anna and I always improve in our rides and we both felt we had a few things technically to improve for the final, but going up against the reigning Olympic and World Champions we knew we had our work cut out for us. But as typical Aussies we werenít going to go down without a fight. It was a different situation for us. We were no longer the hunted but rather the hunters - Sean my coach always told me the hardest world title to win is the second because you are no longer hunting. There is some significance in that saying because I think it holds a lot of truth. Seeing China ride a WR of 32.0 doesnít scare me. It certainly is a great achievement and a great time, and I hold a great amount of respect for them as a team! But I see that and I see a challenge. I see a goal, I am hunting again!

Warming up for the final I felt my body was on the limit of its capabilities, I was slightly cramping in my calves so I had to focus really hard on my breathing and keeping myself as calm as possible. But also before the final I couldnít help but have a big smile on my face. I had already made the Australian team, ridden a PB and made the final!! Whatever was to happen was out of my control and I just wanted to nail the things I didnít quite get right in the first round. One of those things was being as fast out of the gate as possible and I absolutely nailed it. And that set me up for another PB first lap of 18.68. I even gave Anna a second yell as she went on her way in the second lap when she was already 100m away from me - I am sure she didnít hear this! When she crossed the line and I saw we had won I was immediately crying! All the heartbreak, hurt, and blood, sweat and tears of the past 12months all of a sudden felt literally like just what it wasÖmy past. I felt like a new person, a better person and a better athlete. Standing on the podium again was amazing. I re watched the footage a few days ago and I am avidly watching the Chinese team receive their rainbow jerseys and I have a big smile on my face. I appreciate the pursuit of that goal and I know what it feels like, my smile was one of joy for them, and of desire for me.

I think also the end outcome was a real confidence boost for me because it reaffirmed in my head that I am a good athlete and that I am to be able to change positions after coming back from injury and be able to medal at the World Championships. I finished that night with the ultimate belief that still sits firmly within me that this is just a small taste of what is to come for me. As I write this blog I am day one back into training with 31weeks until my next major goal. The difference between this year and last is I am not injured, I am not starting from a deficit and I am happy again in my personal life. I have a super team around me at the NSWIS and my coach Sean Eadie. And I have people in my life, both new and old who make me happy and who are helping to keep a nice big smile on my face! Being a top athlete doesnít just come from working hard, itís a combination of a lot of things that a person must work on all the time. I have realised some life balance again and I have things to look forward to outside of cycling and things to look forward to within cycling.

Thatís a wrap on season 2014/2015. Heres to a successful 2015/2016 season! Thanks for reading.

Follow Kaarle on twitter @kaarlemcculloch
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