Peloton Watch
  Tori Saunders Blog: The ups and downs of Junior World Championship journey  
  February 26th By Tori Saunders  
  2015 Junior World Championship Women's Team Pursuit Podium (Tori Saunders third from left). Kazakhstan Cycling Federataion  
  2015 couldn't have started on a stronger note for Tori Saunders who would earn gold in the team and silver in the individual pursuit at the Australian National Championships. The results impressed selectors with Saunders names in the Australian team for the 2015 UCI Junior Track World Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.

The experience of competing at the Junior World Championships differs greatly rider to rider and despite illness Saunders was part of the silver medal winning team in the team pursuit. With illness forcing her out of round one and the final Saunders had mixed emotions. "There was also the feeling there that I didn't deserve to hop up on the second step of the podium and receive a silver medal as I didn't ride the second round and the final," Saunders said.

Following the highs and lows of competing on the world stage it was a hard return as Saunders left her bikes in the box for a month as she wanted to be in her own words a 'normal teenager' and finish high school.

Having missed selection in the team for the 2016 UCI Junior Track World Championships Saunders is turning her attention to the Australian National Road Series in 2016 before hoping to impress as an elite rider on the track in 2017.

My cycling journey over the last 12 months has been filled with many ups and downs, from winning silver in the team pursuit at the UCI Junior Track World Championships in Kazakhstan in 2015 to then not making the Junior Worlds team again for 2016.

Back in January last year, leading up to Track Nationals for 2015 I was probably in the best form that I have ever been and I was hungry for success. I had been preparing myself under the guidance of my coach, Mick Kejda, for this event since September 2014, as I so desperately wanted to be named in the Australian team for Junior Worlds in 2015.

The first day of Nationals for me was IP day, and I remember waking up and doing a pre start on the rollers and feeling great, I knew I had a good chance of medalling. I was in the last heat of riders so going into the race I knew that I would have to do the best time I'd ever ridden to make the gold medal ride off and I did. I left absolutely nothing out there on the track, for the last two laps I was honestly seeing stars from pushing myself so hard. It took me about a lap after I had finished the IP to even realise that I had qualified second and would be riding off for gold. I ended up with a silver medal but was over the moon, as it was my first individual national medal on the track.

Two weeks later, it was a Wednesday afternoon and I got a call from Rik Fulcher [Cycling Australia National Junior Coordinator] to tell me I was part of the team that would be racing at Junior Worlds in Astana, Kazakhstan in August 2015. I was so overwhelmed with emotions as it was something I had worked so hard for.

Going into the second camp, I had already been away from home for two weeks and I had been living in Wollongong so I could train on an indoor velodrome and have better access to my coach. The second camp in Adelaide was one of the hardest blocks of training I'd ever done. Some days we would have two track sessions something at this point I'd never done before. After being in Adelaide for two weeks it was time to go over to Kazakhstan and show the world what the Aussie Junior Track Team for 2015 was made of.

The day before racing started we were told what events we were going to be racing. For me it was the team pursuit and the individual pursuit, which I was happy about, as these were the races that I wanted.

The team pursuit was held over the first two days of racing, but I was only given a ride in the first round. The night before racing began, I actually became quite sick and was up and down all night and didn't feel well at all. This really affected the way I rode in the first round, not being able to ride to the standard that I should have, so the decision was made that I would sit out of the team pursuit on the second day.

Although I tried hard not to show it, it was something that I really struggled with as I had basically spent the last six months working towards this. I was devastated. The Australian team ended up getting second and while being proud of the girls who rode the second round and the final and so pleased that I had also been apart of this team in the first round, there was also the feeling there that I didn't deserve to hop up on the second step of the podium and receive a silver medal as I didn't ride the second round and the final.

I raced again on the third day of Junior Worlds in the individual pursuit, I still wasn't feeling very well but I seemed to race a lot better than on the first day of competition. I rode the second fastest time I have ridden to date and felt quite strong in the back end of the race. I placed eighth and was happy enough with that, but what was most present in my mind was going home.

Somewhere six months between making the team and finally going over to Kazakhstan and racing at Junior Worlds seemed to go on forever and I think somewhere along the way, Junior Worlds and the training required became something I had to do and was expected to do, rather than something that I enjoyed doing. Even though this was the case Junior Worlds has probably been the best experience of my life, and I was able to learn so much in the two camps that were held leading up to Junior Worlds. I was able to make some really great friends that I didn't have before and I'm so grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Feeling the way I did towards training really impacted my results at Track Nationals this year. After I got home from Junior Worlds I didn't even unpack my bikes for over a month, they just stayed in the box. All I wanted to do was be a 'normal' teenager finishing high school, and that's exactly what I did. I really didn't start training properly again until mid November when I went down to Wollongong to train. I lived in Wollongong up until Track Nationals and put in a lot of hard work in the two months leading up to Track Nationals.

Coming into Track Nationals I knew I wasn't as fit as I probably needed to be if I wanted to make the Junior Worlds team again this year. I did the fastest time I've ridden all year in the IP, but I knew that it wasn't enough to make this year's team. Not being selected for a second year was a little disappointing but I have been fortunate enough to be able to experience a Junior World Championships and represent my country, something not a lot of people get to do.

For the remainder of the year I'll be switching my focus onto some NRS races while completing my Cert III and IV in fitness. Next year I'll be aiming to come back stronger on the track and hopefully put down some solid times for my first year in the elite ranks and show the selectors what I have to offer. I look forward to see what the future has in store for me.
 © 2016