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  Jessie Hodges ready to take next step after breakthrough track season  
  February 5th 2020  
  Jessie Hodges celebrates winning the omnium at the 2020 New Zealand National Championships. Photo: Dianne Manson  
  The name Jessie Hodges may not be one you are familiar with, but the 23-year-old is fast making a name for herself as a rising talent on the track in New Zealand and is looking to the future after a breakthrough season.

A netballer, Hodges suffered a torn ACL and needed a year away from competition. Riding a bike for recovery she found herself enjoying life on two wheels and elected to give cycling a go. In her first national championships in 2016 she was lapped multiple times in bunch races and didn't even qualify for the individual pursuit. That would have been enough for many to decide cycling wasn't for them. Not Hodges who stuck with it and a year later claimed a silver medal in the Madison.

The next three years have been rivers of National Championship gold starting with Madison, points race and individual pursuit titles in 2018, and even with a number of big names missing it was a sign of her potential. Hodges defended the Madison in 2019 and added the team pursuit.

The 2019/2020 season has seen Hodges take he career to another level starting with a maiden Oceania title in the team pursuit, along with silver medals in the Madison and Points Race in October. World Cup gold followed a month later in the team pursuit in Hong Kong along with medals in Madison in Hong Kong and Cambridge. The 2020 New Zealand Track National Championships may prove an important point in her still young career where she won five gold from five events. The omnium against strong competition including World Championship medallist Rushlee Buchanan stands out as a highlight for her.

While not selected for the World Championships in Berlin, Hodges has turned her attention to the road with the National Championships next on the agenda. From there it is all about continuing to gain experience and improve ahead of the 2021 track season.

You played netball how did the switch to cycling happen?
I had an ACL reconstruction surgery on my knee, which meant a year off sport. A lot of my recovery was on a bike and I figured out I really enjoyed it!

What are the biggest challenges you have faced since taking up cycling?
The challenges are never ending! When I first started the challenges were as simple as learning how to change a tyre, how to ride in a bunch, racing tactics and even making friends in a new sport! I think most athletes in their career will have some sort of injury(s) that they have to deal with. When I was in Europe last year with the track girls, my knee was playing up at the start of the campaign, and just as it got right, I crashed in my first race back and got concussion. It was tough dealing with setbacks, so I think my biggest challenges have been remaining positive when things don't go the way you'd hoped.

This track season has been a particularly good one for you winning an Oceania title, five National titles and three World Cup medals including your first gold how did you find it and what stands out as the highlight?
I loved it! It was all a highlight really, each and every race had its own value and highlight within the race. Winning the team pursuit at Oceania's was brilliant because we achieved a personal best time at the start of the season. Getting silver with Nicole Shields in the Madison, at the Hong Kong World Cup, because it was our first Madison together and her first World Cup! The national omnium win was special, because it was my first time, I'd actually won an omnium! When reflecting on the track season, my highlights have actually been other races, like when Callum Saunders won the Keirin at the Hong Kong World Cup, or when my teammates almost broke the World record in the team pursuit and being amazed by watching Campbell Stewart and Aaron Gate in the Madison. It's all been pretty cool!

Over your still short career you have now won national titles in all six track endurance events what does that mean to you?
It means a lot! Every rider has big goals and ambitions like the Olympics and World Champs, but I think it's extremely important to celebrate successes along the way. I remember Sarah Ulmer telling me a while back, that you will lose more races than you will win. So, I'll take the wins where I can get them!

Comparing this season to last what are the improvements you have made and how did they come about?
My improvements and probably what I've been most proud of, is my knowledge and tactics when it comes to bunch racing. I've put a big emphasis on critiquing myself, so I can make improvements. I've also made some big improvements on my position on my TP bike. I've become a lot more aerodynamic compared to last year where I looked like a rookie.

With your results and the improvements you made was it disappointing not to be selected for the World Championships?
Yes, it was a bit, but look at the people who are going instead of me, they're pretty awesome bike riders! I'm so looking forward to watching them in the team pursuit.

With the current depth in New Zealand what do you need to do to improve in the team pursuit to push for and claim a spot in the main TP line up?
I need to be fitter, faster and stronger!

At the same time with the depth in women's endurance in New Zealand as strong as it has ever been how important do you see that for everyone to improve both individually and as a team?
Its very important and a key factor in why our squad is going so well. I can only see benefits of being surrounded by talented athletes. When I see Ally Wollaston flying past being the speed demon she is and Nicole Shields pushing some crazy weights in the gym, along with Kirstie Klingenberg flying round the track to clock in a 3:26 in the individual pursuit, it only makes me want to be better. We thrive off each other in the gym, on the track and on the road. We all offer something to make each other better. I believe our whole program including the men's endurance and sprint squads, push each other.

If you look back to your first National Championships in 2016 it is hard to believe what you have achieved since then?
Yeah I know! So, in my first nationals, I got lapped multiple times in the points and scratch race and I didn't even qualify to race in the individual pursuit. I remember warming up beside Rushlee Buchanan and Jamie Nielsen in the Waikato pit and just trying to copy their warm up because I had no idea what I was doing! So yeah, I've come a long way since then as I now know my own warm up routine!

Raced the Tour Down Under in January against some of the biggest teams in the world what was the experience like?
Hardest lot of racing in my life but one of the best experiences! It was an achievement in itself to finish each day and get up the next morning to do it all over again. Would love to be a part of it again.

With track season at a close have National Road Championships in February what are your goals there?
To be as competitive as I can for the whole race, being smart about playing to my strengths, and to push myself outside of my capabilities to keep up with the roadies up the climbs.

Looking further ahead what are your plans and targets for the remainder of 2020?
Compete in as many races as I can, try new things to enhance my performance and get some kms under my belt before the next World Cup season.
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