Report: Anna Meares Golden Australia Day Celebrations at Track Champs

World champion Anna Meares celebrated Australia Day by claiming her 27th Australian title after pairing with Rikki Belder to win the elite women’s team sprint at the 2012 Subaru Cycling Australia Track National Championships at the Adelaide Super-Drome.

The South Australian team of Meares, 28, and 18 year old  Belder, were fastest in qualifying clocking 34.541, just three thousandths of a second quicker than Meares’ world champion team sprint partner Kaarle McCulloch (NSW) who with Cassandra Kell recorded 34.554.

“I really wanted it,” said Meares, “This is a national championship and there’s only eight teams competing, but for me I haven’t won a (national) team sprint title for three years,” said Meares who last won in 2009 with Emily Rosemond racing for Queensland.

Meares and McCulloch, who have won the team sprint world title for the past three years and hold the world record, lined up in their rainbow stripes with Belder leading out Meares over the first lap in 19.849 seconds. That was just over a tenth of a second quicker than the first lap time of Kell.

Over the final 250m Meares edged out the time of McCulloch by 0.068 to give SA the gold in 34.156. NSW clocked 34.376 for the silver medal.

“I didn’t really think we had much of a shot against the NSW girls, but when I saw 34.5 on the qualifying I was very impressed,” said Meares who praised Belder who is ten years her junior.

“As exciting as it might be, lining up with a world champion in front of your home crowd, it’s very daunting as well,” said Meares. “Plus this is the first time Rikki has ridden a team sprint, (and) she’s a first-year senior.

“I was giving her a bit of a gee-up for the final saying ‘whatever you did in the first one, do exactly the same, we don’t care about the time, just rip it up and put it all through the pedals’.  She did that and pulled out another two 10ths for the lap.

“It’s extremely special for her, which I think makes it a little bit more special for me, it’s really nice,” Meares added.

Meares was unnerved with facing her Australian partner in McCulloch with whom she has remained unbeaten in team sprint finals as a combination since 2009.

“Funnily enough, we didn’t have any bets on, but after qualifying, we passed each other in the pits and I was doing the old ‘pointing at my eyes, pointing at her and she says ‘oh, it’s on’.

“Kaarle and I have come out here I think with the same mindset that we’d have for a world cup, a world championship and an Olympic Games. Everything is geared towards London, but you can’t focus on the end result,” explained Meares. “If we can get ourselves into that (race mode) time and time and time again, by the time we come to the Olympic Games we’re going to be so well-drilled in the practice and the mental space that we need to be in to perform, that it’s all going to start falling into place.

Belder, who started cycling six years ago after taking part in a South Australian Institute of Sport Talent Identification program at her school, was ecstatic after claiming her first national title.

“(This is ) absolutely fantastic, it was such an honour to claim my first gold at a national titles,” said Belder. “Also, it is such an honour to be able to ride with and against the likes of Anna and Kaarle, it is just amazing.

“I learnt a lot from just watching her, she is so cool, calm and collected and always know exactly what’s she is doing and what she needs to do. But mostly, she is always enjoying it, she always seems to have a smile on her face no matter the situation,” added Belder.

Like Meares, two-time defending champion McCulloch found it  odd to see Meares on the other side of the track.

“It is obviously a little bit strange to look on the opposite side of the track and see a rainbow jersey in our event,” said McCulloch. “But it is always a good contest when we shape up against each other.

“I think I did really well in qualifying, pacing in the first one to save my legs, but I gave it everything I could in the final and they just pipped us on the line,” she said.

Earlier in the session, South Australia collected its first gold of the championships when James Glasspool took gold in the elite men’s kilometre time trial. Riding the final pairing against defending champion Jackson Leigh-Rathbone (NSW), Glasspool was fastest at every time check, stopping the clock at 1:02.433.

Glasspool, runner up in the time trial to Rathbone in 2011, was pleased to break through for his first individual gold medal.  “This has been a long time coming, it has been a very long winter and long build up,” said Glasspool who claimed the under 19 time trial title in 2009.

“From the disappointment of last year, we addressed a lot of the problems and had very good lead up competitions at Perth, Sydney and Oceania so I am very excited to kick off Australia Day with an Australian champion’s jersey, you can’t get better than that,” Glasspool added.

New South Wales’ Scott Law (1:02.524) took the silver medal, with Rathbone (1:02.961) claiming the bronze.