BALLARAT, Australia — Olympic mountain biking hopeful Peta Mullens may have won the 2015 Australian women’s road race championship on Saturday, but runner-up Rachel Neylan recorded a personal victory that she hopes will help propel the 2012 UCI road worlds silver medallist toward Rio 2016.
It has been a tough 18 months for the 32-year-old New South Wales native. After major oral surgery, a season-ending knee injury in 2013, and being hit by an automobile during a training ride 11 months ago, Neylan has endured what she considered “string of bad luck.”
“I really needed a big ride today,” said Neylan after the race. “It’s been a pretty challenging 18 months to two years since my world championship silver medal.
“I rode for the win today, but I didn’t pull it off, but to come away with a silver medal is nothing to be disappointed about.”
Neylan attacked on Mt. Buninyong with a kilometer and a half to go of the 10-lap, 102-kilometer race, and dropped Mullens off a left hand turn coming into the finish.
“I had a big attack there, and I did drop her and she groveled back,” Neylan said. “I really gave it my best shot. I made the race, and it was my attack that pulled us away.
“Basically I called the shots the last two laps of the race, and I think it proves my race intuition and tactical ability has really developed the last couple of years, and it’s not just my strength and endurance but the ability to put that in the right place at the right time and I’m a lot more confident in that.
“I showed that in Ponferrada as well.”
Neylan, who still sings the praise of former coach Tim Decker, has been on the comeback trail since her 24th-place finish in Ponferrada last September and credits her new coach and former Tour de France yellow jersey-wearer Brad McGee.
“Brad has been a phenomenal mentor over the last 12 months,” said Neylan. “Tim Decker is still a big part of my life and always will be. The decision to go with Brad was initially to allow me to go back closer to my roots in Sydney.
“Brad [is an] extraordinary mind in cycling and working on a lot of other aspects — not just the physical performance side, but also the mental, emotional and environmental and putting all those aspects in place to be an optimally functioning, well-rounded athlete.”
Two-time Tour and one-time Giro d’Italia stage winner McGee started training Neylan last year and said he can’t understand why Neylan, who now finds herself without a ride since being let go by Hitec Products after one season in 2013, has not been snatched up by a pro team.
“I’m quite new on the women’s side of the sport, but it doesn’t make much sense to me seeing a rider of her caliber on the sidelines,” McGee told VeloNews. “She’s a fantastic athlete of high pedigree and very high performance and sometimes people like that struggle with the simple mundane things that keep them from reaching their full potential.”
McGee believes Neylan’s performance at nationals proves she is on track and a valuable asset for professional women’s cycling.
“Rachel had another five laps in her at that pace,” he said of Neylan, who was pipped at the line by the stronger-sprinting Mullens. “I hope it just shows that you don’t get a result by just having a good day on course like this, so it’s proof that her consistency is there and her ability to remain stable and steady and I think that is the message the teams really need.
“The reputation is that she is broken down, injured, and less than consistent,” he concluded. “So I hope the message gets out now, and hopefully she can get herself out in the right environment and continue to do her thing for Australia.”
While her immediate future still in doubt, Neylan, who claimed she is in talks with teams at the moment but will not make a decision until after January, is fully aware of her long-term goals to vie for Rio in 2016.
“I really wanted my legs do the talking today,” she said. “I wanted to show people I’m not done yet and a few injuries and few setbacks never slowed me down before, and it won’t slow me down now.
“I’m really putting my hand up as a contender for the Rio Olympics, and the next 18 months is a huge building block, and today is just the start.”
Editor’s note: Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews