By Fred Dreier
American Sarah Hammer, the two-time defending world pursuit champion, posted the fastest time of the day in the women’s pursuit at the opening day of the UCI track World Cup at the ADT Events Center in Carson, California.
Unfortunately for Hammer, her 3:38:00 in the 3000-meter event took place in the bronze medal round rather than the gold medal final.
Hammer’s 3:41:006 in qualifying was the fourth-fastest of the morning, putting her out of contention for the top step on the podium. The 24-year-old was disappointed with the qualifying run, but given her recent recovery from a back injury, Hammer said she could take solace in the fact that her speedy time in the finals shows she’s on track for the Beijing Olympics.
VeloNews caught up with Hammer after her bronze-medal performance.
VeloNews: What did the 3:38 tell you about your form?
Sarah Hammer: I think it confirmed that my preparation was good, but with the different for taper I was stale. I definitely think that confirmed that I was stale. I didn’t go three seconds faster tonight because I wanted to. I just needed a really hard effort this morning to get my legs ready. I know I’m not super fast right now — a 3:38 is where my fitness is. But a 3:41 (her qualifying time), that was a little ridiculous. Of course I wanted to win. I can race in front of friends and family and it’s my home track. I mean, world’s is important, but this is more fun I think.
VN: What do you feel is lacking right now?
SH: Strength. The [back] injury is good now but it’s always going to somewhat be there. So far the year is progressing is a lot slower than normal but it’s not just the injury, it is training adjustment. I can’t be going in the gym and lifting really heavy anymore. I have a back injury. I have to get strength in different areas. I think my body is trying to adjust to new training stimulus. The last two years I pretty much did the same exact thing in training. I’m a creature of habit.
VN: Physically, what were the differences you could fee between this morning’s run and this evening’s run?
SH: Pursuit is always painful but it’s about where you’re able to give it that extra dig. I couldn’t this morning. The whole race was my extra dig. But [coach] Andy [Sparks] and I talked about it. I needed to be there, that’s what matters. So I came out tonight and was trying to push the pace and crack [Czech rider Lada Kozlikova] her from the beginning. She hasn’t been in too many finals that I can remember. That experience is valuable in this game.
VN: Yes it seems like there was some talent missing at this World Cup. What did it mean to you not having [World Cup pursuit leader] Katie Mactier here?
SH: I wasn’t expecting her to come. We all pick and choose our World Cups. After winning the first two [World Cups] she doesn’t need to come. She’s gotten her points and is good to go. I knew the British girls weren’t going to be here as well. It didn’t really change much. Of course I was hoping to win, but I also wanted a good time. Now that I have it I’m happy.
VN: I noticed that the United States is organizing a women’s team pursuit for this race. With team pursuit being a first-year event, do you have any ambitions of racing it?
SH: If we get a good team together it’s a big possibility. I’m not racing it here because I’m on a trade team and they’re on the national team. That’s a problem that the UCI has a little bit with since introducing the women’s team pursuit. It’ll take me a year to just get that sorted out. All of the women have to be on the same team and the way women’s racing is, it’ shard to bring three women just for that. Teams aren’t bringing three pursuiters to these races. I mean, you can only start one pursuiter [in the individual pursuit], who wants to bring three? Who wants to just go for just that event? For me I would like to do it, but of course I race for my trade team and we don’t have two other girls to race with me. Hopefully that will be fixed next year. I think it could be a great event for the U.S.
The depth we have with Kristin Armstrong is really great. You can mold road girls more for the team pursuit than the individual pursuit.
VN: This being an Olympic year, what kind of extra attention have you been getting?
SH: I’ve done little stuff for NBC for the buildup which was fun to be able to be around other really successful athletes. It was cool to meet people who have won medals or who are favorites. It is nice to be acknowledged, but that means more pressure. Now I think I can realize the benefit of being an up-and-comer like I was two years ago. It is really a huge advantage. It really is. No one has a target on your back. For someone who is flying under the radar, they don’t have someone looking at them. Luckily for me its not like I just won last year. I have had a few years to get a little more comfortable in the position. I’ll admit the first year I won world’s it was overwhelming. It was hard for me. Suddenly I was there. I hadn’t even been to a world championship before. I’m glad that I had time to get comfortable and realize that people are looking at me in the races.
VN: Do you have trouble dealing with the added pressure?
SH: It’s no different, I still go about my days the same. Obviously whatever pressure I’m getting from the outside, I’m putting more pressure on myself. I’m successful because of that. I don’t think I realized how much differently it would be this year in the lead up to the Olympics. Everyone is so much more interested. People told me, but now I think I finally understand it. I think of these young gymnasts who are 16 or 17, and I think how can they handle it? I’m 24 and it’s huge.