MOUNT HAWTHORN’S Rebecca Wheadon is back from the US after breaking a cycling world record at the Masters World Championships in Los Angeles.
The masters games are for competitors over 30s and she returns home a world champion, and a world record holder, with a time of 37.299 seconds in the women’s team sprint track cycling.
Wheadon and teammate Laurelea Moss also won the overall event, beating team America, who were favourites after setting a new record during qualifying.
Ms Moss is from Queensland and “Laurelea and I had never ridden this event together before,” Ms Wheadon says.
“We were relying on each other to have the experience and know what had to be done.”
Along with years of training and extreme mental discipline and smart coaching, the win also had an element of technical bike science.
The bikes they use are single, fixed gear, which means that gear selection can only be swapped out wholesale outside of a race.
During the qualifiers—where they came second to the Americans—they noticed that the temperature controlled conditions of the wooden track at the Californian velodrome were quite different than what they were used to.
That makes for a softer riding surface and a slightly slower pace (by a fraction of a second).
So before the finals they switched out their bikes to ones with more appropriate gears that gave them an edge over team America.
“We knew what we were dealing with…we had a pretty good idea that we could win, we just had to make that judgement call on the gears.”
When she finished the race, Ms Wheadon saw the electronic scoreboard light up with “WR”—world record.
“I was in shock. I had to get off the track and my coach is going nuts and my teammates are going nuts, everyone’s going crazy, I’m confused—it’s the most bizarre feeling.”
Ms Wheadon had always been pretty athletic but like most people in her 20s, sport gave way to pursuits like night clubbing. She got into cycling after seeing champion Australian cyclist Anna Meares on television.
“I was watching the Olympics, the track cycling, just because it was so exciting to watch,” she says.
“It was the coolest thing ever. I didn’t even ride a bike, but the explosiveness of the sport and how dangerous it was, I thought it was so exciting.”
She went from riding a bike to work every day to getting a road bike, and then went to try out the velodrome at Midvale.
“I went out there once, and it’s like being on a roller coaster,” with a sharply angled bank as the track curves at either end.
She was hooked.
Ms Wheadon won a previous world title in 2013 as an endurance rider, but has more recently switched over to sprint.
“I was really keen to win a title if possible as a sprinter. The sprint discipline is all about explosive power.”
The training sometimes involves more weights than cycling, with squats and deadlifts a big component to building up power.
She says the sprints always make her think of Gimli, the short but strong dwarf warrior from Lord of the Rings.
“Gimli’s got this throwaway line that sticks with me: when going into battle he says ‘Don’t underestimate me, I’m very dangerous over short distances’.”
It took her about two years of training to move from endurance to sprint, and in that time she doubled her deadlift weight which started off at about 80kg.
“Success in this sport is often the collective efforts of many people like coaches, partners, families and employers, so I feel really proud to be able to share our success with those around me.”
She’ll take a very short break, having had about 10 days off so far, then get back in training for the next state competition.
by DAVID BELL