TrackNats24: Richardson, McCaig, Leahy and Wilson-Haffenden win elite titles on Day 2


Alessia McCaig wins maiden Australian women’s sprint crown

From rising star to star. Victorian Alessia McCaig has well and truly taken the leap in 2024, winning her first elite women’s sprint national title in Brisbane on Day 2 of the AusCycling Track National Championships.

McCaig was forced to rally in the gold medal final versus Queensland’s Sophie Watts, who won the first match sprint.

The 20-year-old from Bendigo dug deep in the second match sprint to force a decider, where she would narrowly prevail in front of a lively Anna Meares Velodrome crowd.

The fight for the queen of sprint crown was turned on its head earlier in the day when defending champion Kristina Clonan crashed in her first quarterfinal match sprint after losing the front wheel on the bend while trying to make an agile move down the track.

Clonan showed strength to come back out and progress to the semifinals, but during the break between sessions, the Queenslander had to abandon the sprint competition with concussion symptoms.

Clonan’s fellow Queensland teammate Jacqui Mengler-Mohr finished third.

What she said:

“It feels pretty good. It was a tough one going to three rounds and being down in the first race, but yeah, super happy to come out with the win,” McCaig said.

“You really have to go in with a different tactic and just a really positive mindset, and just reassure yourself that you could do it, and that's what I did. And yeah, I'm happy.

“I think my form is coming along alright. It would have been nice to have Kristina in the in the racing with us. Just, you know, a bit more depth in there and someone else to race as well. But, you know, you can only race who's there. But I feel like I'm coming along pretty well and yes, super happy with yesterday's ride and today.

“The time trial is on tomorrow, so focus on that and then team sprint on Tuesday. So, fingers crossed we’ll get some more medals. But yeah, just going out, having fun, riding my race and yeah, that's all I can do.

“I'm really enjoying myself at the moment. Just not putting a lot of pressure on myself and yeah, just focusing on the process. So yeah, I'm really, really happy with racing and really loving at the moment.”

Matthew Richardson storms to back-to-back keirin national titles

Western Australian Matthew Richardson has produced a second flawless day in succession to win the elite men’s keirin national championship.

In a star-studded, world-class 1-6 final, Richardson drew position four behind the derny, with main rivals Matthew Glaetzer (South Australia) at six and Malaysian two-time Olympic medallist Azizulhasni Awang directly behind the derny.

As the derny pulled off with three laps to go, Richardson had already laid off the wheel of ARA Australian Cycling Team teammate Thomas Cornish (New South Wales) in a tactical move to provide him space to move into when an expected jump from Glaetzer came.

When that time came with one and a half laps to go the 24-year-old made his move to not allow Glaetzer to get alongside him and rapidly hit the front with clear air behind him to take gold in a blistering final lap time of 9.57 seconds.

A tight finish behind saw Glaetzer finish with the silver medal and Awang with the bronze medal, just ahead of Queensland’s Byron Davies.

What he said:

“I knew that Matt (Glaetzer) likes to go for a long one so I kind of protected that move with a really long gap and it just gave me a lot of time to react,” Richardson said.

“So, when he went, I didn’t have to over-commit until I saw the move was serious and I had a lot of room to run into with a lot of draft so I could protect against him and push out.

“(I went) pretty deep, I obviously fully committed with probably a lap and a half to go. But I mean, I went 9.5, so it’s going to take a solid amount out of the body, and I had to go three wide down the home straight and give enough room through the first corner and that ends up being the long way around, but I pulled it off.

“That is a world-class final for sure, me, Glaetzer, Tom (Cornish), Awang – that could be a Track Nations Cup final.

“I want it so bad (the team sprint on Tuesday); you have no idea. I was speaking to Shane (Perkins), and I don’t think WA has won for a long time, so we want that so bad.

“I’ve come second before with Luke Zaccaria and (Sam) Welsford, but now to do it with someone with the calibre of Shane Perkins would be so awesome.

“To have Shane here, coaching me, and helping me out is honestly incredible and now to race with him as well is going to be sick.”

'I’ve always wanted to win the points race’: Conor Leahy ticks off elusive national title

After years of “shockers”, Western Australian Conor Leahy has captured the elusive elite men’s points race national championship he was chasing with authority.

The 24-year-old laid the foundations for his win at the halfway point of the 160-lap race, gaining a lap solo and two five-point sprint wins in the process.

The second major move of the race went minutes later, with Leahy this time joined by Tasmanian Josh Duffy, Czech Republic’s Denis Rugovac, South Australian Angus Miller, New South Welshman Kurt Eather and Victorian Graeme Frislie.

With his points advantage nearly double that of his nearest rival, Leahy had all but secured the national title with 50 laps to go, as the race behind for the minor medals heated up.

That contest would go down to the wire under the impetus of Queensland’s James Moriarty and an audacious attack to gain a lap in the final 10 laps of the race.

Back in the main bunch, second-placed Rugovac was safe from the threat of Moriarty, but third-placed Duffy was not and tried in vain to up the tempo of the main pack while Moriarty pushed on.

The Queenslander would make the gusty lap gain with four laps to race, at the same time a lone Duffy halfway across the track was pursued by Rugovac, who would sprint over the top of the Tasmanian in the final sprint to win the 10-point finish and push the 23-year-old off the podium by one point to Moriarty.

Leahy’s dominant victory is his eighth elite national title since 2020.

What he said:

“I’m absolutely stoked. I’ve always wanted to win the points race and every year I come, and I have a shocker to be honest and just never put it together but this year I pulled it off,” Leahy said.

“I went to Oceanias last week and it was hard there after the Nations Cup and I told myself I didn’t want to let that happen again so over the last week I’ve really tried to switch it around and do some little things and work on my position on my bike and just thinking about what sort of kit I was going to wear today. Just all those little details, and when you think about it that much you’ve got to make it happen in the end.

“Chased it, chased it early. I knew it was hard from the gun and sort of capitalised on that knowing that if it’s hard for me it’s got to be hard for everyone else and by the time I got that first lap I think everyone was already sort of in the same position so all I had to do was really defend and pick off those little sprints and go with any attacks. I was just on the front foot, and it felt really good – super happy.

“I had a good week of getting back on the bike and base training and learned to love it again instead of doing this race, recover, race, recover sort of thing. I had a week to reset and reset mentally as well and I think it did me wonders. And coming back to Nationals, maybe not quite the level of Oceanias with world champion Aaron Gate but you’ve still got international riders and we’ve got plenty of the Australian boys there so to get a result in the points race at Nationals, oh mate – I'm so stoked.

“We (Western Australia) did a really good race too. Normally we are on the back foot a bit but we were all over it today.”

Felicity Wilson-Haffenden wins first elite national championship in women’s individual pursuit

Junior road time trial world champion Felicity Wilson-Haffenden has won her first elite national championship at the first time of trying in the women’s individual pursuit.

The 18-year-old star of the future was behind Australian Capital Territory’s Claudia Marcks for all but two laps of the 3000-metre race, falling two seconds behind at the midway point of the bronze medal final.

Crucially, the Tasmanian’s second lap in the lead would be the final one, crossing the finish 0.126 seconds ahead of Marcks in a time of 3:28.459.

The all-Ireland gold medal final was won by Kelly Murphy, with teammate Mia Griffin winning the silver medal.

What she said:

“I was really pleased with the ride tonight, I think it was a big improvement from this morning. I mean, this is my first time riding a 3000m IP in training or in competition, so it was a really big unknown. I haven't ridden the pursuit since junior worlds last year and that was a 2000m, so yeah, I was really, really proud of the improvement tonight. And I haven't had a big track preparation. So yeah, I'm really pleased to take home the jersey today.

“I mean it's a huge jump. For me, it's a different race, really. A 2k, you go out hard, you go harder, and you hang on. A 3k, as I learned this morning, you really do need to pace a lot more. Tonight’s really the first time I've actually ridden to a schedule and yeah, I mean it's just completely different. You go hard, sit, and then you really just dig deep for the end. And I think yeah, that's what I perfected – well, not perfected, but improved a lot on this evening.

“I think the start is a big area for improvement for me. And then, just the more training, I hope the backend just gets more consistent. I think, my hope tonight was to ride closer to 3:25, and it didn't quite come through. And I think that is the backend, and that's just something that'll come with more training.

“Yeah, I mean, coming off road worlds, it was a huge rollercoaster for me. There were big highs and there were also some big lows. And then, yeah, all summer it has been learnings. I've actually gone a bit slower than I would have liked to. And four weeks ago, I had my collarbone fixed up; had a plate in there which needed a little bit of touching up. So yeah, it's actually been a rocky summer and probably not what I'd hoped for, but so much learning, and I think that's going to be key for the future.”

Alex Hewes (QLD) – Junior Men’s Scratch Race National Champion

What he said:

“I’m so happy. I’ve never wanted something more to be honest,” Hewes said.

“That last lap was a bit of a grind to get around Sam (Washington) but had to knuckle down and get it done. Super stoked.

“Me and Toby (Jones) were basically just riding for ourselves. Obviously, we both want each other to do well and we both worked in that breakaway group but at the end of the day we helped each other where we could but I couldn’t have done it without him in the breakaway.

“I think all four of us in the top four were all first-year under-19s which is awesome for next year.

“I’ve been really working on my finishing speed. It’s one of my better abilities and strengths at the moment. I know I’ve got a good kick on me especially in that last bend so it’s always good to leave it to a sprint for me.

“The crowd was awesome, it was so good to hear the crowd cheer and I’ve never been happier.”

Tayte Ryan (SA) – Junior Men’s Keirin National Champion

What he said:

“Well, I must admit, keirin is not my best race. I’m a bit clueless when it comes to it, but I'm lucky I had the legs to save me on that last lap there because I was quite a way back and lucky I was able to pull it back from there.

“The legs are feeling pretty good, feeling on pretty good form at the moment. So just hoping we can carry it on for the rest of the week.

“I think the legs are there. It’s just the technical factor in a lot of my races as well, it lets me down. Like in my flying 200 and in keirins in particular, I get let down quite a bit tactically. So that's definitely a big area for me to work on throughout the year. But it's always good learning here at TrackNats because it's, you know ... I did learn quite a bit in that race of what to do and what not to do in a final.

“I'm really, really happy to put away this one. Always special winning a national championship. I'm really, really pleased.”

Liliya Tatarinoff (NSW) – Junior Women’s Sprint National Champion

What she said:

“I’m definitely happy to get the national jersey,” Tatarinoff said.

“It’s been a good lead-up to TrackNats and I’m excited for what will hopefully be my second junior worlds in China this August. I’m definitely hoping to go better than last year at junior worlds because I’ll be a second-year.

“I’ve finished school so I have more time to focus on training so hopefully I can just rip it and be a lot faster than last year.

“I’ve been focusing on my start for the 500m time trial because I’ve got a good second lap, but my first lap needs improvement and I’m still working on that.

“And training on bigger gears because that seems to be the thing right now.

“I am excited (to jump into the elites next year) but also nervous. I think it will be good to have that really tough competition and be in the mix.

“It’s definitely inspiring (seeing Alessia winning at 20 years old) so hopefully I can follow her footsteps and be up with the big dogs soon.”

Lauren Bates (ACT) – Junior Women’s Individual Pursuit National Champion

What she said:

“I did not expect that result today to be completely honest. This is my first IP since the Youth Commonwealth Games back in August. No training, IPs, nothing, so this was a bit of an iffy situation but we just went out there to see what time I could do. Didn't really aim for anything and ended up qualifying first, which was pretty cool. And then we sort of had an idea where it was, but yeah, so grateful to be here,” Bates said.

“Look, track I'm doing for fun at the moment. But I think I'm happy with my time. I am happy with my time, considering I've had no training, proper training for the individual pursuit coming into this. I am happy. I've been doing lots of road kilometres, so no intensity at this level whatsoever.

“I love road. I think long term I want to be on the road. I’d definitely love to come back and do some more track, but once I've kind of built up my road career a little bit more. Track is so fun, the adrenaline is awesome, bunch racing is my kind of thing. But I love being in the peloton. Doing the long ks, that's just my favourite thing to do.

“I'm not doing school at the moment. So, I graduated last year. This year I am having a gap year, and then I might do some TAFE towards the end, but yeah, full-time kind of training at the moment. I do have a part-time job, so it's a bit of balance there, but yeah.

“I want to be on the podium at junior road worlds this year. That's my goal. I don't care what position, but I want to be on the podium at road worlds.”

Kelly Murphy (Ireland) - Elite Women’s Individual Pursuit Gold Medal

What she said:

“Do you know what, like there's not many opportunities to race individual pursuit, so it's really nice to get up on the boards and especially with all your teammates as well. And everyone's come away with a PB today, so it's been a good day for everyone in the team, and those days are pretty rare in track cycling.

“I'm just really grateful that AusCycling had us and I'm glad that everyone's having a good time and it's great to see the set-up. It's a very professional affair that they've got going on here. It's great to be a part of it.

“We had just over a week in Adelaide and that was really cool. And Brisbane like, same country, completely different place. And we've had a lot of hours on the road exploring the greater area and using the days off to go see all the sights and stuff. So it's been wicked, it's been, you know, a highlight of my track career.

“I've seen (the IP) move on quite a lot in my career and I had high hopes when I initially started because I came in quite hot and the game has transformed so much since even I've been around, which is five or six years. And the type of rider you have to be now, like everyone's just getting better and better and better. And it's a great thing to see because the sport is evolving, the technology is evolving, and everyone's keeping up. So, it's part of the game, and you know, if you're fast, you deserve it. There's no hiding, so I can't be too sad about it.”

Pictures: Mackenzie Sweetnam

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