It was a masterclass of sprinting from Anna Meares as she dazzled a packed Adelaide Super-Drome on route to a third straight sprint title at the 2016 Track National Championships.
In one of the toughest roads faced in a National Championships, the reigning Olympic champion showed her class in a thrilling final against fellow South Australian and 2013 national champion Stephanie Morton.
It was a ninth sprint crown for the hometown favourite, and the 35th national title of her glittering career.
Meares prevailed through a challenging semi-final against former national champion Kaarle McCulloch – who went on to take the bronze medal – before using all her experience to hold off Morton in two close heats and claim the green and gold jersey.
In the first heat, Meares used every inch of the track and gave the huge crowd a close up look at the battle as she pushed Morton to the edge of the barrier. Elbow to elbow, the pair charged to the line where a late throw to the line by Meares fended off Morton.
In the second heat, Meares controlled the heat from start to finish, with Meares taking the win with a stirring drive to the line.
Post race, Meares admitted it could be one of her best ever performances at a National Championships.
?I think all things considered I was very, very proud of that ride,? said the 32-year-old. ?This one was a hard fought one, very hard fought. I?ve been nursing a quad strain since Friday last week and qualifying didn?t go so well yesterday.
?I drew a really high seeding with Kaarle and I just wanted to get through the semi. I feel like I rode really well and gave myself some confidence and I just wanted to lay some hard races on the line for Steph because I know she?s been in good form.
?She?s going better and better and better and I?ve really got to work hard to stay on top.?
With the World Championships looming in four weeks, and the Meares? defence of her Olympic crown only six months away, Meares is fully aware of the pressure she faces from the quality of Morton and McCulloch.
?That?s real pressure,? revealed Meares. ?With all due respect to all the women in the field there are three very, very strong contenders in myself, Steph and Kaarle.
?Each time you get on the track you need to put your best performance forward. I don?t think I?ve had the pressure of this depth for a very, very long time.
?This is probably the deepest we?ve gone in the women?s sprinting ranks. In one way I feel really proud of it and in another way it?s checking me.?
It was a gallant performance from fastest qualifier Morton, who paired with Meares to win the team sprint on the opening day of competition.
“They were really hard races and I was happy with qualifying yesterday but once you get to the sprint rounds it all goes out the window and comes down to racing. Anna rode two really strong races,” Morton said.
“I did the best that I could with the form I had today but she’s a classy rider and got over the top of me.
?When I go out I still want to win no matter what’s going on and Anna rode really strong and hats off to her.”
For all three riders the hard work has only just begun and Meares is not taking anything for granted despite adding yet another title to her resume.
?I?m trying to focus on myself and what I can do and how I can improve. But it?s hard,? she said.
?A lot of people think that because I?ve done it so many times before it?s expected and it?s easy. But it continues to be very, very difficult and I have to challenge myself all the time.?
Feature image courtesy of John Veage.
Article courtesy of Cycling Australia.