Ashlee Ankudinoff and Kaarle McCulloch have enjoyed a successful campaign at the UCI Track World Cycling Championships, bringing home a hat-trick of silver medals to the shire.
McCulloch, from Gymea, won Australia's first medal of the championships in Hong Kong after finishing second in the women’s team sprint alongside South Australia’s Olympian Stephanie Morton.
The medal took McCulloch’s career world championships medal haul to six in the team sprint event, along with her three rainbow jerseys alongside Anna Meares.
In McCulloch and Morton’s debut as a team sprint combination at any level, the pair clocked the second fastest time in qualifying with 32.785 seconds. An hour later they returned to the track to post an Australian record of 32.570s, eclipsing McCulloch and Meares’ five-year-old mark.
Reigning world champion Russian pair Anastasia Voinova and Daria Shmeleva were too good for the Australian duo in the final, winning their second straight gold medal in the event.
“I was a little nervous to start off with as I haven’t done any start work since Rio,” McCulloch said.
“It was actually something Simon Jones said to me this week. He said you might not have done many starts lately but you have done many starts during your career. I just remembered that and I absolutely nailed it.
“Plus this [silver medal] is pretty special, particularly as I don’t think we were expecting to ride off for the rainbows tonight. So to come out here and execute it is really good.
“We lifted, we just missed out on the rainbows but I think it is a very exciting time as we head into this new Olympic cycle.”
It was double silver for Menai’s Ankudinoff, firstly as part of the women’s team pursuit in an electrifying final on day two of the championships.
It was one of the most stunning final lap comebacks seen at a world titles, with the USA fighting back to stun the packed crowd inside the velodrome and the Australian team of 2015 world champions Ankudinoff and Amy Cure, reigning individual pursuit world champion Rebecca Wiasak and debutante Alexandra Manly.
With one lap remaining the Australian quartet were poised to secure victory, holding a lead of almost half a second, before Chloe Dygert emphatically drove the Americans home across the final lap to steal victory.
It was Ankudinoff’s fourth career team pursuit world championship medal.
“I’m over the moon. It is a pretty special moment to win silver,” Ankudinoff said.
“I was confident we could produce something special here but we were just beaten by a better team on the day.”
Two days later, the 26-year-old added a solo medal and her sixth career world championships medal overall, finishing second in the individual pursuit. Ankudinoff, who won bronze in the event at the 2012 world championships in Melbourne, again placed behind Dygert as the American powered to the gold medal by seven seconds.
“It was nice to have something else to concentrate on other than the team pursuit as all the focus was on that leading up to Rio [Olympic Games last year],” Ankudinoff said.
“It was great to be given the opportunity to race the individual pursuit here and I am stoked to finish with silver. I can’t complain, I came here with high expectations obviously chasing those rainbows and just missing out on the rainbows in the team pursuit gave me a bit of fire in the belly to come out here on IP day.
“I had my work set out for me against Chloe but I stuck to my game plan in qualifying and did a 29 [3.29.554]. Then in the final I had nothing to lose. I was up against it but I just gave it my all and that’s all I can ask for.
“It is really promising looking forward to the next four years.”
The team pursuit result was a good sign for the new-look women’s endurance program lead by Gary Sutton after an underwhelming 2016 campaign that saw the team finish fifth at the world championships and crash out of contention in Rio following a training accident.
As the new Olympic cycle starts – and with less than a year until the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games – Australia’s track cycling squad celebrated finishing first overall.
Australia ended the five-day championships with 11 medals - three gold, five silver and three bronze across seven events. That total was six more than Russia who were second with five medals. Australia’s women won six medals including two sprint and four endurance medals, while Australia’s men won five medals including both pursuit crowns and the points race title.