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An interview with Sarah Ulmer
Off to Manchester I go, united
By Alan Messenger
Ask the man (or woman) on the street in New Zealand to name any cyclist they know of, and odds are that you'll get two names: Lance Armstrong and Sarah Ulmer. Well everyone knows the Lance Armstrong story, the battle against cancer and the Tour de France wins - but how come they all know about a Kiwi track rider?
She's the girl who won two junior world titles and who won gold in the Individual Pursuit at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur. The country was right behind her back then, and again when she fought bravely against an injury to just miss bronze in the Pursuit at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games by a fraction of a second. Ulmer is the face of cycling in New Zealand. She is a former New Zealand Sportswoman of the Year winner, with her popularity extending to appearances in television advertisements.
And if breeding counts for anything in cycling, then she's got that too. Her grandfather Ron Ulmer represented New Zealand as a track cyclist at the 1938 Empire Games and father Gary won national titles on both the track and road during the 1950s and 60s. Right now she's preparing for the Manchester Commonwealth Games. New Zealand cycling journalist Alan Messenger caught up with her this week for an exclusive interview.
Alan Messenger: You had a good local track season here in New Zealand. How many times did you break the national Pursuit record - what is it now?
Sarah Ulmer: Twice, I think. It's 3 mins 40.176 now.
AM: What times did you do at the Sydney World Cup meeting in the Pursuit, and what other events did you win there?
SU: 3 mins 34.8 and 3 mins 34.1 I think, but I could be a decimal point off! The 10k scratch was the other race - this is the first year that event has been held for women; it was really cool fun.
AM: What's your best Pursuit time and what do you think you can get it down to?
SU: Now you're testing my memory. I think it's 3mins 33.8. At least that's what one of the media people in Sydney told me. It was at Cali which is at a bit of altitude, so probably doesn't count as a sea-level performance. It's always hard to predict what you think you are capable of, but I'd like to think I could go quicker than that at sea level - how much quicker I honestly don't know.
AM: Who is guiding your training for Manchester, and what input does Charlie Walsh have in your preparation?
SU: Me and none! I pretty much suss most of my own training, with the help of my Dad and partner Brendon Cameron, so between the three of us we nut out the plan together; Charlie Walsh has no input into my training.
AM: You've also been racing in the USA. Was this road and track or only road?
SU: The last few years I've been racing on the road and have hardly done any track stuff. I've been racing for road teams over there up until this year, but this year I was in America for only two weeks - specifically for the HP Women's Tour.
AM: How did you find the Hewlett Packard Challenge?
SU: Great - until I crashed! I loved it! It was so much fun, that Tour. I raced with a bunch of Kiwis with a couple of other Kiwis as "staff" and it was wicked. I was pretty much racing it as training for the track, and for most of the team it was one of their first major international tours; so there was no pressure on us, just heaps of laughs.
AM: Where are you going for the next phase of your preparation for Manchester?
SU: I'll be going to Belgium first - my first time road racing over there actually. It's totally different from racing in the States. From there I'll go down to Hyeres (South of France) to do the final track preparation for the Games.
AM: Do you regret that Yvonne McGregor won't be racing at Manchester - were you looking for a showdown?
SU: It's a bummer that Yvonne won't be racing actually, but I wouldn't say I had my eyes on a showdown though! I'm sure there'll be enough competition there with everyone without just concentrating on one individual.
AM: Who will be your main competition in the Pursuit and Points race at Manchester?
SU: Emma Davies, Sarah Symington, Clara Hughes, Katherine Bates, Erin Carter - everyone that lines up!
AM: You are also riding the road at Manchester - will this put additional pressure on you?
SU: I don't think so, I'm certainly not feeling any. The Individual Pursuit is my priority for the Games, and the road race is after all the track stuff, so it's good timing. More than likely I'll be in full support mode for other Kiwi roadies, which will be cool.
AM: Up until the Sydney (Olympics) you had Brendon (Cameron) with you, as he was also a member of the squad. Is he with you now - if not, does this make things difficult?
SU: Yep, he's with me now. We're doing the whole build-up together this time round, but he's in full support mode. We are only spending about seven weeks overseas this year as opposed to about seven months that we usually spend; we're pretty much doing our own thing this year, which is really cool.
AM: What does the future hold for you - Athens? Worlds? Road racing? Is there life after cycling?
SU: At this stage I'm not thinking past the Commonwealth Games. I'd like to think that I could go on to Athens, and that's definitely in the back of my mind, but any long term decisions will be made after Manchester.