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An interview with Oenone Wood, March 18, 2004
Another Australian World Cup Winner?
Wood on target to win the 2004 World Cup
With less than 24 hours remaining until the final round of the World Cup in Nurnberg, it is the Australian Oenone Wood that is attracting everyone's attention. After only a few years in the sport, Wood is currently one of the leading female cyclists in the world and if she takes the overall world cup win this Sunday, she'll become only the second ever Australian to win the series after Anna Millward's success in both 1999 and 2001. Kristy Scrymgeour caught up with Wood to chat about her year of success and what the next couple weeks will hold for her.
Not only has Wood been successful in the World Cup, but she dominated early season racing in Australia, and was instrumental along with Olivia Gollan in the teamwork surrounding Sara Carrigan's gold medal performance in the Olympic Road Race last month. According to her teammate Olivia Gollan, who has raced with Wood for the last three years, she is a very dedicated team player with the potential to go a lot further in the sport. "At the Olympics she was literally shaking with excitement when Sara won the gold," said Gollan of Wood. "She is an awesome talent and so dedicated to the team. She's like a Judith Arndt character, who has the ability to with everything, but is so willing to help a teammate get the result." For now though, it is her team that will be giving 100% to help her through this last race, just as they have all season.
For the past week since the Rotterdam world cup race Wood, who speaks fluent Dutch, has been in Holland staying with relatives. "It's kind of a second home," she said. "I lived here when I was 16. That's when I learnt to speak Dutch."
Despite the nerves that build up with only one race to go and a tight points system in the way, Wood seems very relaxed. "I'm pretty confident," she said. "Even though it's double points, we still have a good lead. So if anyone is going to beat us they have to win the race and I have to finish outside the top ten. While anything can happen, I'm pretty confident that we can do it." Wood has a right to be confident, as she has successfully managed to place in the top ten in every world cup race this year bar Montreal where she struggled with her form due to only being back on the bike for only a week after a mid season break. In fact five of the races have seen her place in the top five.
As for this weekend, Wood is hoping the race will be hard. "Hopefully different people will make the race hard," she said. "I haven't actually seen the course, but I have heard from other people that it has finished in a bunch kick the last few years. It's better for me if it's a hard race. Rotterdam wasn't that hard, because it's flat and there was no wind. It wasn't as hard as I'd expected.
"If a break gets away it would be nice if I was in it," she added, "but I think it's unlikely that that will happen. Nurnberger can win in a number of ways. Petra's a pretty good chance of a win if it comes down to a sprint. For the Australian team, an idea situation would be for a break to go with no series contenders in it. "But," says Wood, "even if that does happen you can't totally relax because there is always the chance that it will come back."
Of course this is what happened last week, when a break was caught in the final kilometer of the race and Wood found herself unprepared and not in a good position, almost being brought down with 300m to go. "I guess because it had all come back together and there was a big bunch coming into the final kilometer it was a bit dangerous. I didn't have a good wheel and with 300m to go there was a chicane and I nearly got taken out. Its just another lesson learned I guess."
Despite nearly crashing, Wood managed to get back on track and sprint to fifth place and maintain a good lead in the series. "You don't have time to be scared," she said. "I certainly don't want to come down, especially right now, but I just try not to think about it. I really want to win the jersey, so that's what I'm think about.".
No matter what happens on Sunday, Wood has had an amazing year for a relatively new rider in the sport. Beginning when she won both the road race and the time trial at the Australian National Championships in January, she has gone from strength to strength, from placing in world cups, winning other one day races, to being a part of the winning team at the Olympic road race last month. "If it comes off next weekend it will be pretty awesome," said Wood, "especially after the year we've had. It's amazing that everyone has been able to maintain their form over such a long time with so many high level races."
The team's success this year is again credited to their coach and director Warren McDonald. "Wazza has allowed us to back off after each hard block and given us time to recover. He's also really just targeted particular races and we're not trying to win everything we do. I also think the fact that we've worked really well as a team this year has helped," she said. "If I have a bad day in the world cups, there are other girls who are there to help me. Olivia and I have really gotten to know each other well in races over the past couple of years. In fact the whole time I've been racing, I've been racing with Liv - her and Nat [Bates]."
After the World Cup, the next thing for Wood and the Australian team is the Giro della Toscana to prepare for the World Championships, the final one day race, where Wood hopes to have a good result. "We got the chance to ride on the course once in the giro," she said. "We only rode the climb. We didn't do the circuit, but it's going to be a really hard race. Going up that hill ten times will be hard.
"Provided we can keep it together between now and then, we can have a good race," she said. "It will be interesting to see after Toscana who is going well. I've noticed that fewer of the riders have been turning up at races lately. I'm not sure if they are just taking a break to get ready for worlds or if they are tired."
For the last few years, former Australian director James Victor has quoted the theory that the winner of Tuscany, will win theorld Championships in the women's race. "The theory has proved true the last few years, commented Wood, "but I don't really agree with it. To win Toscana you have to be a good tour rider, but I think a one-day rider can come up and win worlds without being a good tour rider."
On who Wood will be watching for at Worlds? - "Mirjam Melchers. I would put her down as a definite contender," said Wood. "A lot of the Nunberger riders like Judith [Arndt] and Trixi [Worrack] could win and of course Edita [Pucinskaite] will be very keen on this course. People like [Joane] Somaribba and [Zoulfia] Zabirova would be good," she added, "but I haven't seen them in the races lately so I really don't know where they're at."
With one travel day after the World Cup and only another week between Toscana and Worlds, Wood has recovered from being slightly sick after the Olympics and is feeling good. "I suppose after all the hype it catches up with you," she said, "but we've been able to back off a bit now and I'm feeling much better.
As for after the worlds "the first thing we are going to do is go snow boarding in Zermatt," added Wood. "We'll hire a car and go there for a few days, so that will be fun. After that we head home and I'll have some time off the bike. Probably spend some time at the beach and hopefully if I have some time I'll go out and do some adventure stuff, like canyoning or something. Then straight back into it. There's hardly any time to get ready again for Nationals and then we have five world cups in the space of a couple of months. It's important to be in good form right from the beginning."