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World and Olympic 500 metre Time Trial Champion Anna Meares
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Anna Meares recovery and Olympic Games lead-up diary

At just 24 years of age Australia's Anna Meares is one of the world's top track cyclists. In addition to being the reigning World Champion in the 500 metre Time Trial, Meares is also the defending 500 metre Time Trial Olympic Games champion, after taking gold at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004.

Meares suffered a setback in her Beijing Olympic Games bid in January after a horrifying accident at the Los Angeles Track World Cup came close to ending more than her Olympic ambitions. Now back in Australia and riding again, Meares has joined Cyclingnews' list of diarist and will share her road to recovery and, if all goes well for the Queenslander, Beijing Olympic bid with our readers.

Index to all entries

July 24, 2008

Fun and pain the Italian way

The track with green mountains
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The track from the stands
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Our makeshift gym
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The view from the top
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All the sewing machines used to sew
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The Santini Lobby boasting one of the
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Bergamo old city. You can see the stone
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Our Sprint team with Mario Vigna
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The village from below
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We spent two and a half weeks in Varese, Italy training on an outdoor 450 metre concrete track. It was big! It was however set in one of the most picturesque locations I have seen. Snow capped mountains in the distance on one side and huge rolling green mountains on the other, with villages huddled together on the peaks. The stands that surrounded the track looked like a mini colosseum. Big concrete blocks that curved with the shape of the track were stained with the marks of many years in the outdoors weathering rain, hail, snow and sunshine. It was truly beautiful.

Riding on the track however was not so beautiful. It was hard going from the get go. The track was big and heavy, making it a tough workout every day.

It was hot and tough going. The track felt so dead and slow under my wheels. There was no free speed anywhere and every pedal stroke hurt. This made it hard to maintain one's mental happiness for I constantly felt slow.

The two weeks here saw me face a few challenges; mainly mental challenges. With the heavy load of the track and the count down on to Beijing's Olympic Games I began to stress and worry about where I was at with such a short time to go. I found it hard to keep myself focused when things just seemed to never pick up.

I had many a chat with my coach Marv to see his perspective on how things were going. He constantly re-assured me it was what was going to happen when we got to the outdoor track and part of the plan. He tried to get me to stop being hard on myself and just train. I tried my very best to see things his way but it was difficult for me. I wanted to see things happening and I wasn't. In saying this though, there were many great training sessions of hard effort and good results.

Training here consisted of track, ergo, road and gym. On the first day at track we had a motor paced session. It was 38 degrees and 75 percent humidity, so the sunscreen was layered on thick. The funny part was that when Marv got off the motorbike many little bugs had gotten stuck in the layered on sunscreen on his face. Once I gave him a dig about it I realised I too was in the same boat. It was something I kept an eye on for the rest of the trip.

We had to create our own gym as there was nothing around that suited what we needed. So equipment was ordered in and set up in the warehouse where all the equipment for the Australian Institute of Sport cycling program is housed. It was small and cosy and home to a few bees, wasps and thousands of mosquitoes. For me, someone who has a fear of wasps and bees after running through a swarm of them as a youngster, I found it hard to concentrate. But Berthy May and Craig Colduct (our masseuse and gym coach respectively) came armed every session with insect spray and were ready if any should dare fly my way. This made me feel a lot better.

We stayed in a small hotel on the lake of Varese. I had a very small room, perhaps three metres squared with a bathroom attached. It was hot when we arrived. About 38 degrees hot and the rooms had no fan or air-conditioning, so I invested in a cheap 12 Euro fan which made life much more comfortable. Despite having a small, hot room, it definitely had its perks. It was the only place in the hotel that received an internet signal and so for the three weeks we were there the boys had to sit outside my door to get online. I also had a mighty nice view of the lake.

Varese, being so close to the top of Italy and with the Alps in plain view, saw some amazing weather. It was almost like clockwork. Sunshine for two days, followed by a massive storm on day three with lightning so bright it blinded you, thunder so loud it scared me, wind that made trees bend and rain that flooded the grounds. It was great to see rain in such ferocity; I hadn't seen a good storm in some time. If only we had some of this rain back home. I don't think this place would know what a drought is.

The time here also saw us have a few days spare, which we made the most of. We took a day trip into Milan and looked around the amazing city. We climbed the roof of the domo (cathedral), seeing something that took six centuries to build simply blew us away with the detail and enormity of it all. We looked through the shops, walked through the old castle and its museum, seeing many old relics and features. One that really made me stop and stare was the last piece Michelangelo was working on before he died, the Rondainini Pieta'. Still unfinished it was proudly on display as the last piece of the museum.

Ryan Bayley and I made a trip to the Santini factory where we tried on the cut of the Olympic skin suits and got taken around the factory to see how things were done. Little did I know they made every piece of clothing by hand, it was very impressive. In their lobby they had a display of all the clothes from different countries and teams as well as bikes. They had one of Marco Pantani's bikes, an old penny farthing, a beautiful wooden bike that weighed 30kg and Felice Dimonde's bike

We also stopped in to have lunch in Bergamo, a city built in 500 AD. We went to what locals call the 'old city', which was the top of the hill surrounded by large stone walls and a huge stone entrance. This was built for the protection of the city when Italy was still regions ruled by individual kingdoms. By perching their cities on hilltops surrounded by great walls, it gave them protection and time to see their enemies approaching. It was very fascinating.

A day trip to Lake Como, which was only 30 km from our hotel, was also in order. Although it was a very cloudy and rainy day, it was a sight to see.

We also were treated one day at training by a visit from Marino Vigna, 1960 Rome Olympic Gold medallist for Italy in the Team Pursuit. He bought his gold medal to show us and his photo album. It was so great to see his medal. It is a work of art! So beautiful! He only spoke Italian so Shane Bannan translated anything he said into English for us. He stayed the whole track session as he was a huge fan of Australian cycling and loved being there with us. He told us he won a 290 km road race that finished on the very track we are training on. He had a photo of the finish of that race also.

We also made a day trip to the top of the mountains that surrounded the area we stayed. It was a pleasant afternoon trip that turned into an afternoon adventure. Marv decided he could fit down a very narrow road that was on the decent into the village. It got narrower as we drove on. It got to the point where there were only a few centimetres either side of the car when Marv decided he should turn around. We found a small section where he could possibly pull off a 20 point turn but every time he spent 10 minutes on it a car would come and he would have to straighten and get out of the way. We didn't help much as we all laughed hard at him.

Ray found an area he could turn around, but he had to pass through a very low and tight tunnel to get there. So Ray and Craig slowly guided him through. Marv, sweating by now, was glad to make it through and parked up for a break.

We went for a walk and saw a few of the many chapels in and around the village. The views were spectacular and continued as far as the eye could see. The ground was cobbled, wide and grown over by grass; stonework framed the pathways and roads and made for such a pretty picture. We didn't venture to the top as we were conscientious of our legs on our day off. So we went back to the car and watched as Marv tried to drive through the narrow tunnel once more on the way out. Up the steep narrow hill Marv burnt the clutch out and it smelt for a long time after. Marv needed a drink so when we got out of the little pickle we were in we stopped for coffee and soft drink. It was and still is very funny.

All in all it was an amazing three weeks of tough and good times, bugs, bees, sunshine and storms and a bit of sightseeing as well. I left keen yet a little nervous and eager to race in Erfurt Germany to see where I stood against my rivals.

Anna Meares

Photography

For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Anna Meares