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  Maeve Plouffe: Whirlwind track season leads to Olympic selection  
  April 7th 2020  
  Maeve Plouffe (centre) with L-R Annette Edmondson, Ashlee Ankudinoff, Georgia Baker and Alex Manly. Photo: John Veage  
  If you had told me in July last year that I'd be where I am today, I probably wouldn't have believed you.

I don't think anyone would, to be honest. I've had many onlookers intrigued as to what on earth changed in order for me to see such rapid progress on the bike in just a few months. In under a year, I've shaved off around ten seconds from my best team pursuit time, and another thirteen from my individual pursuit time.

In July last year, I wasn't even considering the chance of riding a World Cup with the Australian Podium squad. Two World Cups and one World Championships later, it's the Olympics that I'm now eyeing off!

The truth is these performances have been merely the tip of the iceberg. Underneath lies a whirlwind of a track season, which has been one of my toughest, yet most rewarding yet.


Eight months ago, I was fit, healthy, and riding well — but not exceptionally. Despite waking up every morning and putting my heart into my training, the bad days training often outweighed the good days. Unfortunately, my performance trajectory didn’t exactly line up with my longstanding aspirations of Olympic selection.

I began to feel disheartened, because I couldn't help but think about the Olympics being just over a year away. For the last few years, my personal goal had always been to be within the group of girls in consideration for selection. This was a goal I kept close to my chest. I knew others around me would consider it unrealistic, and I felt embarrassed to admit it because I felt it was so far out of reach. Consequently, during these months I found myself keeping to myself a lot. I stayed focused on my training and my studies and took a few months off of social media.

My main training target was for my first block of European racing, which saw me headed to Belgium in early July. I told myself that here, I would get the road base required to start smashing my goals on the track. However, just ten days into my trip, things came crashing down, literally. In my second race — a local kermesse in the Netherlands — I hit the ground hard. I'm usually the rider to crash and roll over back up immediately, fuelled by adrenaline, only to find they've broken bones later. This time, I didn't move. I knew something was different. I looked over and saw my wrist bent completely out of place, the bones snapped downwards so that my hand was on the ground, but the rest of my arm wasn't.

The pain suddenly started, and I wanted to throw up. I like to think myself as tough, but in this moment, I was far from it. I was balling my eyes out. Mostly from the pain, but also from the realisation that this would likely be the end of my season. I knew such a break would take months to heal. Any chance of pushing into the top track squad would require a season of solid preparation, pushing my chances to next to nothing. In that moment, I felt like all my hard work had just been undone.

After hours in a foreign hospital, I was told the impact of the crash had thrown the bones in my wrist so badly out of place that not even two painful reductions could realign them. I was flown back to Adelaide for surgery, where I was grateful to not only have a brilliant support network with my family and boyfriend, but also the full support of Cycling Australia during my rehab process.

A few days after surgery I got back on the spin bike again. After one or two sessions of just getting moving, I thought I'd ought to try a couple of proper tempo efforts. Nothing too strenuous, just sub-threshold. After-all, how bad could it be?

To tell it simply, it felt very, very bad. Perhaps this was the moment in which I learnt the silly lesson that I am not invincible. I felt weak and useless, and over the next few weeks I had to build back from square one. I started to make my ergo sessions progressively harder, ramping the watts up week by week.

Picking yourself up after being knocked down so hard is a difficult process, mainly because your mind often expects results quicker than your body can deliver. I am competitive by nature, but my biggest competition is always myself. Therefore, to be doing 50 or 100 watts under my usual power was disheartening to say the least. I was on the ergo for between one and three hours per day, every day, for weeks; and to be honest I cried on the bike in more sessions than I care to admit. However, it was during this period that I learnt my biggest lesson: that when it comes to training hard, the power or outcome time is secondary to perceived effort. If I felt I was putting in 110%, then I was getting the most out of the session, regardless of the numbers I saw on the screen. I didn’t know it at the time, but these sessions where I felt at my physical and mental limit every day would be my edge in the coming months.

Flash forward a few months, and I was back on the track again with my academy team, preparing for the Oceania Championships. Before my accident I had ambitious goals for these Championships, but my coach and I were forced to reassess. Inside, I felt disappointed as we made the tough decision to increase my individual pursuit goal by a few seconds in order to be more realistic. After all, we thought that after being back on the bike for only two or so months, I wouldn't be in peak form. Little did I know, I'd smash my IP goal by at least five seconds and exceed all my expectations in the team pursuit.

Oceania Championships marked the start of what became a desperate, albeit exciting, pursuit to secure myself a permanent position on the Australian women's team pursuit team. As the underdog in the squad, it was my perception that every day was make or break. With World Cups on the horizon, starting line-ups had to be decided using every single bit of information, making every training effort either a chance for me to push forward or be sent home. I was motivated, a little bit desperate, and ready to give everything I had — every single day. The team had big goals for these upcoming World Cups, and I was determined to contribute towards reaching them.

Maeve Plouffe celebrates winning the scratch race at the Oceania Championships. Photo: Dianne Manson

Training in a new squad is hard as it is, yet alone when there is the added pressure of selection. Things weren't always easy — in fact, they never were. I hit some steep learning curves. I am not shy of things to work on, and all those little things became clear. My teammates kept me accountable yet were understanding and supportive despite my inexperience. At the end of the day, we all just wants to go as fast as possible.

The World Cup season came around quickly, but I've never felt more ready to race in my life. How surreal it was to stand on that start line, the green and gold on my back, wedged between three of my idols in their rainbow skinsuits.

We managed to break the Australian record in the team pursuit at the Cambridge World Cup and win the event at the Brisbane World Cup. When I was told I had made the Australian team for the World Championships in Berlin in early 2020, I couldn't believe it. After all, each team I qualified for was a step closer to realising my dream.

A few months later, we were feeling confident going into the World Championships after a promising block of training. However, it wasn't meant to be — a slow qualification put us in fifth, and after overtaking Ireland in round one, we were unable to secure a spot in the bronze final. It was disappointing to say the least. Everyone came off the track immediately wondering what could have been done better; how seconds of precious time could have been saved. Since then, we've torn the race apart and analysed every key moment. We are ready to work harder than ever.

At the end of what has been a whirlwind season, hearing the news that I had made the Olympic team made me tear up. Those words made all the sacrifice and hard work worth it. If I've learnt anything, it's the importance of self-belief when the going gets tough. I'm glad I stuck to my dreams and didn't doubt my own capabilities and pushed through when things were difficult. I had to make some pretty huge gains in my performance to make this team, and it took a lot of courage to put myself in the vulnerable positions that were needed to make those gains. I have had to have uncomfortable conversations, find myself in a new team, and hurt more than I ever have before. I'm lucky I've made it to where I have because I could have fallen at any point. But that's the risk you need to take!

Our team is more motivated than ever heading into the Olympics. We have five incredibly strong women, all with an unwavering desire to show the world what we can do. Our World Championships result does not worry me in the slightest. Why? Because in my experience, the best results have come off the back of the hardest challenges. The Olympics might be postponed a year but a lot can change in even a few months. I hope that my story has shown that.
 © 2020