Rushlee Buchanan’s cycling calendar, as long as we’ve known her, has garnered the affectionate nickname of the year that never sleeps!  For years it’s been a case of balancing road and track, track and road, year in year out with little time to stop and breathe in.  2019 is different though as we caught up with Buchanan in the early days of her European campaign with a difference.

For the last five years Rushlee Buchanan has successfully established herself as arguably New Zealand’s most successful multi-disciplined cyclist.  National criterium, national time trial and national road champion on multiple occasions, World Cup winner and Oceania, World Championship & Commonwealth medallist on the track.  The difference for Rushlee is that unlike others who have done one discipline and then evolved into the next, her career has been about balance of both year in and year out . . . until now.

While road continues to be a facet of Rushlee’s track endeavours, for the first time since 2012 Buchanan races without a professional road team.  Presently she and the Cycling New Zealand endurance team are busy in Europe building their road base for the track season ahead, and Buchanan is loving life.

The strength in depth for the women’s endurance programme has resulted in a really healthy competition for places in the squad as Tokyo awaits, photo Guy Swarbrick

“I’m enjoying the time in Europe so far.  We’re here for a while and it’s been really good to be with the track squad this year. I’m really happy I made the decision to stay with this squad and focus on the track team. Ross and Alex have put together a really awesome year and we’re doing great things as a squad. That was one of the biggest things, I didn’t like not being with the squad and missing things, especially as we get closer to Tokyo,” Rushlee told RoadCycling. 

“I’m in Europe until August with the women’s endurance squad. We’ve just done some kermess racing and a few of us have some UCI 1.1 road races coming up, while the other half of the squad does some track racing. Then we move to Italy for some more road training before finishing on a high note in Switzerland with some more track racing.”

Over the last two or three years in particular what has impressed us more than anything is the explosion of depth in the women’s endurance squad.  There’s such competition for places with almost ten riders competing for places in the Olympic team!  It’s an element that has been noticed by Buchanan who is thrilled at the progression in the team that sees them largely spoilt for riches on the eve of Olympic year.

“This squad is really making huge strides and all the girls are committed to the larger cause and I’m really happy to be a part of it. The coaching staff is doing a great job! It’s the best I’ve seen the women’s endurance squad in my 8 or so years!” Buchanan said.

Rushlee Buchanan wins the elite women’s road race at the New Zealand Road Race Championships 2017, photo John Cowpland / Alphapix

Nationals to be or not to be . . .

In 2020 Elite Road Nationals heads to a venue that Rushlee Buchanan is among the most familiar with.  From Napier, a location Buchanan won the road race twice in and the time trial once, next February will see Cambridge play host to the championships.  Buchanan is excited about the move in location, with the Waipa region known for its support of cycling; a reputation that was put on full display at the New Zealand Cycle Classic last year. 

“Yes the move for Nationals to Cambridge is a good thing for sure, we have the support in the community to get good crowds etc and all the infrastructure to host a good event, my expectations are high!” Rushlee revealed.

As we get ready for Cambridge we do so knowing that there are still big shoes to fill in Napier.  We loved our time in Napier with the challenge of the course coupled with the great atmosphere created by the crowds in an idyllic location.  Buchanan has fond memories too, although she was honest in her concern for safety going forward.

“Napier did a good job, the road race finish line, the city loop, the crowds on the hill, and of course the wine was good. To be honest I thought they could have improved on safety, people were literally racing between cars and that shouldn’t be the case in the biggest road race and TT NZ holds. When you’re going as hard as you can to try and win a national title you shouldn’t also have to think about navigating traffic.”

The allure of the new time frame for nationals this year has received high praise from a number of World Tour professionals, but for the track team – who traditionally use nationals to bolster their track campaign – the timing of nationals clashes heavily with the World Track Championships.

Napier was a fine host for Elite Road Nationals, with Cambridge set to take over as of 2020, photo John Cowpland / alphapix

“While I’m excited I can sleep in my own bed for Nationals, I actually wonder if I’ll be doing it! The date seems to be better for most of the pros (although it will be interesting to see how many can come) but it’s way worse for the track team, which is a big chunk of the peloton in the women’s field. Next year especially it’s only 12 days before Track Worlds – in Germany – so I’d say that’s not gonna happen which is a bit disappointing!” Buchanan said.

In 2019 there were 35 competitors in the elite women’s road race and of them nine riders were track-focussed; Buchanan, Michaela Drummond, Racquel Sheath, Bryony Botha, Holly Edmondston and Kirstie James included.  In the time trial four of the nine starters were elite riders and two of the eight U23 riders were track riders.  Losing them from the start list will be a big loss felt and it will be interesting to see if other riders fill their places to keep numbers up in the women’s races and in the men’s; although in the men’s races the number of starters is significantly higher.

Regardless of whether Rushlee and the track team will line up in Cambridge, there is an excitement over the potential in course diversity coming up in the next few years.  “I hope Cambridge come up with some cool loops and change it up every year. I think it’s important to keep the courses fresh to change the racing tactics. If I do it I hope that year doesn’t finish up Maungakawa haha!”

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