At the end of the UCI Track World Championships in Pruzkow Kirstie James came home with her second bronze medal of her team pursuit career, a 4th place in the individual pursuit; and a touch of a bug that had rocked the New Zealand team.  We caught up with her to reflect on the highs and lows of her World Championships.


Steadfast through sickness for Kirstie and crew


Sickness does different things to different people.  Rushlee Buchanan had to be carried off her bike at the end of round 1 and missed the bronze medal final for the team pursuit.  Kirstie James took on a full compliment of races with her team pursuit teammates, took the bronze and then went about to do it again in the individual pursuit, qualifying fourth fastest and going through to the bronze medal match against Lisa Klein from Germany; but by then the bug was biting.  Kirstie faded to finish her ride in a time of 3.34.188mins, almost 6 seconds slower than her qualifying round ride but having left every ounce of energy on the track.  

When we caught up with her she was still feeling the effects of the sickness and when asked where she sat on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being just about bed-ridden and 10 being ready for the Track Worlds all over again, the response was not great.

“Maybe a 3 I think.  Personally I got quite sick just before the competition started, and I managed to get through the team events ok and then I deteriorated pretty fast after that with a bit of a chest infection.  I’m pretty tired now, especially after the long trip home.  I’ve got some time off and definitely enjoying some rest and recovery,” Kirstie told RoadCycling.

Kirstie James took a thrilling national IP title in record time, with her team pursuit teammates 2nd-4th in February, photo Dianne Manson

In your typical workplace like mine, you get sick and you take a day off; and perish the thought that your colleagues catch the bug or you’ll never hear the end of it!  If that is the case in a workplace that doesn’t see its workers take on the world’s best in a few days of some of the highest pressure competition every year we can only imagine what it would be like for 17 riders when one rider comes down with the lurgy.  Kirstie has some interesting insights, however, into how she and the team deal with sickness and how manageable

“It’s always a little bit of a worry how the sickness is going to effect your legs, but in my experience I’ve found that a head cold or anything from the neck up doesn’t seem to affect performances too much.  I’ve had some pretty good performances with a head cold and the team pursuit was a good display of that, at that stage I just had a head cold and we did some of the best performances with personal best power in some of those rides, so I think a head cold makes little to no difference,” Kirstie revealed.  

“But with getting something a bit deeper like a chest infection, that starts to effect the performance a lot more.  I certainly found that in the individual pursuit.  I just emptied the tank in qualifying and was satisfied to do close to my PB but after that I really was just completely empty, I spent about 40 minutes just coughing straight after and really honestly struggled to pull anything together for the final and went significantly slower.  That was a shame but I left the championships having left everything on the track and I did everything I could to try and get healthy for racing and couldn’t quite manage it.”

Kirstie James is enjoying the depth that the New Zealand women’s endurance programme has fostered, photo Dianne Manson

Overall Kirstie was happy with the way the team executed their three rides, although she still sights space to progress.

“We did our fastest standardised qualifying that we’ve ever done, so that was really satisfying to qualify third; and start the competition with a good performance.  That’s been something in previous years that we’ve lacked, being able to start out in qualifying with a good ride.  The first round was definitely a challenge racing against Great Britain – knowing they had a couple of seconds on us – but in terms of execution we followed our strategy and stuck to the plan,” Kirstie explained.  

“Then in the final we did it again, stuck to our strategy and went off our own times really.  We didn’t race Canada the same way we’ve raced teams in finals before, we really just wanted to stick to our strategy for the first 2km and then see what happened from there.  From pretty early on we had a solid lead and we managed to hold that for the whole race.


Abundance of riches in endurance team depth 


The 2018-2019 season saw a growth in depth in the women’s endurance programme like we haven’t seen in a long time.  Bryony Botha, Rushlee Buchanan, Michaela Drummond, Holly Edmondston, Kirstie James, Racquel Sheath, Ellesse Andrews, Jessie Hodges, Emily Shearman all got the nod for New Zealand in World Cup events before the World Championship combination was announced.  It’s a wonderful position for New Zealand to be in, refusing to lean exclusively on a tried and proven method, instead constantly looking for and honing talent; to the point where we are in a position of having any four of 9 riders able to produce class results.  The competition for places as Tokyo draws near is something that Kirstie sees as a definite positive.

“I think that it’s absolutely awesome and our squad is in a good positive place at the moment with such a depth of riders.  It’s something that we’ve really been longing for and I’ve been longing for my entire cycling career; especially with my rowing background where there’s just athlete after athlete coming through to push the level higher and higher,” Kirstie said.  

Kirstie James leads for New Zealand in the women’s team pursuit, photo Guy Swarbrick

“When I first changed to cycling I had a really good conversation with Jaime Nielsen who helped guide me a little bit with her experience changing sports.  She said ‘please join our programme we need more depth, we need more people, it’ll be great to add another strength to the team.  

Kirstie remembers a time, remarkably near in the mind’s eye, when depth in the women’s endurance programme was lacking; and the quick transformation is something she credits heavily with the influence of the coaching partnership that has come on board in less than 12 months.

“I think that [lack of depth] really showed as one of our weaknesses last year at Commonwealth Games.  We had got there after racing everything the whole season just the five of us and by the time we got to the end of the season we were just on our knees with fatigue; whereas this year we’ve had 10 to 12 different riders who have been pushing for spots and it’s really been a credit to Ross Machejefski and Alex Greenfield bringing riders into the squad and supporting more women’s endurance riders to build that strategy not just for Tokyo next year but also Paris and the following Games to try and keep that legacy moving forward.

For now Kirstie and the team are able to enjoy some downtime before getting back into training.  Europe awaits in a few weeks’ time with Belgium and Italy on the cards and so too does a different structure to their build up to the 2019-2020 season, simulating the build up to next year’s Olympics.  We wish Kirstie and the team all the best, a swift recovery, and a well-earned break ready to hit the European campaign with a bang.


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