Newly crowned world champion cyclist Sam Welsford on winning team pursuit silver in Rio, funky tan lines and his relationship with Lycra. By Richard Cooke.


Pursuit force: Sam Welsford, 21, cyclist

It’ll be track leading up to Comm Games especially. And then I might have to do a road focus for the Olympics before I get back into the track.

Does track choose you or do you choose track? That’s a good question. It’s quite a demanding sport because you need to be quite big and strong. All the events are quite short in comparison to the road. 

The first time I rode on a velodrome, I was shitting myself. I would have been about 12 years old. And I went out to the local SpeedDome in WA. And you go up to the track and, wow, those bends are really steep. But then one of the older guys said, “Oh, come on Sam, we’ll take you up the top.” And then he rode with me on his wheel and we went straight up to the top. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done.

It’s safer if you go fast. The harder you go, the less chance you have of sliding off. But it’s the same angle from the bottom to the top. People think that you can’t ride as slow at the bottom as you can on the top, but you can.

It was a shame that the media were hyping up Rio to be such a bad place. My Olympic experience was pretty crazy. I was happy to be selected at 20, and then go to my first Games in Rio. And then I was lucky enough to pick up a silver medal in the team pursuit with three other guys. All the locals are really friendly. 

I really enjoyed the Olympic atmosphere. Seeing all these different countries’ athletes when you’re eating at the food hall; so many other athletes dedicating their lives to this sport. It was quite motivating to see that.

Track could do with a bit more recognition. The road is where you see most professionals end up. They do the track in their early careers. I feel like Australia has an expectation of you do track for your early years and then once you’ve gone to Olympics, or you’re happy with your track career, then you have to go on to the road. But I feel like it doesn’t really need to be like that. If you enjoy track and getting medals and having fun then keep doing what you’re doing.

Cycling is on the upswing, I think. It copped a bit of stick with the controversy [over drug cheats], especially with Lance Armstrong. He was such an ambassador for the sport, and then you had that shock bombshell. But I think it’s a lot cleaner now, especially with the testing and things in place that really crack down on the people who cheat. Now they get caught.

You get some pretty funky tan lines, doing road cycling. A lot of road riders are so tanned on their arms, and then on the chest they’re so pale it actually looks like they’re wearing a white shirt. That’s one of the side effects of being on your bike for that long.

My relationship with Lycra is alright. I’ve grown up with the sport so basically it’s second nature now. It’s my uniform, my personal uniform every day, so it’s just normal.

At the top level everyone has the same bike – or it is basically the same. I think it comes down to the training preparation and your form, and the bike isn’t really relevant. If someone has a bike that is 300 grams lighter than yours, it really doesn’t make a massive difference. They’ll probably compensate that with the body weight more than they can on the bike.

It’s hard to think about too much when you’re competing in a pursuit. In a longer road race, I’d probably think about a lot more things: where and when I’m going to eat next, where I position myself. But in a short, quick pursuit – I think three minutes, 15 seconds – all you’re thinking is, “Watch that wheel in front of me.” Focus on my speed, where I’m on the form and my recovery when I’m on the wheel. You can’t think of much in that three minutes. It’s pretty quick.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on April 15, 2017 as "Pursuit force".

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Richard Cooke is a contributing editor to The Monthly, and the 2018 Mumbrella Publish Award Columnist of the Year.

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