Delhi, Melbourne, Columbia, Beijing, the Netherlands … Invercargill.
Ali Shanks is pedalling her way around the globe in the pursuit of victory but admits there is nothing sweeter than riding at home.
The Commonwealth Games gold medallist still circles the ILT Festival of Speed as a priority in her bulging diary. While the December 7-9 event may not boast the status of a World Cup, it’s definitely one she rates highly.
The concept of elite cyclists on the track and dynamic entertainment off it thrust Invercargill into international territory.
“The carnival atmosphere is something that’s still developing in New Zealand but it’s huge overseas,” Shanks said.
“I think the beauty of track cycling is that you can get so close you can physically see the riders sweating and can hear them breathing when they ride past you.”
The ILT Festival of Speed would produce riding of international calibre.
“You’ve got your showmen among the sprinters – it’s either nothing or full gas and they always put on a good show,” she said.
“I think everyone will be down here to compete hard but also have some real fun – it’s a little less pressure than a World Cup or world champs and it’s a time to really enjoy your racing.
“It sends a big buzz through everyone – the riders and the crowd – and that can only be good for cycling.”
Her victorious ride in Delhi to claim New Zealand’s first gold medal certainly propelled the code into the spotlight.
“It was actually quite overwhelming to hear the number of people who actually saw the race,” she said.
“It was one of my big goals and to be able to tick it off is a pretty wicked feeling … there were a lot of hard months, and even years, leading up to that one race day and it all came down to three and a half minutes.”
The smooth boards of the ILT Velodrome are a second home to Dunedin-based Shanks, especially in the throes of World Cup season.
“We’re down here generally once a week or at least every fortnight,” she said.
So when news of the Stadium Southland collapse reached Shanks in September, her heart was in her throat awaiting confirmation the adjacent velodrome had emerged unscathed.
“We were watching from overseas and were like `oh my gosh, the stadium has fallen down’ – we were pretty concerned because obviously we’d have to be rocking around on the concrete back in Dunedin in the wind and everything if anything happened to this velodrome,” she said.
“The national programme would have been in serious strife if it had fallen down.”
Life has been understandably hectic since returning from Delhi and, like Shanks herself, will remain at full pace during the World Cup season with commitments in Columbia and Beijing before returning to familiar turf for the New Zealand Championship in Invercargill in February.
It all concludes with the World Championships in the Netherlands in March where Shanks will be aiming to reclaim the crown she won last year.
“That’s the next four months mapped out for me.”
Shanks will also be assisting Cycling Southland in an ambassador role during next week’s ILT Festival of Speed.
She will be guest speaker at a Gold-Medal Breakfast in the Sarah Ulmer Lounge next Thursday morning from 7.15am. Tickets are available through Stadium Southland reception on 03 2171200.
And she will also spend time with one lucky class of school children. Cycling Southland is offering the chance for a class to ride with the Commonwealth Games-champion at the ILT Velodrome as the special prize in its “Ali Answers” competition – a fun cycling quiz which has been sent to all Southland schools and is available at www.cyclingsouth.org.nz.
The ambassador role is one Shanks relishes. “As a youngster, if you get the chance to talk to your sporting heroes, you remember those moments for years and years and I remind myself of that when I’m talking to the kids because you can have a big impact on them and that’s something that’s quite special.”
The ILT Festival of Speed runs from December 7th to 9th with tickets on sale now at Stadium Southland. Each ticket can be entered into the draw to win a trip to the Santos Tour Down Under in Adelaide in January – the last pro event Lance Armstrong will ride internationally. The package includes flights, accommodation, tickets and, most importantly, VIP viewing of the racing action.