08 March 2008

THE first time the Gold Coast’s Olympic champion Sara Carrigan saw the Great Wall of China, she gloried at the sight of the ancient structure.

The next time she hopes to see it she would hope more pressing business on her mind, like the closing kilometres of the Olympic women’s road race, than its wonder.

It’s seven months since Carrigan, 27, had a practice ride, arranged by the Chinese Games organisers for leading international female competitors, along most of the 130km of the 2008 Olympics road race route from Beijing to a section of the 6500km Great Wall.

Athens’s supreme road warrior is still awestruck at the historic nature of the route which takes the competitors past the Forbidden City and Tianamein Square and out to the wall, which can be seen from space.

“We do these loops near the wall to finish the race and it’s so awesome,” Carrigan said.

“They shut down the wall at the test event for the men and we had free rein to walk along and down it.”

“While there’s millions of stairs to climb, it’s hard to get in a rhythm because the steps are all of different sizes and it’s so steep with these massive climbs. I don’t know how they built it.”

Three Australian women road race competitors and one time trial entrant will be announced by Cycling Australia in May after three World Cup races in Europe.

The first is on April 4 in Belgium and Carrigan will ride for the Lotto-Belisol professional team which also employs Australia’s 1992 Olympic champion Kathy Watt, who lost a ride-off to Carrigan for one of Australia’s Athens road race starts.

Watt, 43, wants to make the Australian road race team for a course Carrigan characterises as “a strong riders’ course” and one made even more testing by the pollution of Beijing’s air and its likely heat.

“It’s not a sprinter’s course. I’ve never seen a one-day race with a 10km climb in it. Usually the climb is no more than 3km,” Carrigan said.

“I didn’t have any problems with the air when I was there, but the women rode more seriously once we were 80km outside Beijing. The men who raced the whole route said they found it really hard to breathe.”

“What’s been pushed on us is (the need) to wash our hands all the time and only brush our teeth with bottled water.”

Carrigan decided to retire after taking a bronze medal at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games and took seven months off to study. She also worked for a sponsor, Roamfree, who continued to support her when he decided she was not finished with international cycling.

“I was just tired and had been training and racing for 10 years. It was the best decision I ever made. I’m loving training and having a lot of new ways of doing things with a new coach (Neil Ross),” she said.

A Carrigan win in Beijing would be a surprise gold medal win, given her performances since the Commonwealth Games, just as Athens had been.

Carrigan returned home to Mermaid Beach last Monday from a tour in New Zealand and will be home to train for three weeks. She also has a property in Mol, Belgium.

“I didn’t quite have the results in the international racing recently (in Victoria and New Zealand), but I was in heavy training in the past month so the good form will be there when I want to be flying for the World Cups in Europe,” she said.

The Athens road warrior was 23rd in the time trial at last year’s world titles, but she knows better than most what to expect from the occasion of an Olympic road race.

“I’ve had a couple of podium finishes in Europe in category one tours. It was a bit of a slow trek back last year after my year off, but it was great leading into this year,” she said.

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