Niamh Fisher-Black tells me she felt “frustrated” when she crossed the finish line and became the first-ever under-23 world champion. It’s not the emotion usually synonymous with winning a rainbow jersey, but Fisher-Black hadn’t won in a normal race. She had crossed the line in 12th place, left, like the rest of the riders in the leading group, slightly incredulous at Annemiek van Vleuten’s surprise attack.
“I wasn’t conscious right away when I crossed the line [that I’d won the under-23 race.] I felt a bit frustrated because of Annemiek’s crazy finish,” says Fisher-Black. “But then, pretty quickly, a couple of people came up to me, and they said and I was like okay, that’s kind of cool.”
Fisher-Black’s immediate reaction after winning the U23 title confirms that this competition was not on his mind during the race. A rider who has rubbed shoulders with the world’s best climbers in one-day races and hard-hitting stage races over the past two seasons, the 22-year-old says she didn’t go to Australia with the aim of win the U23 title, instead she believed she had an outside chance to medal in the elite category.
“I wanted to be part of the elite race,” says Fisher-Black. “From the course, I knew I could be part of it. Thing is, with this Under-23 shirt being in this race, it speaks for itself on such an attritional run like this. If you play there with the big girls, then you also have a chance of winning the under-23 shirt. I didn’t have to think about it too much. »
Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix
When the race began to reach its climax on the final two laps of Wollongong City Circuit, Fisher-Black was poised to follow the leading group of five riders who proved the strongest on the short climb and hard-hitting. In the final five kilometers of the race, Fisher-Black found herself in the reduced second group on the road – alongside eventual elite race winner Van Vleuten – and made a big turn at the front to try to join the first five runners from the front. People assumed she did this because Britain’s Pfeiffer Georgi was in the group behind, another U23 runner who allegedly challenged Fisher-Black for the U23 title.
“No, at that time I was only thinking about the real race. We were in the last five kilometers and there was a small group right in front of us that we could see. Of course I was going to shoot because it would put me back in contention for the whole race. So at that point, I was just racing. I didn’t know what was going on behind me,” she explains.
In fact, Fisher-Black argues that having the U23 women’s race in the elite race did not have the impact on race dynamics that some might have expected before the event. “It probably didn’t have an impact on the race,” says the Kiwi rider. “But it has to do with the course. It was a breakup with who climbed the hardest and who could keep up with the big riders. It’s completely different for the Under 23s to have their own race, it could have gone differently. We could have another Under-23 World Champion, because the race is also very tactical. Going forward, I don’t know what impact this would have on racing on a different course where there is less attrition.
While he may not have fully focused on it during the race, Fisher-Black says the feeling of shooting a rainbow jersey wasn’t lessened by not crossing the line first . “That moment on the catwalk is always so special,” she says. “The rainbow jersey is probably one of the biggest prizes you can win as a cyclist. When I was a kid I dreamed of rainbow jerseys, so it’s super special to put this on.
Achieving a strong performance at these World Championships was particularly important for the New Zealander. She had invested her own money to make it happen, as her national federation opted not to support runners from across the country to attend the competition this year.
“I played with it a lot, to find out if I thought it was worth it. I liked the course and felt like I would have a chance to be in the running,” Fisher said. -Black A fall and a broken collarbone a few months after the Tour of Scandinavia event made him doubt his form for the World Championships.
“When things happen with injuries and things like that, it’s hard to commit to the investment. It was about asking myself what I wanted at the end of the day.Image: Zac Williams/SWpix
Fisher-Black was motivated to get back to racing and fitness as quickly as possible in time for Worlds, and it wasn’t just for her own chances of getting a result. The Kiwi rider says a big part of her motivation to race was to make sure Cycling New Zealand saw the talent they had in their ranks.
“It’s painful to have to self-fund everything this year, but I had very good intentions at the start of the race, I wanted to prove a point to Cycling New Zealand and I think I proved that point. Also the other riders , young riders and those coming from New Zealand, I think they have also proven that there is some talent that is worth supporting there, I hope Cycling New Zealand can see that in the future.
At 22, Fisher-Black will drop out of the U23 category at the end of this season, meaning she won’t be able to race in the rainbow jersey. However, the Kiwi rider is still aware of the gravity of what she has achieved. Although she had to pay to go to the World Championships out of her own pocket and did not cross the finish line in first place despite winning the rainbow jersey, she will enter her off-season proud of his accomplishments this year and ready for both a physical and a mental break seeing the family in New Zealand.
“Not crossing the line first doesn’t take away the prestige of winning the rainbow jersey,” she tells me. “But now my focus is on family and relaxation, and in a few weeks I’ll go over everything properly, look ahead to next season and set some new goals for myself.”
Cover image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix