Julia Shaw marked her Commonwealth Games debut – at the age of 45 – with a bronze medal today as she met the challenge of the 29km time trial loop in sweltering conditions on the Greater Noida Express Highway.
She revealed afterwards that she had been considering retiring after sweeping national time trial medals from 10 to 100 miles in 2009, but was persuaded to continue by her coach.
“I did think about giving up last year, but my coach told me to keep going as I might have a chance here,” she said after finishing in 39min 09.52sec, 10.22sec behind Canada’s gold medallist Tara Whitten. “I’m glad I did as he asked.”
Shaw, who works as a physicist near Lyndhurst, in Hampshire, specialising in fibre optics, had been disappointed not to make the Melbourne 2006 Games, having switched to cycling from triathlon in 2003.
But Delhi offered an unexpected late opportunity for her to realise that Commonwealth ambition, and she prepared beforehand by training at home in a room with all the heating on.
“When we discovered the course out here was very flat we thought it might be a good time for me to try and get into the squad,” she said.
“I had no idea what to expect out here. As the race was happening I didn’t really know how I was doing. I just tried to keep going.”
As Shaw crossed the line her face was distorted with effort, her mouth open in an effort to gain the maximum oxygen. “It was very hot out there,” she said. “It’s uncomfortable when you are out of breath.
“It’s not like riding at home. You feel it in your legs.”
The temperature was hovering on 38 degrees C as the riders set off, and for some the conditions proved too much, with even established talents such as Australia’s Alexis Rhodes labouring as they approached the finish line.
“It’s one of the toughest time trials I’ve done,” said New Zealand’s silver medallist Linda Villumsen, who finished 4.85sec behind the Canadian.
Villumsen’s team-mate Melissa Holt, who finished fifth, added: “It was great going out and then you turn around and think ‘oh, where is what I saved?’”
England’s world champion Emma Pooley, who had suffered a stomach upset earlier in the week, appeared to be feeling its after effects as she came home ninth in 40:25.22, one place behind Emma Trott, who recorded 40:19.52.
“I didn’t even know how well I was doing or where I finished,” Pooley said. “I probably prefer a more technical course. I’m really pleased for Julia. It’s a well deserved medal.
“Being in Delhi has been very similar to Beijing – it’s been a big Games experience, and people have had the opportunity to get used to all the paraphernalia that goes with a big Games. So I think it’s been a very good experience for all the young riders.”
For one of those young riders, 20-year-old Trott, this morning certainly qualified as a learning curve.
“I’ve never ridden a time trial like that before,” she said. “I kept on thinking ‘I just need to get to the line, I just need to get to the line...’”