Williamson siblings riding high

NATHAN BURDON
Last updated 05:00 17/12/2012

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Alexandra teenager Sophie Williamson is in a hurry.

The clipped way she speaks during an interview reveals someone who would much rather be doing it than talking about it.

It's a trait many elite athletes share and there's little doubt that the 18-year-old from a cycling-mad Central Otago family is on her way to a big career in the elite women's peloton.

That's why it was no surprise to learn last week that she will join the United States-based Vanderkitten Racing team next season, having just stepped out of the junior ranks after a year that included two silver medals at the junior world track championships in Invercargill and a fourth place at the junior road worlds that was achingly close to a bronze medal.

"After road worlds, I was looking for a team and I found one in Europe, but it was an English-based team that folded," Williamson said. "I was left in the middle of everything and was trying to quickly find something else. There were lots of people trying to help me and I've just carried on training and managed to get other results, which have helped me get into this team."

An overall win at the New South Wales Grand Prix came at a good time, but Vanderkitten, a team that has been around since 2005, will know they have got a good one.

New Zealanders Kate Chilcott and Emily Collins have already ridden for the team, with Collins recently graduating to Dream Team Honda squad, which has been set up by Rochelle Gimore with the backing of Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins.

It's interesting times for cycling in general in the wake of the Lance Armstrong scandal, but there could be a silver lining for women's cycling, which usually struggles for recognition and money.

"With all the negative press about the men's side of the sport, hopefully, it will bring a spotlight onto the women's because we could definitely do with more input with the media and financially as well," Williamson said.

She was looking forward to getting over to the States, where she will be based with Chilcott in California, and has already tasted success State-side, having won the elite Iron Hill criterium there earlier this year.

"I've heard only good things about Vanderkitten, especially. Both Kate and Emily have raced with them lots and I know them quite well. They just love the time they've had with those guys and I really can't wait for it."

There's no shortage of excited anticipation in the Williamson household at the moment, with oldest brother James contemplating his own big break in the professional ranks, having just signed with the British-based Node4 team.

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The Williamson clan still ride together regularly, although middle brother Patrick no longer competes. Dad Martyn is Sophie's coach and he and wife Liz race at masters level.

Twelve months ago James was contemplating his future after his PureBlack Racing team struck difficult financial times.

He rebounded by winning the elite men's road title in January and has been able to carry on in a range of environments, including cameos in the Benchmark Series with the H&J Smiths Outdoor World team alongside Sophie.

Knowing what his immediate future holds should provide more stability to his planning.

"The more certainty you can have, the better. It just allows you to plan and do things and make sure you do things properly rather than having to rush things or take shortcuts just to get somewhere. That's what happened this year and it definitely reflected in some of the performances that we had," he said. "Having said that, we had some good experiences out there and got to get on the start line of some big races and get some big exposure. It would have made it so much easier if we could have worked to a structured plan."

James rode aggresively during the Tour of Southland last month, but was never allowed to sneak away for what would have been a deserved stage win.

His reward has arrived late, with Tour of Southland winner Mike Northey, who used to ride for PureBlack with James, and his Node4 team-mates coming calling.

"It's never a bad thing to get that kind of recognition. You can't get that from just sitting in the bunch and if you don't get the result you still get something out of it," James said.

"It's really exciting, it's going to open up a whole new scene of racing for me and give us some opportunities to do some really big races over in Europe, against some of the top pros and, hopefully, we can make our mark."

James plans to have a crack at defending his national road title next month, but his focus is on arriving in Europe in March with a lot of petrol in the tank.

In the meantime, he's eyeing the Tour of Manawatu but, if he can't pull a team together, he is also considering the Milford Classic - the 120km road race from Milford Sound to Te Anau, which will be raced for a second time at the end of January.

"I'll definitely be at nationals (but) the emphasis won't be on the race as it's been for the last couple of years, just because it's been such a big year this year and I've needed a decent break. With having a full on season next year, I don't want to get sucked into doing too much, too soon. It's a bit of a trade-off because nationals is such a hard race that you don't want to go there underprepared and hope to do well. I'll . . . try to defend the title."

Sophie will race criteriums in Australia before lining up for Southland in the points and scratch races at the elite track nationals at the end of January, followed by the Oceania road championships in Canberra in mid-March before heading to the United States.

- The Southland Times

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