Sweat pouring off her, struggling to breathe and comprehend her pursuit team missing their shot at an Olympic medal, Alison Shanks admitted her cycling future was up in the air.
The golden girl of the cycling track in New Zealand, after world and Commonwealth titles in the individual pursuit in the past two years, Shanks was looking forward to a break before deciding if she would return to the track after her 30th birthday in December.
"I haven't made any decision. I'm going to have a break off the bike now. I'll look to the world championships in February, it's still very much a part of the picture," Shanks said minutes after the pursuit team beat the Netherlands in the ride-off for fifth.
"I love track racing and the IP is still there. My passion is with the track, not the road."
That passion was sorely tested when the IP was scrapped from the Olympic programme after Beijing in 2008, when she finished fourth. Shanks said in the lead-up to these Olympics that she would never get over the disappointment of being denied a medal shot at her favourite event.
But she rolled her sleeves up and tried to haul the team of Lauren Ellis and Jaime Nielsen up from a poor opening night when they clocked 3min 20.421sec.
Yesterday they improved lengths, smashing their New Zealand record by 1.6sec in clocking 3:18.514sec. But it wasn't enough. They needed either of the top-four losers, Canada or Australia, to ride a slower time to book a bronze medal bid and they didn't, leaving the New Zealanders an unsatisfying ride for fifth.
The women's team pursuit, at its first Olympic Games, made massive advances since it was confirmed after Beijing. Great Britain's team of Dani King, Laura Trott and Joanna Rowsell broke their own world record three times in two days, the final ride a blistering 3.14.051. The Olympic velodrome, at its constant, pressurised temperature of 28 degrees Celsius and with 6000 screaming home fans, has been Great Britain's playground, with a slew of world records and gold medals in the past three days.
Shanks said: "It has been difficult but the fact is we haven't taken backward steps, we've still been progressing, it's just that the rest of the world has progressed a little faster. That's the reality.”
Pursuit coach Dayle Cheatley hoped Shanks' passion for the track would be rekindled after a break.
"We produced a PB by 1.5 seconds; that's great, that's what you come to the Olympics to do. Hopefully in timed events like ours they come off to be medals. The programme is still working along really well. We have made those gains and I'm pretty sure the team can make those gains over the next couple of years," he said.
"I don't know what Ali's future holds. We haven't discussed it. I'm sure she'll take some time to have a think about things but I hope she continues.”
Ellis, 23, confirmed her commitment to the pursuit team for the next four years while Cheatley was confident Nielsen, a convert from rowing four years ago, would also carry on.
Ellis said it was hard to see past the disappointment.
"It's pretty rough. We did absolutely everything we could," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News