If professional cyclist Georgia Williams wins the 2018 Road Championships in Napier next Saturday, she gets to wear the New Zealand jersey in Europe next year, she tells Russell Jones.
Georgia Williams is trackside at the Avantidome in Cambridge watching the national team fly around the velodrome. It's a place she knows so well from the years she has spent training and competing there.
"Yeah, it feels strange to be back here, looking at them down on the track," she says, back in Auckland for the summer, after a season of racing in Europe.
Almost a year ago, at the end of a three-year contract with the Italy-based professional team BePink, Williams had settled back into Cambridge life and recommitted to the track programme when Orica-Scott, one of the top World Tour teams, called with an offer — and they wanted her on a plane immediately.
With the blessing of the New Zealand track coaching staff she left Cambridge and went straight to the European early season "classics" — the big one-day races in Italy, Belgium and France.
It was the second foray into the top level European scene for the 24-year-old, after her seamless transition from junior to senior in 2013.
Only 19 at the time, she signed for the BePink squad and moved to Bergamo, north of Milan, in Italy.
"I'd never done any racing in Europe really, so it was crazy, just hectic, and it was freezing cold," she said. "I remember being so scared in a peloton of 150 girls but I managed to hang in there in most of the races, just finishing but I was learning heaps.
"I ended up doing seven months there that year. I didn't realise how mentally strong I actually was to last that long, being so young, and thinking about it now it was really good to last it out. I didn't realise how all of that racing developed me either, it changed my body.
"It's just completely different to here, the racing is just so next level, it's hard to explain. You are just fighting the whole race, fighting for position, everyone wants to be in the front 30, it's just super hard."
Since that first year Williams alternated track and road, joining the Cycling New Zealand endurance track squad to prepare for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then back for the Rio Olympics, returning to BePink in between.
This year, Orica-Scott gave Williams a soft start to the season, ramping it up after the fourth race.
"I ended up doing 50-plus race days in Europe and that was the most out of any of the girls in the team, which was pretty crazy but really cool."
Orica-Scott is based in Gavirate, at the head of Lake Varese in northern Italy.
Being an Australian team with a mostly Aussie roster, the Australian Institute of Sport has based themselves there too — which brings the benefits of a big sports facility with a gym, recovery pools, doctors, physios, massage areas and testing room.
Even more, it's where you will find the Orica-Scott "service course" for the men's and women's teams — the storage facility for bicycles, components, nutrition, clothing, buses and cars, and where the logistics are arranged.
"It's insane the amount of equipment there, and the bikes are so awesome," says Williams.
If Williams gets picked to return to the Commonwealth Games next year, it will for the road squad. "It's right in the middle of the classics," she says. "But I've talked to my DS [sporting director] and if I did get selected then it would be fine but I'd pretty much fly from the classics to the Gold Coast, race, then fly back for the Ardennes. So it'll be summer, winter, summer, winter — hopefully I manage that."
The Ardennes is an area of rolling hills and forests in southern Belgium, perfectly made for tough one-day races.
"I like the Ardennes races, I think they are courses that suit me, just up and down, up and down courses," says Williams.
"Next season I'll still be a support rider in the classics, especially as we have so many strong classics riders.
"I'd love to get a stage win in a tour, or even be a general classification rider, we'll see. I'm only 24 and I feel this year was building a base season so I was happy to do heaps of racing and learning. I'll aim next year for a more focused year, maybe go for some individual results. The team is there to support me and give me opportunities."
Despite all her time overseas, one thing for certain is that Williams is happy to return here for summer, although it's not without its difficulties, especially when the nationals roll around in Napier next week.
"Yeah, double summers pretty much, it's so good. The only problem is if I start a race here everyone is 'Wow, how did she not win?', but they don't understand that this is my off-season.
"But I'll still train really hard for it anyway. I have been second three times so I really want that road jersey. I get mistaken for being Australian so many times so it would be really cool to be wearing the New Zealand jersey, putting New Zealand on the map — 2018, my year, I hope."
• Adapted with permission from the January 2018 edition of New Zealand Cycling Journal.
National Road Race Championships: 2nd (2017, 2016 & 2013).
National Time Trial Championships: 2nd (2017), 3rd (2013).
Oceania Track Championships: 1st — team pursuit, 3rd — points race.
Tour Languedoc Roussillon, France: 1st, youth classification (2013).
Grand Prix Elsy Jacobs, Luxembourg: 1st, youth classification (2013).
National Criterium Championship: 1st (2012).
Oceania Road Championships: 1st — junior time trial (2009).
Participated in: Commonwealth Games (2014), Summer Olympics (2016).
Professional teams: BePink (Italy, 2013 — 2016); Orica-Scott (2017 -).