Felicity Wilson-Haffenden was “over the moon” to claim the gold medal at the UCI Road World Championships in Scotland on Thursday. The 18-year-old beat favourite Isabel Sharp (Great Britain) and Federica Venturelli (Italy) by 17 and 29 seconds, respectively to win Australia’s first rainbow jersey of the combined championships outside the para-cycling.
The Stirling course presented the usual challenge of open roads and undulating terrain but with a sharp sting in the tail – a technical run-in to a steep cobbled climb to the doorstep of the Stirling Castle.
“The course was very hard so it was a very tight race,” Wilson-Haffenden said, sporting wounds from a high-speed crash in the junior women’s road race in Glasgow. “After the road race, I was feeling good so I knew I could manage to finish on the podium today. The other girls were very strong so I’m very happy about how the race went today.”
The time trial went far better than Wilson-Haffenden’s road race. The Australian junior road race champion crashed dramatically in one of the many turns on the Glasgow circuit. She came away with a lot of road rash and was lucky to finish in 65th place, 15:41 down on the winner Julie Bego of France.
“It was pretty hard, pretty disappointing to crash on Saturday,” Wilson-Haffenden said. “I put a lot into that race and I was feeling really good, but unfortunately overcooked the corner. I felt let down because a lot of people put a lot of time, money and energy into getting me there.”
What a difference five days can make.
“It’s pretty incredible. The whole Australian team has put so much into getting me this medal. It’s not just me – I get on the bike but there is so much more that happens behind the scenes to make this happen. I’m so proud to represent the green and gold – it’s pretty incredible I’ll be bringing this home.”
Australia can thank the COVID-19 pandemic for bringing this talented rider getting into cycling. Formerly into hockey and athletics, Wilson-Haffenden took up the bike during the lockdowns and pretty soon found it suited her.
“I have to thank the Tasmania Institute of Sport of Sport with Matthew Gilmore and Belinda Goss who coached me and taught me everything.”
After winning the Australian National Championships road race and time trial, Wilson-Haffenden added gold in the Oceania Championships time trial, earning her a spot for the World Championships.
Before Worlds, the team had a block of racing in Belgium where she came away with a win in Deinze.
Look for the Tasmanian to chase more rainbow bands at the Junior Track World Championships in Colombia later this month, and go for a career on the road further down the line.
“TT’ing is my strength but I don’t think I’m completely terrible in the road race,” she said when asked what kind of rider she is. “In the future, the Classics are probably what I would look at – a Paris-Roubaix/Tour of Flanders type of race.”