Samara Sheppard’s steady climb to the top
Mountain biker Samara Sheppard has dedicated the last two years to making GC2018, and she’s shaping to be a challenging obstacle for her competitors to overcome on the Nerang Mountain Bike Trails in April.
The New Zealander claimed her first national and Oceania title in 2017 and her momentum is continuing to build as she approaches the Games.
In early January, Sheppard took out rounds three and four of the Mountain Bike Australia Cross-Country National Series on the GC2018 course, making it four from four for the 2018 series.
Now she’s on the cusp of achieving her first Commonwealth Games selection, an achievement which would ‘mean everything’ to the 27-year-old, who moved to Australia two years ago to be with partner and coach Kyle Ward and take advantage of Australia’s mountain bike scene.
“The last two years have been focused on the Commonwealth Games,” Sheppard told GC2018.com.
“One year, getting fit and strong enough and doing the marathon series and one year doing all the qualification races and learning from the racing and then now it’s coming into the run in of selection and it would be a real dream to compete.”
Sheppard’s victories at the 2017 Oceania and New Zealand championships have put her in prime position for GC2018 selection, with the New Zealand team expected to be announced in February.
She described the two major wins as a ‘blinding start to the season’ and ‘a real dream’, but her continued improvement has a lot more to do with work than luck.
And while slow and steady doesn’t always win a cross-country mountain bike race, it has been pivotal to Sheppard’s rise.
“You just have to be committed and you have to get the consistency,” Sheppard said.
“It’s not something that happens overnight, it’s something you do repeatedly, every day, every month, every year, just steady improvements and once you can get the consistency under the belt you’re just pushing through.
“There’s always going to be challenges and hard times, just like there is with anything in life, and it’s just being able to keep a bit of perspective and keep charging forward.”
Sheppard’s endurance is one of her strengths. She has withstood grueling 100km races during her time on the marathon circuit, including taking out the overall Mountain Bike Australia Marathon Series title in 2016.
The cross-country discipline, which will be contested at GC2018, is a different beast.
“Cross-country’s quite unique in that it’s full gas for an hour and a half,” Sheppard explained.
“In a mountain bike race you are on your limit for the whole time. You can’t really go any harder, so your heart rate’s at max and you have to climb steep but also descend at a really high heart rate which is quite challenging.”
On a challenging course like GC2018, riding smooth and staying calm will be key according to Sheppard.
And while many GC2018 contenders will be putting in the hours on the course ahead of the Games, the hard nature of the course means they’ll have to find a balance.
“The track is a challenging one, it’s real brutal to be honest. It goes up some real techy, quite steep sections that have got a lot of dirt and rocks that are quite hard to get traction and ride clean that takes a lot of composure and a lot of strength as well,” she said.
“Courses like this, because they’re hard and challenging, you can’t really do them under fatigue. You don’t really practise them well you just make mistakes and the chance of injury and hurting yourself and also breaking things on your bike, so you have to find the balance between learning the track enough but also making sure you’re fresh when you hit it so you can just get quality over the quantity.”