Niamh Fisher-Black signs a jersey after winning the under-23 title at the road cycling world championships.
Niamh Fisher-Black had to weigh up whether it was worth the money to compete at the road cycling world championships after being told by Cycling New Zealand she would have to pay her own way there.
After deciding it was, the 22-year-old went on to create history as the first under-23 women’s world champion. The fact she flew from Europe to Australia on her own dime made the win extra satisfying.
“It’s a lot of money and it’s a big investment but it’s an investment to potentially win, and it paid off for me,” Fisher-Black said.
“In the end it was a no-brainer to pay. I had a shot to win and it’s not about the money at the end of the day. I wanted to race so I went for it.”
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Fisher-Black wouldn’t say how much it costs her, but compatriot George Bennett said in August the figure would be about $6000 if each rider had to pay their way to and from Europe. A one-way flight from Madrid to Sydney is currently at least $2000.
Fisher-Black finished 12th overall in the 164km women’s road race, but she was the first under-23 rider across the finish line.
This was the first year that a world title was handed out for the best-placed under-23 rider in the elite women’s road race.
The men’s under-23 race is a standalone event.
After registering a top-five finish at the prestigious Giro d’Italia Donne in July, Fisher-Black was over the moon to score her first rainbow jersey. However, she did admit that she had hoped for a better result overall.
Fisher-Black finished at the back of the lead group of 12 with Dutch star Annemiek van Vleuten defying a broken elbow suffered in the mixed team relay to take the elite title with a devastating attack in the final 500m.
“The rainbow jersey, very few people have one and it’s the pinnacle of cycling so it’s super special to have,” she said.
“I have it in my bag and I keep opening it and think ‘wow, OK’. But I do have mixed feelings.
“It was a race within a race and I was still racing against the elite girls. In terms of that race, I’m not that happy with it because I think I made some mistakes in the finish there and I would have liked a better result than 12th.
“Normally I have a pretty good sprint so I was a bit sad not being able to sprint at the end there. Sometimes I feel bitterness, but of course it’s super cool [to be the under-23 world champion].
“I think I showed I was the strongest under-23 rider on the day and nothing can take away from that.”
Cycling NZ told riders that they would need to pay for their own travel and accommodation as the national federation was unable to cover the costs this year due to a lack of funding and reduced sponsorship.
Less than 1% of the annual funding it received from the government could be spent on road cycling with the vast majority ring-fenced for track, a sport where Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals are much easier to come.
That, combined with the fact the race took place in Australia, saw a skeleton New Zealand squad chosen for the world championships, with only one starter in the men’s road race and four in the women’s – less than half of the overall quota, having qualified six spots for each.
There was no prize money up for grabs but Fisher-Black did take home a free watch from event sponsor Tissot.
She said she hoped her performance on the world stage, and that of the rest of the New Zealand team, would show the decision-makers at High Performance Sport New Zealand that the road cyclists were worth investing in too.
Her rainbow jersey is proof she is one of the most promising riders in a truly global sport.
“I hope this sends a message. It wasn’t just my performance. I had teammates like Ella Wyllie, she rode a super strong race and also Bonnie Rattray in the junior race. I was super impressed by her.
“We have a lot of potential. We have medal hopes for Paris and Los Angeles so I don’t see why funding shouldn’t be put towards us.
“There’s talent that is worth developing and at the world championships we showed that, especially on the women’s side.”