19 June 2023

Samara's marathon effort to qualify for Glasgow UCI Championships

Start the conversation
Samara Sheppard training on her mountain bike.

Wollongong’s UCI Bike City Ambassador is about to compete in three tough major international races in Europe. Photo: Supplied.

While most of us enjoy our weekends with a leisurely sleep-in or a laid-back coffee at a local cafe, Samara Sheppard has been spending her weekends riding a lap of the Royal National Park one day, followed by another equally long ride the next.

The Kiwi who now calls Wollongong home has also been racking up the miles at the award-winning Cringila Hills Mountain Bike Park in preparation to qualify for this year’s UCI World Championships in Glasgow in August.

Samara is the UCI Bike City Coordinator at Destination Wollongong, and a proud ambassador promoting the city’s brand as a UCI city.

A former runner, Samara transitioned to mountain biking after a series of running injuries. She had three top-five finishes including a podium in UCI U23 World Cups in 2012 but was thwarted by injury and illness. After moving to Australia and regaining her passion for the sport, Samara returned to win the New Zealand title in 2017 and Oceania titles in 2017 and 2018, as well as solid returns on the global circuit.

However, the 32-year-old is about to compete in three tough major international races in Europe over the next four weeks as she aims to cement her selection for the NZ national team.

The first race will be held on Italy’s famous Dolomite Mountains, the second will be on France’s Mont Blanc and the third again in the Dolomites in early July.

READ ALSO ‘Be the best version of you’: Inspiring CrossFit mum raises the bar at Torian Pro

In the cross-country marathon, riders take on a gruelling 100 km course, which usually takes about six hours to complete.

“A lot of my selection boxes have been ticked, like a top 40 world ranking,” Samara said. “I’ve done a lot of competitions on the mountain bike that have shown I’m on par performance-wise with where I was last time.

“At the last world championships in 2019 in Switzerland I finished fifth in the cross-country marathon.

“For selection, I needed to do a European race before 17 June, but selectors have been great and are taking into account my three races in Europe.

“Selection is always a bit of a grey area, but I’m aiming for a top-five finish in each of those races.”

The route of the course through Glasgow’s Glentress Forest will include a back-breaking 3500 metres of elevation.

Mountain bike riders travelling through Scotland's Glentress Forest.

The challenging mountain bike course will travel through Scotland’s Glentress Forest. Photo: UCI World Cycling Championships.

Samara has been clocking up plenty of miles around the Illawarra and on the Cringila Hills Mountain Bike Park in preparation over recent months.

“Now it’s a bit darker I’ve been spending plenty of time on the trainer at home, but the weather has still been great and I’ve been doing a lot of five-hour rides of a weekend,” she said.

“It will usually consist of a lap of the National Park on a Saturday and a lap down south on Sunday.”

This year’s UCI World Championships in Glasgow will be the first time the world titles across 13 of the major disciplines of cycling have been held together.

READ ALSO Employers urged to embrace pedal power for happier, healthier workers

Qualifying for this “all-in” world championships would have special significance for Samara.

“I rode my first world championships in Glasgow in 2007 and they’ve been talking about having this type of world championships forever so to be part of the first one would be special,” she said.

“My goal for Glasgow would be to make the top 10, but with the marathon there are so many elements like mechanicals, crashes and nutrition that can go wrong, there is an element of luck.”

Samara’s training support partner and husband Kyle will be travelling with her for the European trip.

“It’s pretty special getting to travel and do this together. We’ve been travelling together for eight years now and it’s great to have his support,” she said.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.