Morelli sets PR, defends rainbow jersey at Para-cycling World Championships
Two-time Paralympic champion wins in front of home crowd
When the US Para-Cycling Track World Championship team was revealed just seven weeks before competition, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling rider Shawn Morelli suddenly had a new goal on the horizon: to defend her rainbow jersey in the C4 individual pursuit.
Coming fresh off of two Paralympic gold medals in Rio, the 40-year-old Army veteran could no longer ease into the 2017 season as previously planned. After learning she was on the roster, Morelli immediately left to LA to prepare on the Carson track for the next six weeks.
“It was definitely a crash course,” she said. “After Rio, I didn’t have anything on my calendar until road season started. I took some time off and wasn’t concerned about training because my first major race was in April.”
Of course, all that changed after the announcement. Morelli had to rearrange her training to get ready in a relatively short amount of time.
“After I was selected for Worlds, I stopped base training and went directly into VO2 type training again.”
For Morelli, a typical training day went like this: an hour warm-up on the road bike, then three hours of specific track training. After her track time was over, Morelli would cool down for another hour, load her car up and drive back to her LA residence to recover. Along with track training, she also hit the gym every other day to do a variation of core and strength work.
“During that period I never went home,” said Morelli, who lives in Colorado with her husband.
Competing at the Para-cycling World Championships level wasn’t new to Morelli. However this time around, things were a little different for the defending champion. Her friends and coaches were sitting in the stands, including her family, who flew from Pennsylvania to cheer her on.
“Because the event was at home – at the place where I learned to ride the track -there was a lot more pressure in different ways.” she said. “Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. I threw everything out there and hoped for the best, which happened to be a World Championship title and world record in the pursuit. This year, there was more pressure on my shoulders. I wanted to perform well and defend my title. But of course, now everyone else wanted to take it from me.”
After the inevitable pre-race nerves subsided, Morelli found her momentum and the rest, as they say, is history. Instead of focusing on winning, she and her coach set precise targets that led her to a PR, two rainbow jerseys in the C4 500m time trial and 3K individual pursuit, and celebration that was memorable for a new reason.
“It was the first time my dad got to see me ride on the track and the first world title my husband watched me win, so as far as a family aspect goes – this race was really special,” Morelli said.
And her strong athletic support system doesn’t end with friends, family and coaches. Her team, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling also extends its encouragement before, during and after the event, which she said is crucial to her ongoing success.
“I always get support from UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling whenever I compete as a national team member. My teammates and staff are constantly in contact with me, sending me messages of motivation and advice. It really does make a difference.”
Morelli will continue to ride with Team USA this season. Coming up in May is a World Cup road race in Belgium, but before looking forward, Morelli is enjoying some downtime in the southern California warmth to reflect and recharge.
“Right now I’m sitting in the sun, writing in my journal and putting everything that happened the last few days down on paper,” Morelli said. “I’m going over my lap times one last time before I close that book. I’m also taking a couple days off the bike before I get back into the swing of things.”
Morelli’s next target is to defend her UCI World Championship Time Trial Championship title in South Africa this August. And as always, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling will be rooting her on the entire way.
Photos Credit, unless otherwise noted: Jonathan Devich / Epic Images