NOT many of us ever have the chance to represent our country in sport. Of the few that do, it is a goal, a dream they work hard towards most of their lives. So it is rare indeed when someone is selected for Australia without hoping to do so.
But that's exactly what's happened to Michael England, a member of the Rockhampton Mountain Bike club (Rocky MTB). England has been selected to represent Australia at the World Mountain Bike Marathon Championships in Italy later this month.
"It's very much unexpected," England said. "It's always welcome, of course. I'm really happy but it wasn't on my radar at all. All I hoped to achieve this year was to ride a good national series. That was my only goal."
That goal has already been achieved after England placed third in his only race at Alice Springs in the Elite class on the Subaru National Mountain Bike Marathon Series earlier this year. His next race was the stand-alone National Championships in Derby mid last month. He placed fifth in the demanding five- hour ride in some of the most picturesque wilderness on the planet. That was good enough for Australian selection and now he's headed to Selva di Val Gardena, Italy for the world championships on June 27.
"This will be one of the toughest cycling challenges of my career, that's for sure," England said.
He has faced some tough challenges in the saddle before, as a professional road racer in Australia and one season in Europe before retiring from international cycling in 2011. Two years later, he took up mountain biking for fun. But there will be nothing funny about the 87km world championship course he will a face in the Dolomite Mountains in north-eastern Italy.
"Altitude could play a part and everyone will be affected differently," England revealed.
"But the main hurdle, the real test, will be the hill climbs. There are 4700m of them. That's 4.7km of steep, hard climbing over difficult, rough terrain.
"The winner will take five hours. That amount of time in the saddle is quite long and rare. We don't do too many five hour-plus marathons in Australia for the national series. Normally around four. So not only is it going to be tough time-wise, but there's the altitude and the climbing."
Working full-time has limited England's preparation, but he will turn out for the Rocky MTB club race at Seeonee Park next weekend. The thing is, he won't stop.
"I need to get some five- hour rides in," England explained.
"So, I'll start the club race early, join it, complete it and then keep going."
Is England nervous, facing the world's best mountain bikers on such a difficult and demanding course, bearing in mind that many of his opposition riders are full-time professionals?
"More excited really," England said.
"I know this is going to be one of my greatest cycling tests. It's going to be very, very tough."
Given the extreme degree of difficulty, what are his expectations?
"I don't have any," England said.
"I don't expect to place. I have never raced at this level before and I know I will be up against the best international mountain bikers in the world.
"If I have a solid finish, if I finish in good condition I will be delighted.
"I just don't want to leave anything out there on that course. I'm going to give it everything I've got," he said.
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