Anna Meares entered the Australian track cycling championships with a thigh strain, interrupted preparation and nagging self-doubt.
She left last week’s event with three gold medals from three events and an unspoken message that rang loud and clear through the sport – Meares is still the boss.
Most important, it was a crucial morale boost that shows the sprinter’s Rio Olympics campaign is on target.
Meares is No.1 rider in the 20-strong team Cycling Australian named on Wednesday for the world championships.
The March 2-6 titles at the London Olympics velodrome will be the key stepping stone for the Australian track team before Rio.
No Rio selections are confirmed yet, but Meares is as good as there.
Strong rides from Stephanie Morton and Kaarle McCulloch put pressure on Meares at the nationals, and all three will ride in London, but only two are likely to be picked for the Olympics.
Along with the thigh strain, Meares also suffered the return of a back injury in late 2015.
Cycling Australia national performance director Kevin Tabotta said Meares’ response at the nationals to those problems showed her character.
“She went to a place where she hasn’t been for a while and she showed the true mark of a champion,” he said.
“When you watch an elite performer like that, who’s been at the absolute top level, she’s someone who’s had a target on her back for a long while.
“It’s always difficult for an athlete like that to be saying, ‘It’s just part of the process. It’s a stepping stone’.”
Tabotta said Meares’ aim was to continue her buildup through the worlds and arrive in Rio in top form.
She is the defending Olympic champion in the sprint, following her epic win over British rival Victoria Pendleton at the London Games.
“The world championships won’t be her big achievement. I can tell you she’ll be building through that even towards Rio,” Tabotta said.