Merrick shows talent at Herald Sun Tour

This is a part of a collection of articles that didn’t get published within the past few seasons but I think still hold plenty of interest for the dedicated cycling fan!

Inexperience has counted for little in the nascent career of 18-year-old Jenna Merrick (Mike Greer Homes) as she has impressed early in her first season with the elite ranks.

The young New Zealander won the Under 23 time trial title at the New Zealand national championships, finished second behind WorldTour regular Brodie Chapman at the Gravel and Tar classic, before going on to frank her form with another performance against top opposition, fourth overall at the Herald Sun Tour among some of the peloton’s best climbers and collecting the jersey as best young rider.

Merrick is still very new at this level, more accustomed to riding with much smaller fields as an individual than the bustle of a peloton filled with teams of the caliber of Mitchelton-Scott, Trek-Segafredo, TIBCO-SVB and Ale-Cipollini.

“It was pretty overwhelming to be honest,” said Merrick. “I’ve never ridden in a bunch that dominated by teams. Especially when Mitchelton got on the front in the crosswinds, that was a pretty hard moment and learning curve I guess.”

The crosswind split formed by Mitchelton-Scott was one of the more dramatic moments in the race, with riders getting dropped in dramatic fashion as the strong Australian squad put the hammer down. Despite not having much experience with the dynamics of larger groups in the crosswinds, Merrick was able to hang on to the group to contest the final climb.

“I was quite lucky,” said Merrick, “I followed one of our older riders, Amanda (Jamieson), she’s really good with positioning and we were up there enough that it wasn’t too far to the front. I just managed to get on the right side of the split.”

Some of the biggest names in world cycling were present at the event, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo), Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini) and world championships silver medalist Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott) all riders who have been at the top of the sport for the past few seasons, whereas Merrick came in as an unknown youngster.

“I tried not to think about it like that,” said Merrick. “I just pretended I was racing the boys at home, I just tried to put my head down and work as hard as I could and stay with who I could.”

Despite the international star quality at the race, it’s a hometown hero who holds the most appeal for Merrick.

“Definitely coming from New Zealand, Georgia Williams is someone that everyone looks up to and it’s pretty cool that I’m racing her at home at elite nationals then seeing her out here amongst all her teammates and seeing her as part of such a well-established WorldTour team is pretty cool,” said Merrick. “It shows that you can come from Auckland and actually get to that top level, which is cool.”

The young rider has been on a long path through the ranks from her home city of Auckland, a journey which was hampered severely by a crash which put her out of what would have been the biggest championships events of her young career.

“I’ve been riding since I was eleven years old just through schools cycling in New Zealand,” said Merrick. “I’ve done a bit of track riding, I was supposed to go to junior worlds for both track and road last year but on the day I was due to fly out for Switzerland I was hit by a car and couldn’t do either of those.

“I didn’t really get that time at the top of junior racing, so I’ve kind of come into this elite racing without a name really, so I’m just trying to make a name now.”

While the junior world championships are a good barometer for the potential of young riders, it’s ultimately the ability to perform against elite opposition that makes or breaks a cyclist’s career, and with her performance so far in January, top flight teams will no doubt be keeping an eye on the young talent, though she said she hadn’t yet received any calls.

“One day, I want to be up riding WorldTour,” said Merrick. Riding with the top girls, that’s what I want to do with my career. I’m hoping to go as far as I can with it.”

Merrick will get the chance to showcase her ability when her New Zealand based Mike Greer Homes team journeys over to Europe later in the year. That is, if she hasn’t been snapped up by a bigger team first.

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Written by Jamie Finch-Penninger

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