It’s safe to say the last few years have been up-and-down for Ballarat cyclist Alana Forster.
In 2021, Dr Forster moved to the city to work in the hospital's emergency department. But last year, she was seriously injured in a car crash that fractured her pelvis, femur, ribs and more.
After multiple surgeries, she was left with nerve damage in her leg. Forster’s rehabilitation remains ongoing, but the keen cyclist has returned to racing as a para-cyclist with a lower-leg impairment. And her journey has taken her to the top of the world.
Early this year, on local roads in Ballarat, Forster won the C4 road race national championship – winning the green-and-gold jersey in one of her first races back.
In August, she represented Australia in track and road cycling at the UCI World Championships in Glasgow. There, the 37-year-old won the rainbow jersey of world champion with a daring late attack in the C5 scratch race.
“It was a tough year, but I love riding my bike, and when I couldn't, it was pretty hard,” Forster said after winning her national title. “To feel like a bike racer again is probably one of the best feelings in the world.”
Forster owes much of her success to the Ballarat community. She jokes that her suitcase was much heavier on the flight home from Glasgow because she’d filled it with thank-you gifts.
“I had a lot of people who had supported me in terms of my rehab. I had a lot of shortbread to deliver to people. I bought a few soft-toy coos [highland cows] so I had to deliver them, too,” she says in an interview with AusCycling.
As well as her mechanic, Forster singles out Ballarat physiotherapist Peter Roberts and Federation University sport scientist Ryan Worn for getting her back on the bike.
“It’s a close network of allied health and cycling-specific people who have given me a lot of support, helping me with biomechanical challenges and minimising the deficits that I have,” she says.
Now – for the first and possibly last time – Forster is preparing to defend her national title at home.
The 2024 Federation University RoadNats Ballarat will mark the end of an era. It will be the last in Ballarat’s 18-year streak of hosting the national titles.
“It’s been iconic having Nationals in Ballarat,” says Forster, who is also the vice-president of Ballarat Sebastopol Cycling Club. “It’s built up a legacy that means we have a very strong bike community here. You get a lot of locals who come along and support, people who might not necessarily ride themselves or follow cycling.”
The championships will run from January 3–7, beginning with time trials at Federation University’s Mt Helen Campus. Ballarat’s CBD will host the criterium races on Friday evening, where spectators can get up close to Australia’s top cyclists as they fly along Sturt Street.
On the weekend, the fan-favourite live site will return to Mount Buninyong after several years’ absence. With food and drink, sponsor stalls and a big screen, it will be the best place to soak up the atmosphere.
“It’s a bit sad that Nationals is moving on, but we’ll make the best of it and have a big final showdown.”