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Chloe Hosking wrote her debut Ella column on one the questions she fields most frequently – “why do you ride?” Her second column tackles a question that is equally popular – “what are you wearing?”
My youngest teammate Anna Christian looked genuinely concerned as she pulled me aside after dinner last Friday, the night before our first European race, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
“Chloe, I need to ask you a question,” she said.
Oh no. What’s she done?, I thought to myself. I know I’m one of the most experienced on the team but I’m not ready to help hide a body. That falls outside the “what I’m expected to do for my teammates” charter.
“What are you wearing tomorrow?” she asked.
Anna finished her sentence before I had time to think how we could smuggle a body out of the busy hotel in the centre of Ghent, Belgium that we had been staying in for the past week during our Wiggle Honda training camp.
“Maybe a cute little cocktail dress,” I answered. I know she’s talking about the race, but she is the youngest after all so you have to have some fun. I mean, the NBA players make the rookie pros push dolls around in pink prams. I can at least joke about wearing a cocktail dress in a Spring Classic.
In the spring, apart from the standard “How are you feeling?” inquiry, “What are you wearing?” has to be the most common question asked among teammates.
It’s like Chinese whispers. One teammate will ask another and as the message gets passed around the circle the amount of clothing increases until you’re all in the camper van before the start of the race and you’ve got one girl wearing less than a triathlete at the Noosa Tri and another girl looking like the Michelin man.
After six years of racing in Europe, I’ve learnt there’s probably a happy medium between these two options that involves not dying of hypothermia and actually being able to grip the handlebars because your shoulder joints are not impeded by layers of clothing.
Despite this, I still pile every single undershirt, thickness of glove, various length of leg warmers and different jackets into my race bag. If need be, I could probably clothe the entire team. It’s important to have options; my sister would understand. That’s why she has about 200 pairs of shoes.
Jokes aside, dressing appropriately for a Spring Classic is both important and difficult. Some can be held in sub-zero temperatures while others can be held in pelting rain. The weather conditions are just one of the elements that make these races so iconic in the sport of cycling. There’s just something that says “badass” about the image of Tiffany Cromwell crossing the finish line of the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad with her arms raised in full winter kit, leg warmers, thermal jacket, winter buff and all. It was minus six degrees that day. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne was cancelled the next day because of snow.
At the end of the day, it’s a personal preference how much or little clothing you wear and, ultimately, I’ve come to learn, that choice comes down to a process of trial and error. I remember being in Anna’s situation a few years ago at one of my first Spring Classics. I asked my then teammate Ellen van Dijk what she was wearing. She answered that I always wear at least two more layers than her anyway, so it didn’t matter. She wasn’t wrong. Never ask a Dutchie or a Belgian what they’re wearing. Their internal temperature gauges have been permanently damaged from years of bad weather abuse.
After much discussion and internal struggles, I started the season opening Spring Classic in a long-sleeve windproof dhb undershirt, arm warmers, summer racing jersey, winter bib shorts, long finger gloves, and Fizik winter shoe covers. I put some heat rub on my lower back and chest and was ready to go.
I managed to find that happy medium between the triathlete and the Michelin man. Admittedly, I ditched the over-vest and leg warmers about two minutes before the start after an intense debate with a team sponsor who was at the start. Do I or don’t I? I felt like that child in the supermarket whose mother says you can have the Kinder Surprise or the Milky Way but not both and has to make a snap decision under pressure as the check-out looms ever closer.
It was six degrees and windy, but I nailed it. I guess I made the right decision at the check out.
Anna on the other hand has a bit more trial and error to go. The following day our sports director looked at Anna and my Scottish teammate Eileen Roe as he began the team debriefing: “One thing – too many clothes.” But then again, he’s Dutch.
Chloe Hosking is a professional cyclist riding for Wiggle Honda. The Australian found cycling as a pre-teen and spent her early years on the bike riding around Canberra with her dad. Chloe took an untraditional path to Europe, self-funding trips to ride with composite teams and club teams at international races. Results on these self-funded trips were enough to land Chloe contracts on the biggest teams in the world.
She represented Australia at the World Championships, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. Chloe hopes that her success inspires other Australian women to recognise the multiple pathways to European racing.