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July 22, 2017
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  • xponti

    What a great insight. I love how Rochelle thinks as well. Commercialising the selection process into a possible tv show. Use the participants as study guinea pigs. All of this thinking outside the box to get women’s cycling moving forward.
    Rochelle is truly a woman to be admired for what she is doing for her sport.

  • bigstu_

    Whatever it takes – that philosophy worked out great for Essendon. The Stated primary aim is to create a scheme that is revenue generating. The second is to increase the percentage of those that can stick it out longer than a month in Europe. If there is a problem with lack of support in Europe then funding for a support officer buddy system in Europe would be a good idea, but not as glamorous, so not as good for ratings. But local contacts/management/support are what male hopefuls going to Europe for the last fifty years have had so what would they know.

    • Tom Palmer

      Unlike essendon. Revenue generation in this case is about survival. This program was dead in the water, canned altogether, before Rochelle and High-5 were interested.
      I think the support officer idea is strong. This selection process is necessitated by the abusing nature of what women face when heading to Europe to race. I’m probably not ready to suggest that hardship is the Australian program’s fault and not the fault of women’s cycling’s position generally. But there is no doubt room for improvement when it comes to support for athletes in the program.

      • Andrea Willbe

        you hit a very important point – pro-cyclists have SUPPORT. Telling women to train to be their own support instead of garnering the corporate dollars male cyclists get for support is self biased women acting against their own self best interest AGAIN!! Does cycling and racing and the spirit get you nothing for all that effort???!!! Real pro-cyclists are the laziest blokes ever because they do not spend any energy other than on the bike. They have support/wives/slaves/maids/masseuses/ and will do anything corporately necessary to get that corporate branding and support including lying about taking banned substances. The lie must continue so they don’t have to give up support because with no support there is no time to focus on performance.

  • velocite

    I’d pay money to take part in a program like that.

    On the other hand, to have a government-financed machine like that devoted to sport, any sport, I find incongruous. Not grown-up.

    • Tom Palmer

      It’s interesting.
      From the perspective of fairness, this is the most comprehensive, most objective selection process I’ve seen.
      Professional team selections are far from fair – plenty of what’s generally considered ‘Professional’ in this cycling industry rider selection I think would be totally unacceptable by standards of a publicly funded program. That’s probably not exclusive to sport either – private/public sector hiring policies for example.

      • velocite

        Ah, great issue. How to select an employee or team member for success? For an ordinary job, with it’s mixture of drudgery and chaos, it’s difficult, a bit of a lucky dip. I still recall the ‘three things your company expects’ as related by my human relations lecturer: (1) be there (2) look right and (3) service beyond the call of duty. But it ought to be easier to choose the person in the more narrowly defined ‘job’ of cycling, yes? But I recall reading somewhere that Cavendish’s raw power numbers wouldn’t have you hire him, so evidently that’s not enough. And reading Al Hinds’ commentary on Richie Porte, as highlighted by today’s Rocacorba(!) illustrates how much room there is for telling stories. Rabbit rabbit, I’m rambling here..

  • Paolo

    Don’t they do this for a few years now? Any significant results yet? Very difficult to find “the one” in camps like this i think. They look for the “complete package”, which usually the great ones don’t have. Cav and the stories about his tests being the prime example.

    • Jessi Braverman

      I guess it depends on how you define “the one” – Gracie Elvin came out of this camp as did Katrin Garfoot, Chloe McConville and Bec Wiasak (just off the top of my head).

      • Paolo

        “The one” would be at least Oenone Wood level. Not someone who gets a result here and there and fills up the bunch most of the time.

        • Dave

          I thought the aim of the selection camp was not to find ‘the one’ but to find a squad of cyclists who would not only be viable racers but also tough enough to not chuck it in and head back to Australia after a few weeks in Europe.

    • Matt DeMaere

      Pretty sure the AIS model hasn’t changed in 20 years. Imported from the Eastern block of the 80s, the basis of which is “Throw the eggs against the wall and see which didn’t break” method. There are lots of examples where athletes didn’t score highly in the AIS system and went on to become some of Australia’s best cyclists. Does putting these aspirants through the wringer really generate greater odds of success? To my mind, much of the motivation for this process is simply assurance, within an expensive and bureaucratic system. Satisfying that system isn’t the same as directly developing athletes.

      Have they ever taken all those rejected athletes and coached them in parallel, then comparatively assessed whether their process is effective? No, the money is simply not there — being the biggest reason the process exists in the first place — so on it goes, developed in the absence of controls.

      Looking at those Eastern-block countries from the era, even coming up to more modern times, there was/is a desperate motivation to escape the predicament of what lies in store for the of ordinary life. The approach ends up being somewhat of a mill. I’m not sure it is justified in a wealthy country, such as Australia, where a dedicated young person has many choices for fulfilling life.

      A TV show, as suggested above, seems horribly exploitive and down there amongst Ninja Warrior and Wipeout.

      • Tom Palmer

        This is probably more sophisticated than the old ‘eggs at the wall’. It’s like squeezing them to see which ones crack easily so you do don’t bother hurling them at the wall in the first place.

    • Tom Palmer

      I don’t reckon Cav would have made the final eight on this camp. But I think Aussies like Jack Bobridge, Michael Matthews, Luke Durbridge, Caleb Ewan would have completely thrived.

      • Paolo

        Hard to tell. Unfortunately Bobridge is not really a benchmark, Durbridge still has a point to prove in the WT, Matthews didn’t need a camp like this and Ewan is special, but has been “pampered” so far. But, the point is that one of the greatest sprinters in history, a road world champ wouldn’t have made the selection, and that;s the one you would try to find.

        • Dave

          I agree that Cycling Australia has a problem with the system backing certain “chosen ones” for reasons completely unknown to mere mortals. Ewan is definitely a Chosen One, and it will be interesting to see if his progression continues or if he tops out at “good for a young kid” level, while Durbridge is a good example of a Chosen One who is not getting the results.

          They definitely have them on the women’s side of the sport too.

          • Mike

            Durbridge is not getting the results because he is so damn good, the team makes him ride in service of others because he has the biggest engine anyone has ever seen. When you have a guy that can do the job of 4 people, you ride him and keep the rest of the team fresh.
            Bike racing is not only what comes up in the SBS highlights reel.

            • Dave

              But he was supposed to be the world’s next great time trial rider and classics contender.

              What went wrong was the same thing that affects so many hopefuls from Australia in so many sports – it’s hard to be king of the jungle when you grow up in a koala park.

  • Gavin Adkins

    Like Tom, I am also suspicious and discomforted by this process. This article is very helpful in shedding some light on what is actually going on.

    However, good intentions are not enough.

    While there has been significant and ongoing improvement, Australian cycling has a long and unfortunate history of chewing up athletes and spitting them out. I think this is a significant reason why people who have been involved in the sport for a long time are uncomfortable with this program. That discomfort is significantly increased when theses concerns, from people experienced in the grass-roots development of racing cyclists for many years, are essentially dismissed out of hand.

    To say that special forces do it, so we have borrowed and adapted it, to me, is sorely lacking in the rigour required when you are quite openly pushing people to physical and mental breaking point. What happens to the eliminated athletes?

    Where is the evidence, beyond anecdotal assertion, that this works?

    • Jessi Braverman

      We have a story coming from one of the eliminated athletes coming early next week. Stay tuned to this space for that!

      • I’d love to hear from some of the women who completed the camp several years ago, with the benefit of more time to consider its effects on their career over the span of a few years. Both those who were successful, and those who weren’t.

        • Jessi Braverman

          We have that in the works now, too! Coming at you early next week.

        • Andrea Willbe

          You go too hard too fast too often you burn up and don’t come back and they don’t even know why. It’s called stress.
          What’s with the training demand: “Now go and do a lap as hard and as fast as you can” – trying to beat records…what bullshit. How to burn out a kid. Then they drop cycling because they’re young – strong yes and a coach may get his or her lower and lower times – afterall coaching is about faster and faster right? Wrong-oh Pal! Coaches like this make me sick…how to stick it to the kids by making them suffer too much. The fact is the further you go the more you slow down….you learn to stick it when it needs to be stuck…and learning when that is is a skill that comes with time. But mostly you’d be burnt out by bad coaching before you ever get to that point. Shitty coaches make me sick how you kill off what coulda been. Take heed young ladies and young cyclists…most coaches are full of shit. If they don’t know THE CYCLISTS TRAINING BIBLE by Joe Friel and Lance ARmstrong’s training smarter not harder books then they are irrelevant.

    • Tom Palmer

      True: if we’re calling this approach a success what is the control group?

      Hard not to think AIS/Rochelle/High-5/Cycling Australia conglomerate = total monopoly over women’s development pathways. Whatever cruel an unusual process they pick will automaticalled be the best because it will get the best (maybe only) riders

      Some evidence of alternative pathways:
      > Bec Wiasak was not selected by this camp, and won a road world championship. I have a feeling she’ll find her way into the program without the camp.
      > Chloe Hosking funded herself into Europe, Signed pro, gained plenty of national team selections that way.

      I’d watch Kimberley Wells, who hit a lot of dead ends before getting ‘with the program’
      2013 – won an aussie title out of nowhere – no selection so went to America and won nearly everything she started.
      2014 – went to Europe off her own bat with a french team. Injury and illness, no doubt exacerbated by lack of support, cut season short
      2015 – finally went to the camp and has made final eight,
      (also national crit champ, winning NRS stages, winning everything, it’s hard to imagine what kind of selection process would not select her)

    • Andrea Willbe

      Stress….it comes in all forms at all tempo’s. If you train smarter instead of harder and have a rock solid supportive personal life (wife/slave/maid) and a rock solid support management then maybe a cyclist can get muled out but not burn out. Some age groupers are still going. Look at Lance ARmstrong….I found his personal life and his mother’s love and support his greatest gift…without base you can’t face the race.

    • Thomas

      Not going to lie, I find this a really disturbing exercise. As much as I love Rochelle Gilmore this is one programme I struggle to support. The inherent cruelty of it is just not on. If they’re suggesting that riding for some teams is like that then that’s more a statement about the sport and should be a warning sign to the governing body…

      I’ve had several friends go through this over the last few years, some have even made the cut. I still can’t get over it. I remember reading about an early version of it where when they were desperate for a drink, athletes were given bottle full of cement.

  • Jessi Braverman

    Further reading from athletes on their experiences at selection camp:
    Gracie Elvin just shared her blog post from 2011 selection camp: http://www.gracieelvin.com/burning-up-the-road-ais-selection-camp/
    We have this piece from Tessa Fabry from last year: https://cyclingtips.com.au/2013/11/surviving-the-ais-womens-selection-camp/
    Ella columnist Verita Stewart attended selection camp – and she’s writing about her experience for us in her next column.

      • RayG

        I’ll have to admit starting this and thinking ‘how many times can this be covered?’ (Lisa Jacobs also covered it in her blog), but it was written from such a different perspective (not as a participant) and with a good critical eye, that it was worth doing again. Good to see a new slant on an old topic.

        • Jessi Braverman

          Think it’s worth noting that we’re hoping Ella is attracting a new audience in addition to the readers that have been following this all along, so there are some things you may hear about that sound like the same old, same old to you but might be completely new to someone else. Regardless – happy to hear you got something out of this angle!

          • RayG

            At least you probably won’t trot out yet another story about leg shaving.

      • Thomas

        I think those differing account actually say more about the age of the participants than about their experience.

  • Robert Merkel

    Some great writing by Tom.

    Two thoughts, not really put together into a particular thesis:

    a) Without Andrew Christie-Johnson, how successful would men’s “grassroots racing in Australia” look as a development pathway? (Not criticising the good intentions of the Drapac organization, but the actual track record isn’t spectacular.)
    b) The selection camp process has identified a number of fine athletes, but no world beaters yet. Compare with men’s road cycling, both inside and outside the AIS.

    • Tom Palmer

      It’s very hard to imagine telling Andrew Christie Johnson, that the race results he invests so heavily and successfully in helping his riders get in Australia and across the globe are pointless. Imagine saying that instead they will have to come to Canberra for judo classes and language tests to assess their aptitude.

      Men’s high performance program and domestic teams are not mutually exclusive, the world tour academy, the U23 program and the track endurance program all rely, and collaborate with the teams back home.
      I for example raced U23 for Australia on a Drapac bike and I got there on a flight I bought with my Drapac salary.
      Also it’s not just ACJ at Avanti kicking goals for the sport, There’s Budget Forklifts, Search 2 Retain, Charter Mason, African Wildlife Safaris, Navitas, Pat’s Veg Cycling, and others, all there to back up the high performance system from behind. – Not sure how the women’s scene will achieve that soon.
      Drapac is in the business of actually offering pro-contracts. It’s the buyer at this auction, not the agent. It signed more new Australian Pros than anyone else in the last last few years, but to itself not its competitor teams. (conflict of interest disclaimer… ha ha)

  • ginga_ninja

    I love Tom Palmer’s articles, always well researched, considered and articulate. Thanks Tom. Also very interesting to get more of an “inside” view from this camp. I can see the reasoning behind wanting to find both mentally and physically tough athletes and I know we’re talking about the very Elite end of cycling but I agree with other posters: do these chosen cyclists actually succeed in the sport in the longer term (I know many do but some don’t) and what about the eliminated athletes? They’re all exceptional athletes to be chosen to be at the camp in the first place. Some camp “rejects” have gone on to successful “pro” cycling careers (e.g. Loren Rowney). Could different development approaches be used to further their international careers rather than put the screws on for a specific 2 week period, once a year? Less bang for buck if done another way?
    Matt DeMaere: “Have they ever taken those rejected athletes and coached them in parallel?…” I would like to see the results of that!

  • Kevin T.

    I get the ‘testing resilience’ part, but not the ‘public shaming on social media’ aspect. If cut, why create shame around the experience? Good tv? At what cost to the individual?

    I’m genuinely interested in reading about the support offered to those athletes who find themselves ejected from this process. It’s all well and good for CA to claim “Well, special forces commandos get selected this way, and look how awesome they are.” but we mustn’t forget the armed forces have military funding to draw their counselling services from. What does Cycling Aust do? I suspect it’s a little less comprehensive.

    I’m a Level 2 coach with CA and have been employed by the Aus Sporting commission, btw. I understand how results dictate funding. In my opinion, no result is worth the destruction of a persons self-esteem. There’s too much of that in the world already. My suggestion: cut Anna Meares’ financial support in half. You could fund a whole womens’ NRS team with that and Meares would still win anyway. I’m only half joking…

    • Tom Palmer

      I understand there is some ongoing consultation with the ejected riders. They are certainly provided with detailed feedback on how they performed, and where to improve etc. Also there’s no limit to how many times they can attempt.
      I think that the staff themselves see no shame in failing, and don’t want to hide any aspect of the camp, so they militate agains secrecy. The coaches and scientists seem to have a “we’ll tell anyone who’s interested” kind attitude, but public interest in the camp is a new thing. With commercial partners now interested, there’s a twitter account.
      I think the argument could be made that HP programs could support the NRS without directly paying Anna’s funding money, but instead by simply making NRS central to selection policy. Maybe look at track racing for evidence, the track races that count for selection to High Performance programs are the only ones in Australia that attract decent fields. A small industry of track racing is built around almost nothing but high performance programs. at the top end too Riders like Cameron Meyer and Luke Durbridge have altered their seasons to come to Aus to race Oceania Championships for selection purposes. Maybe making NRS the selection pool is a way to bolster that racing to the point where its results will be a reliable reflection of readiness for Europe… The chicken and the egg…

      • Kev T

        Thanks for the reply. I totally agree with your bemusement at NRS races being undervalued as a performance indicator and selecting tool. Probably because it is a system outside of the coaches control whereas the track championships are largely under the influence of institutes and the AIS. I do know that emerging U/19 road scholarship holders are encouraged by selectors to stick with track because of the recognised progression from track to the various national teams (with AC-J athletes often being an exception, E.g. Haig, Clements, Flakemore). Having a full time career outside of cycling whilst I was coaching, I often viewed some (not all) of the federation coaches’ strategies as coach-centric rather than athlete focused. I.e. their tactics justified their own positions, rather than advanced those of the athletes The women’ selection camp seems entirely driven by that philosophy.

  • Nath

    Another great article from Tom. Insightful and well constructed arguments with great prose thrown in as well. Cyclingtips/Ella should be getting this guy on board full-time.

  • jules

    this camp sounds like fun. my best results always come in races that are a test of attrition. I am a patient, masochistic and physically ungifted cyclist. I totally see the value in breaking the candidates to see what they’re made of. this isn’t a school pageant where everyone gets a medal.

  • Mark

    Another good article from Tom. I would like to
    see more on the outcomes of the process though. Any selection process needs to
    be judged on the results it produces, not on how good the
    organisers/participants think it is or how commercial it may be for TV. I think
    it was Paolo that mentioned “the one” the next Oenone Wood, the next World
    number 1 female road rider. Australia has World Champion women galore on the
    track and can produce Female road riders that can win a road race or 2
    during the European season but Australia has not been able to produce the next
    World Number 1 on the road. Given the support that has been provided over time,
    why have we not seen a Marion Voss, Giorgia Bronzini, Emma Johansson or Kirsten
    Wild produced? Is this model more successful than the previous model, I have my doubts.

    • Thomas

      The Australian with the most wins in major races the last couple of years is probably Chloe Hosking and she did it her own way. Lauren Kitchen has won a heap too recently. Did she go through this process?

  • winkybiker

    Great article, describing a completely ridiculous concept. This nonsense shouldn’t get a penny of our tax dollars. Same goes for the AIS generally. And “Reality TV”? Spare me. Here’s a thought, why don’t people just ride their bikes, and race them against each other if they want to?

    • Dave

      It’s worked for some far more successful sports than cycling, why not give reality TV a shot if it helps women’s cycling stand on its own two feet without taxpayers funding and cross-subsidy from men’s cycling.

      The thing that women’s cycling lacks compared to men’s cycling is the epic scale of it. The “more exciting tactics” of a 110km women’s race that Jessi loves to talk about, where they are all still fresh when they get to the final, simply don’t bring the drama of a TdF stage hitting the bottom of the Alpe d’Huez after already having gone over the Telegraphe and Galibier.

      If women’s races get harder and longer, they could be taken as serious endurance athletes and the same legend could slowly be built up. If they don’t, women’s cycling will have to fake it somehow – and a reality TV series could be the way to do it.

      • H20

        Re “The “more exciting tactics” of a 110km women’s race that Jessi loves to talk about, where they are all still fresh when they get to the final, simply don’t bring the drama of a TdF stage hitting the bottom of the Alpe d’Huez after already having gone over the Telegraphe and Galibier.”
        Where’s the evidence for that? How many people who are watching the “drama” of such a men’s stage have any idea of how difficult those climbs are? Most of those who appreciate the drama have never ridden up such a climb or raced a bike or even know one French hill from another. To them there would be no difference between hitting the Alpe after doing Telegraphe and Galibier, and hitting the bottom of the Alpe after doing the Lautaret or the Glandon and St Croix.

        • Dave

          You’re right that the average TV viewer couldn’t tell the Galibier apart from the Tourmalet and doesn’t appreciate the technical details of the climbs. But they don’t need to appreciate the technicalities of the sport, you can SEE that the riders are in a contest against the course as well as one against their fellow competitors.

          That’s the reason that people watch the Tour de France – in their millions on the side of the road and the higher TV ratings for the great mountain stages – and not the lower-ranked races where the course is so easy that you need to have a deep understanding of the tactics to appreciate any of it.

          Give the women some courses of equal difficulty (especially events with equal prizes) and the credibility of their claim to be elite athletes will rise. Even faking it via reality TV would do more to legitimise that claim than continuing the current situation of shouting “women’s racing is just as good” until you’re blue in the face while still keeping the races less than half as hard.

          It’s not even like cycling actually has to lead in this respect, they can just copy and past from other sports where events like the Marathon or Ironman have been the same difficulty for both sexes for many decades. Even cricket is better at it than cycling – many of the women’s Twenty20 matches held as double-headers with Big Bash League fixtures used the same full-size boundaries as the BBL match did later in the evening. A good start for cycling would be to contest this year’s edition of La Course on Stage 20 instead of the glorified criterium of Stage 21.

    • jules

      you can’t demand that people be fans of what you want to do. I’d love to be paid to race club races – hasn’t worked so far. the trick is to package your sport in a way that attracts fans, while staying true to what you want to do. this initiative seems like a fair compromise.

  • Derek Maher

    Interesting approach to development training and selection.
    To my mind apart from physical fitness.Self belief and tactical savvy make for excellent racer,s.

  • Solar Sailer

    This method does raise interesting questions about the number one principle of training, Specificity.

    Special Forces selection and training is relevant to Special Forces operations. Sure there is commonality, but relevance to bike racing?

    • jules

      it’s explained pretty carefully in Tom’s article. one of the current ‘fads’ in (human) management theory is resilience – which is the willingness and ability of people to work through difficulties, barriers, etc. women’s cycling is so under-resourced, that there just aren’t the resources to molly-coddle a talented, but temperantal rider (the story of Hinault being carried up stairs by his swannies springs to mind). that’s what they’re testing for.

      • Tom Palmer

        That’s definitely an idea I came across a lot: that the support for women is less. I find it interesting though to wonder how much of that is because of economic reasons and how much cultural reasons. Of course there’s less money to pay for those staff, but it seems to me the automatic response to that would be to address the back-end, the cashflow – no doubt this is a large part of the approach in this case. But to also take the step of favouring women who require less support- that’s an approach I can’t imagine being so prevalent in mens teams, and it’s at least partly a cultural difference.

    • Dave

      Those magic words Special Forces are just there to make you pay attention.

      Real SF training is much harder than this simulation of the difficulties of below-WorldTour bike racing in Europe.

    • Tom Palmer

      The vibe I got from riders who have attended multiple camps is that the methods are getting more and more specific to racing. There is still a little exasperation with some tasks that seem arbitrary or irrelevant.
      Seemed to me the coaches and selectors are mindful of this, and relevance and specificity is one of their first stated aims. Their other argument was to point out that in tasks that seem completely unrelated – for example the ‘crash proofing’ judo lessons – what was on trial was the riders approach, attitude and adaptability – (supposedly universally relevant qualities), rather than their actual judo skills (specific abilities).

  • Ro

    They should make the reality show. I’d watch it. Its worked for sports like the UFC (Ultimate Fighter)

  • ML

    Fascinating article. I get that “silent running” can be a valuable method. But in recent years, riders on successful Euro teams have been very vocal about DS’s roles in their victories — Evelyn Stevens with Beth Duryea in her ear for the TT world champs, Wiggle Honda and Egon von Kessel. This program doesn’t seem to incorporate any of that…?

    • Dave

      This isn’t a training camp where an established team hones its race tactics, it’s about weeding out those who aren’t tough enough to survive when they go to race in Europe.

      In any case, these riders aren’t even in the international teams that get to contest the only women’s races (World Cup) where two-way radio is allowed. If they succeed as amateur riders and get picked up by UCI teams, they’ll get to train under those conditions as entry-level riders for a while before they start getting selected by the team to start World Cup races.

    • Tom Palmer

      The coaches said that one of the most difficult challenges was returning to a normal relationship after the camp. They take on a silent running persona only for the 6 days of the camp, they immediately re-establish a coach-athlete relationship afterwards. This apparently happened when the camp finished ath summit of a climb at the end of the mystery distance rider. At which point everyone was congratulated and finished the camp with asocial and a lot of support and congratulations.

  • Commando

    The biggest loser approach to selection?

  • Derek Maher

    From my past racing in Ireland in the 80,s and 90,s I remember the few women racers around were chucked in with the juniors and sometimes the stronger ones were allowed into a Cat 3 race.Very few hung in for more than a couple of seasons and drifted off to other pursuits in life.
    Short races and lack of support did not help them.
    It seems things are improving and perhaps less concentration on the Olympics a year before the event and a drive to promote women in pro teams and as a career, Together with well run decent racing and support with accomodation and contacts will move things on.
    Derek.

  • binotto

    Excellent article Tom! Left me completely stressed just reading it.

  • Andrea Willbe

    an ex-commando’s idea of training – this is just a bunch of sadistic bs put on women no less. get with the real master program and read THE CYCLIST’S TRAINING BIBLE by Joe Friel. shit you stupid bunch of dumb asses torturing women who probably just want to be strong and healthy and fit and you put them through this crap. TRain smarter not harder. Tell that ex-commando go eff himself and enough of starting wars on unsuspecting women. I could smash this idiot!

    • Dave

      You do know that this is not a training program?

      By the way, Martin Barras is an economist and not an ex-commando.

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