Chloe Hosking on AIS Selection Camp and alternate pathways to Europe

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Over the past week, we’ve shared two stories with you about the AIS Selection Camp from which four of the athletes that will earn a spot on the High5 Australian Women’s Road Development Team will be chosen. Tom Palmer spent a day at camp observing the proceedings and conducted several interviews with those in charge of overseeing the policies and practices that dictate selection to bring you a feature story that considers the measures and methods used. Verita Stewart was one of 18 elite female cyclists invited to participate in the camp. She shared insight into her personal experience and current frame of mind about the process through which she was evaluated.

Now we bring you a third and final story related to the AIS Selection Camp conversation here. Chloe Hosking writes about her experiences ‘outside the system’ and challenges the notion that the Australian National Team is the best or only way for elite Australian riders to make the leap to Europe.

Rewind seven years. It was 2008. I was 18, and I had just finished college. I thought I would take a year off between college and university to race my bike overseas.

At that time, the most obvious way to achieve this goal was to race with what was then the Australian women’s road development team. This team was made up of around six female riders who were taken to Europe and given the opportunity to race a full European road calendar with all expenses paid. Riders like Lauren Kitchen, Carley Light and Amanda Spratt were nurtured under this program. Having represented Australia at the Junior Road World Championships earlier in 2008, I thought I would have a reasonable chance of being selected.

So in late 2008 I sat down with the Australian national women’s road coach and asked what I had to do to be considered for the development squad. My question went unanswered. Instead, I was told by the national women’s road coach that they just weren’t that interested in me. It was like being slapped in the face with a wet fish.

I could have cried and given up right there. I probably did cry – but I didn’t give up.

I spent the Australian summer emailing virtually every American continental team asking if they would be interested in adding a young Australian to their roster for the 2009 season. In response, I got rejection after rejection. Sometimes I got no response at all.

Still, I kept looking for alternatives.

A friend helped me find a ride in a Dutch club team, so with the support of my parents , I jumped on a plane to Europe in April 2009. I finished in fourth place and sixth place in my first European races, lining up with Kirsten Wild and Marianne Vos.

The following month, Kristy Scrymegour, with what was then HTC-Columbia (from which Velocio-SRAM has emerged), emailed me. She said she wanted to talk with me about racing for her team – one of the top ranked women’s programmes in the world. I signed my first professional contract in October 2009.

The Australian coach wasn’t sure that I was ready to sign with a professional team. He thought I might need another year or two racing in the Australian development program.

Funny how things work out.

It would be unfair to suggest I haven’t had any support from the Australian program throughout my career. I was part of the Green and Gold program leading up to the 2012 London Olympics, and when I actually got myself to Europe they offered me guest rides in races like the Giro Rosa. But I have largely navigated my way in the sport outside of the Australian system.

And I think it was the best thing I could have done. Some athletes just don’t fit the system. I am one of those athletes.

Last week I was at a friend’s house in Girona, Spain where I have based myself for the past five years. Jessi Braverman’s house actually, the editor of Ella. She asked if I wanted to read the piece she was editing about the most recent AIS challenge camp, a camp designed to find six female road cyclists to bring to Europe.

The camp, based around the SAS selection course, seeks to weed out the strong from the weak. It’s meant to identify the ones who could potentially make it in Europe from the ones who might go all the way only to get home sick, end up eating too much gelati and gaining about six kilos (the eating too much gelati happened to me during my first year). Certainly, getting selected for the current women’s development program has definitely changed from 2008.

I remember crashing one of the first training sessions of the first ever ‘challenge camp’ in 2012. The girls were about to start a team time trial. The losing team might get sent home – camp over – or be forced to ride home. There would certainly be a negative consequence for the losing team that had yet to be revealed to the riders.

I told the girls to do a deal with each other and go the same speed – force a tie. I’m sure I would have been cut for even making the suggestion.

I have no shame in admitting that I probably wouldn’t make the final selection in this now infamous camp. Why? It’s pretty simple. I’ve been riding my bike since I was 12, and I know my limits. I know that riding through sub-zero temperatures in snow and sleet and hail from Canberra to Thredbo without the right clothing would probably result in illness. As such, I would refuse to ride.

In the 2013/14 edition of the camp, an athlete was admitted to hospital after riding in extreme weather conditions. Interestingly, she went on to be selected in the final four riders and taken to Europe. They do say they want to push these athletes to their physical and mental limits.

Let’s be clear here. I’m not weak. Some of my best results have been in races where the rest of the peloton has said this is ‘too cold,’ ‘too wet,’ or ‘too dangerous’. I finished third in this year’s edition of Gent Wevelgem where the winds blew some of the best male pros off the road. Rain soaked through my shoes within the first 10 minutes of the race, and for the next three plus hours, I felt like I was riding in puddles.

Like the selection camp ride I said I would refuse to do, riding in these conditions could result in illness, but this is a race. This is where it really counts. I know when to push myself and when to take care of my body. It’s one of my strengths as a rider.

While I think it’s fantastic that the women’s road development program has been re-established thanks in a large part to my current team manager Rochelle Gilmore and High5 Sports Nutrition, I think it is also important for the girls who don’t ‘make the cut’ to realise there is more than one way to get to Europe.

Too often young riders are so focussed on making it into ‘the program’ that if they don’t make the cut they become disillusioned and lose motivation to keep riding. We see a huge drop off rate from the U19 ranks to the senior ranks, particularly in the women’s peloton. While there are a plethora of reasons for this, I can’t help but think that when one door is closed, riders can’t see the open window slightly to the left.

I squeezed my sprinter’s butt through that open window, and I have helped other riders do the same.

In 2013, after recovering from what seemed like years of injuries, Sarah Roy was finally back to full fitness. I had raced with her in the summer in Australia and had said if she wanted to race in Europe I could help her out with a few contacts. Months later I came back to Australia for the Oceania Championships to find Sarah still killing it.

I put her in contact with the Dutch club team during my first season in Europe, and a month or so later she was in Europe. It didn’t take long before she moved from the club team to a small Dutch UCI team. From there she inked a contract with a French UCI team for 2014 with help from the Australian National coach. In 2015, she signed with Orica-AIS.

Just because one person might tell you ‘no’ it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not good enough. It’s kind of like jeans. You like all the pairs you have in your closet but the super tight dark blue ones go really well with your Queen fan t-shirt so you pick those today. That doesn’t mean your faded denim ones are destined to the darkness of your closet forever.

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. She hopes that her success inspires other Australian women to recognize the multiple pathways to European racing.

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