Ella CyclingTips spent an afternoon with Orica-AIS last month before the start of the Tour of Flanders. We sat down with the Australian-registered squad to talk first bike races. In a roundtable format, we listened as Melissa Hoskins, Valentina Scandolara, Amanda Spratt, Loes Gunnewijk, Gracie Elvin, Emma Johansson and Lizzie Williams regaled us with tales of their start in the sport.
Scandolara was the youngest first-timer, lining up for her first race at the age of four. Surprisingly, Gunnewijk had the latest start. She first pinned on a number when she was 20. Spratt got her start on the BMX track while Hoskins first raced a bike in a triathlon. Johansson raced mountain bike and Williams began with training races on the Velodrome. Only one of the seven walked away with a post-race prize.
Looking for more first race stories? We featured Boels-Dolmans in the first instalment of the #MyFirstRace series.
Melissa Hoskins – Weet-Bix TRYathlon
I can’t remember my first bike race, but I remember the first time I ever raced a bike. It was the Weet-Bix TRYathlon. I had a Malvern Star, and it was awesome. It was green, and I called it Storm. I pumped the bike leg, which was eight kilometres. There was a 500 metre swim in the Swan River and the eight kilometre bike ride and then a three kilometre run. That was the first time I raced a bike. I reckon I was around 12.
My earliest bike racing memory would have to be in the U17s – not on the track, on the road. It was probably one of the U17 state road races in Roleystone. I was racing girls like Michaela Anderson and Jess Allen – all the kids from the WA block and the Midland Cycling Club. It was pissing rain and Midland 1-2’d me the whole day. It was horrible, but I loved it.
Valentina Scandolara – local charity race
My parents tried everything to make my energy lower. I was really something bad for the house. They asked my uncle who was a tourist cyclist where I could do a race. They found this charity race run around a small village. It was almost 10km, and I was four, I think.
I still have the little frame I rode. It was all ages. They put me in with all the kids, and I was the youngest one to finish the race, so I won a little cup. From that moment, I knew I wanted to race, but I was too little, of course. I had to wait until I was eight to do my real race.
In my first real race, I remember that I couldn’t use my gears. The other kids dropped me big time. I was so annoyed. I couldn’t understand why they could pedal harder than me. The race was part of a series, and there was a pink jersey for the little leader. I really wanted that, and [Andrea] Guardini won it. I was so jealous.
Amanda Spratt – Blue Mountain BMX
My first race was on the BMX track when I was nine. Dad took my brother Nick and I out to the Blue Mountain BMX club just because I think our parents got sick of us riding around in the garden the whole time. They thought we needed more an outlet. I had a Kmart pink bike and a little yellow stack hat and a matching pink tracksuit, which was really cool.
I started on the gate, and I couldn’t balance or anything. The gate went down, and it was a few seconds before I actually started pedalling. I had no speed at all. I pedalled over all the jumps. I had no competitive streak at that stage, really. I was just out for a little leisurely ride.
My brother was in the same race with me and he zoomed off from the start. I don’t think I really knew to care about the results at that stage. I was doing it more because Nick was doing it.
Loes Gunnewijk – Bike Club Training Race
My first race was a training race up at my bike club. I was 20. I started late compared to a lot of the Dutch riders. I had no experience at all.
I asked the men running the race how long it would be, and they didn’t want to tell me. They were like: “Just go, girl. Go and ride, girl. You’ll see how long it will go.” I told them that I really wanted to know how long it was. Finally, after five times asking, they told me. I think I died four or five times during the race, but I survived. When they saw that, I think they were surprised. They didn’t expect me to make it to the finish.
My first real long classic race in Holland was a good one. I heard an alarm from the police or the ambulance, and I moved to the right the way I would do in training. I remember saying to the others: “There must be something happening. We need to move so that they can come past us.” I didn’t realize that the sirens were for us.
It was tough to be in the peloton. I saw a spot at one time, and I attacked. I had no idea that there were already two groups in the front. I made it to the second group, but I was cramping with seven kilometres to go. One of the girls said to me: “You’re not going to sprint are you.” I remember thinking: “I can’t sprint with how bad I feel. I’m already happy to be here.”
I also remember that the reason I attacked was because that evening after the race, I had a party and I wanted to have a story for my friends. I attacked so that I would have something to tell them that night. It worked. I got my story.
Gracie Elvin – Canberra Schools Championships
I did my first bike race when I was 12 at a Canberra Schools Championships. I didn’t even own my first bike yet. My dad set up his old road bike for me. He dropped the seat height down as low as possible. I had flat pedals and running shoes.
All the other kids that were racing were part of the Talent ID program. They had their nice fancy bikes and brand new racing equipment. There I was with no equipment at all.
The Championships started with a time trial. I remember my dad held me up at the start and that I was really excited to race. I have no idea how I finished.
The bunch race was next, and I managed to keep up with all the kids. I was so stoked at the finish. When I crossed the line, I went to speak with my dad about the race. We were standing together when one of the other girls with all her nice equipment picked up her bike and threw it at the ground. She was having a huge fit because she was angry she didn’t win the race.
My dad and I just looked at each other in amazement. We couldn’t believe she would do something like that. Her bike was nicer than any bike my family had every owned. Even that young, I knew that sort of behaviour was completely unacceptable. I think my dad was shocked to see something like that at a junior race.
Mel jumps in to ask Gracie if she had beaten the bike-thrower.
I can’t remember. I think I came in last, but I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know how to race at all. I was just trying to keep up. That incident is what sticks with more than anything. I remember thinking that it was just awful.
Another really strong memory that I have is the first race my parents let me do outside of Canberra. It was U15s and Spratty was there. She was the next big thing coming out of Australia. She just rode off on her own from the start. The whole bunch was 10 or 20 minutes behind her. She won so easily, and I was completely in awe. I remember thinking: “I’m never going to be that good. Who is this girl?”
Spratty: That’s my self-esteem boost for the day. Thanks.
Mel: You just pumped Spratty twice at Nationals. No biggie.
Emma Johansson – Ten Camp
My first race was a mountain bike race at school that was part of this Ten Camp we did where we got to try all these different sports. There was biathlon and curling and orienteering and all these kinds of things. Mountain biking was one of the choices, too.
I loved it from the very first moment. I was really wet and dirty. I raced on this city bike – something between a road bike and a mountain bike that you get from the gasoline station. I knew from there I wanted to be a mountain biker. I never wanted to be a road rider. I hated riding on the road.
My second race was later in the year. My older brother was already racing a bit of mountain biking, and he raced on the same day. I don’t remember very much about it except that I still had a saddle bag and fender on my bike. We took them away only a couple hours before the start.
Lizzie Williams – Brunswick Cycling Clinic Training Race
My first race was part of the Brunswick Cycling Clinic. I went with a friend from high school. I was in year eight, so I was around 13 or 14. I went down to the velodrome with my friend and her dad.
The first race was we did was mixed ages. Everyone was all in together. The ages ranged from probably six years old for the youngest to the oldest being around my age. I don’t remember anything except being beaten by an eight-year-old who zoomed past me on this miniature track bike with incredible leg speed. That continued on for at least a month or two – where I was beaten by really small children.
I think that’s what drove me to go back. I trained harder to knock those small kids off their block. It took me awhile – I would say it took me a good six months at the clinic to beat all the small kids. I wasn’t fast instantly. It was hard work to see progress.