What I learned about women’s cycling from staying at Hosking’s halfway house for cyclists
I started referring to my home in Canberra as a halfway house for cyclists earlier this year.
Kind of like when you enter a new relationship and one sleep over a week turns into four nights a week and until someone has accidentally moved in with the other –it happened gradually.
I invited my long-term teammate Emilia Fahlin to Australia in 2013 to race and train away from the bone chilling temperatures of Sweden. Lucy Martin also decided to come that year. All of a sudden, my parents (pictured above) –who had been rejoicing becoming empty nesters –were now housing three cyclists. The water and food bills skyrocketed.
Even so, my parents have continued to host young cyclists who are pursuing their cycling dreams ever since.
Mum says she does it because when I travelled to the Netherlands in 2009 as an 18-year-old she was so grateful to Harrie, a lovely older man who hosted me for almost four months. Not to mention all the times he ferried me around to races. Dad says it’s because having young people around the house adds ‘life’ to the place.
I however, know that they actually continue to host cyclists for two main reasons;
- Because they’ve witnessed how difficult it can be for young cyclists to pursue their goals and,
- Because they are cycling tragics. Women’s cycling tragics to be specific.
So when an American male cyclist decided he wanted to stay in Australia to race the National Road Series this year I asked my parents (more specifically, Mum) if they’d be interested in having him stay. He ticked one and half of Mum and Dad’s boxes for potential lodgers so I thought he stood a chance of passing the vetting process. Enter Alder Martz.
The National Road Series wrapped up on the weekend and as such, so too does Alder’s time in Australia. I asked him if he wanted to share some insight into what it was like living with a cycling obsessed family that has a definite bias towards women’s cycling and he obliged.
Alder Martz: I moved into the Hosking’s home a few days after Chloe left for Europe this year. I had signed with an Aussie continental squad, search2retain-health.com.au, and committed to spending a year in Australia instead of going back home to the US at the end of summer.
It wasn’t until after I had signed my contract though that I paused and thought, “I need a more permanent place to live”. Enter Sheryn and Steve Hosking, my Aussie Mom and Dad.
I remember my first conversation with Sheryn quite vividly. “You can stay here under three conditions,” she warned. Both Chloe’s parents were officers in the military so you can be sure I was listening with the same trembling fear of a new recruit with a drill sergeant in his face.
“One: you do your own laundry, I wont do it for you.” I breathed a slight sigh of relief. I’ve been doing my own laundry for a while now.
“Two: I am not going to cook you food. If we have family dinner I’ll include you but if not, you’re on your own.” More relief. I’m a good cook. Check my Instagram for proof.
Finally, Sheryn concluded, “you have to clean your own bathroom.” I relaxed. If those were the only rules, I would be OK. (Mainly because how clean the bathroom had to stay wasn’t specified.)
However, there was an unmentioned fourth rule. And if Sheryn had brought it up, that cadet-like fear would have returned with a vengeance.
The fourth rule? Have a knowledgeable and positive position on women’s cycling, especially if Chloe was racing.
I didn’t discover this until Chloe posted her first overseas Ella blog post. That night at dinner Steve looked at me and said, “So what’d you think of Chloe’s blog today?”
“I wasn’t aware she had posted anything,” I responded to a suddenly awkward silence.
Steve let it hang for a minute.
“Mate. If you’re going to stay here, you better read Chloe’s blogs.”
My father, the American one, once told me that when people joke around, there is a shred of truth to what they are saying. I fumbled for a moment and mumbled something about not following her or (Ella) Cycling Tips on twitter.
Blatant lies but I was scrambling faster than two eggs in a scorching hot pan at a breakfast diner. And that’s how Chloe gets an extra view on each article!
Reading articles online was the easy part. When Sheryn would start talking about who won this race last year and which Wiggle-Honda girl has been riding well recently and who was the race favourite, most of the names were lost on me. Except for a short list of girls I knew (mostly the ones I follow on instagram) or Marianne Vos (thank goodness she won heaps of races last year), I didn’t have a clue as to who was being referenced.
Now before you go rolling your eyes about chauvinist male cyclists, please hear me out. I’ve been racing for 10 years now, ever since I was 14. I’m not new to scene, and I’ve been able to formulate my own opinions based on my own experiences, which hadn’t been impressive.
A few years ago I accompanied my girlfriend as she raced in a national level, week long, crit series during my mid-season break. Not racing allowed me to watch the women’s events a bit more intently.
There happened to be a dominant sprinter with no team that won every bunch sprint. And there was a dominant team with six riders who, every day, chased down any breaks to set up their sprinter only to be beat. It boggled my mind that this team refused to change their tactics for the entire week.
The following year, a group of female cyclists in the US formed the Women’s Cycling Association. One of their goals was to push for equal prize money and a few races responded in agreement.
One of them was the Winston Salem Classic, a new race on the US circuit. The men’s registration sold out quickly while only 10 women had entered. The organisers pleaded with women to race; even offering free entry. In the end, 130 men and 30 women battled it out for a pair of $5,000 purses, 30 places deep. I was less than impressed. The economics major in me even more so. The women were given what they asked for but barely anyone raced.
Living with Sheryn and Steve however, exposed me to a different side of women’s cycling, that of worried parents and voracious female cycling fans. Very little TV coverage meant a lot of refreshing Twitter for updates.
There was one early season semi-classic that stands out in my memory. A Wiggle-Honda girl was mentioned in a tweet during the opening kilometres being caught in a nasty crash and then nothing. No mention of the girl’s name or Chloe and her parents spent the night pacing, worrying, and trying to find information on the status of their daughter, 17,000 kilometres away from home.
Results only included the top 3. Come on Internet, I thought, this isn’t 1999. Then during the Tour of Flanders, Steve complained about how boring the men’s race was. There was still 140 kilometres left to race.
I hate it when people call a race boring. A race may have lulls but is never boring. At the same time, the female Ronde was entering its final 20 kilometers and heating up but TV coverage continued to show the men keeping the breakaway in check. TV coverage eventually showed a clip of the winner, Elisa, a teammate of Chloe’s in the last 200 meters after she had held off a charging field for the final 10 kilometres.
To add another layer of complexity, this was shown instead of the men’s field charging into the first of the important climbs. I was annoyed because I couldn’t see the beginning of de Ronde unfold and the Hoskings were appalled at the lack of coverage of the women’s race.
Why, I asked myself, don’t they organize race times and coverage to show the final 30 kilometres of the female de Ronde whilst the men’s race are eating and calling nature breaks?
Living with the Hoskings, I came to the realization that men’s and women’s bike racing are just different. It’s impossible to compare them through the same lens. The speeds are different, the distances are different, the fields are different, the teams, the tactics, not to mention the riders are all distinct.
It’s similar to comparing Moto GP racing with Moto 3. Both races take place on motorbikes but that’s where the similarities stop. You have to take them for what they are, magnificent in their own way.
The next time you hear someone say “Wow. The men’s race was so boring compared to the women’s” (or vice versa!) take a moment to think about what I’ve said.
Actually, Chloe said it as we watched Peter Sagan seemingly cruise into the rainbow jersey after riding the perfect tactical race late last month. In a contest 260 kilometres in length, a rider only has one or two big efforts in the finale. Sagan made one effort and he put everything into it.
The longer the race, the more tactics and not brute strength win races. The winner of the women’s race, Lizzie Armitstead, made three big moves in the final lap, two of them in the final 1500 meters. A deserved winner, she won because she was the strongest. Lizzie and Peter both attacked on the 23rd Street climb but they arrived at the finish for different reasons.
As fans of our great sport we should celebrate each discipline for what it is instead of belittling the ones we don’t understand.
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.