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The U.S. is becoming a popular racing destination for Australians looking to escape the Australian winter as well as those taking the next step in their cycling careers. It’s been really fun to see (read: draft in the wheels of) so many Aussies at the races here in America. Among them is Australian national criterium champion, Sophie Mackay, who’s guest riding with the Hagens Berman Supermint Women’s Pro Cycling Team and showing off the yellow and green stripes at some of the biggest criterium races in America. She admits that racing in the U.S. differs from Australian racing and it took some adjusting. She seems to be doing just fine, however, as she claimed the sprinter’s jersey at the North Star Grand Prix last month. Reporting from North America, in her own words, here’s how the Aussie national champ is going:
I’m currently in America living the “#critlife” with Hagens Berman Supermint Women’s Pro Cycling Team. Just like I do at home, I’m racing my bike, travelling about the country and loving it. There are, however, a few differences between racing in America and racing in Australia that I have had to adjust to:
Everything is BIGGER
Bigger crowds, bigger pelotons, bigger teams, bigger races, bigger prize money, bigger personalities, bigger roads…BIGGER! Nothing is quaint, everything is next level, even the commissaires.
#Critlife is the life
The crit scene here is amazing! Not only is there a stomping road season, there is a killer crit season and teams send their criterium specialists to these races. #critlife is extremely fast paced and you’re always…
On the Road Again…
You finish one race, you transfer, you race again. Team members can be on the road for up to six weeks at a time. Back home the longest I’ve spent on the road is two weeks. It’s a greater sacrifice to do what you love, but it leads to a higher level of professionalism in and around the racing. It also means that when you get home, you want to burn everything in your suitcase.
Racing starts at the gun
No moseying about waiting for the race action to begin. The gun goes and the race is on. The fight for position begins in staging and continues until the last rider is across the line. The racing is fast and aggressive. Every corner is a battle of wills, every opportunity to move up must be taken advantage of because the penalty for complacency can be heavy and focus is rewarded.
The Race Bubble is real
You can feel the race bubble…that place at the front, in the top 5-10 wheels where everything and everyone is in their happy place because the racing here is so much easier. Yes, we know it’s easier, safer and more tactically astute to race at the front back home but here this lovely sensation is magnified; it’s like a hug from your dear old grandma.
You need skills
To succeed in America a higher level of skill is required. This is both because of the nature of the racing and the skills of those around you. Braking in a corner? You just lost three positions. Mistake in the last lap of a crit? A potential top three becomes a top 10…hopefully. In Australia, we occasionally see a rider win a race on strength alone and we commend their tenacity. In America, that same rider, without the necessary skill set, would be unlikely to make it through half a crit.
Strangers open their homes to racers
Host housing is not something we come across much in Australia. Here host housing goes hand in hand with racing. It saves money, it gets the community involved and it’s a great way to meet the locals. I’ve spent time with some fantastic hosts over the last month. They’ve taught me about their lives and local areas, opened up their house to complete strangers, and made us feel welcome.
The ups are higher, downs are lower.
I’ve raced, I’ve crashed, I’ve got back on the bike but I am becoming a better racer. As always the good days far outweigh the bad days. Most of all I’m having fun and that has always been why I ride my bike!