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You’d be forgiven for asking who Lisen Hockings is, even though she has just taken out Australia’s top cycling race series. The Holden Women’s Cycling Team rider only recently started racing her bike, isn’t the type to splash her cycling all over social media and shies away from interviews. But even though you may not be hearing her achievements shouted from the rooftops, Hockings’ name is one to remember, as her results and quick progression in the sport speak volumes.
The 37-year-old went from a novice racer to winner of Australia’s Subaru National Road Series (NRS) in little more than a year.
At the start of this year Hockings didn’t know if she would get a chance to ride in the series at all, let alone have a shot at winning it. Two of the 2016 national series events had already been run and won before the eventual winner even got a chance to join the fray.
“Getting a start in the NRS was a bit of a challenge – no one was willing to take a chance on anyone as old and unproven as me. I can understand that,” Hockings told Ella CyclingTips.
Working in anaesthesia and intensive care medicine, Hockings is no stranger to hard work, and she quickly put results on the table that simply made her too hard to ignore.
She followed up her 16th place in a fiercely contested Australian National Championships in January with an even better showing at the Oceania championships in March. In the time-trial she came eighth and then third in the road race. It was at this stage that NRS teams really sat up and took notice.
A guest spot with the High5 Dream Team, Australia’s development squad, for the Mersey Valley Tour in April was next. If there was ever any doubt about her ability by then, a stage win and second place overall showed that Hockings was a force to be reckoned with.
“We quickly jumped at the opportunity to offer her a permanent spot,” said Holden Women’s Cycling Team manager, Julien Knuppel. “At this point she was a consistent performer, a proven winner at NRS level and a super nice person who was eager to race her bike competitively. That was good enough for us!”
Racing wasn’t immediately something that the St Kilda Cycling Club member loved. As a fan of riding in mountains, the only thing that won her over about the flat crits she started off with was the social aspect. It was when she headed for the hills last year that her attitude toward racing changed.
“I did the Peaks Challenge ride at Falls Creek last year with one of my friends and it was brilliant and then another friend said that they had a spare room at Mansfield for the Tour of Mansfield the week or so after that,” said Hockings.
“I turned up to do my first C grade race really just to get it out of my system and prove that I didn’t like it … I learned that you shouldn’t warm up for a TT by getting your bike off your car and walking to the start line – that did not go well,” said Hockings. “Particularly when everyone else was on TT bikes and wearing skin suits.”
Regardless, she ended up fifth and secured a spot in the top half of the C grade field in her first time trial.
“But the road stages after that were loads of fun and finished with a race up Mt Buller,” said Hockings, who won both the road stages.
Then mid-year a trip to ride some iconic climbs in France with Bikestyle Tours, where former professional cyclist Patrick Jonker was a guide, became another pivotal moment. Jonker, who has completed the Tour de France five times and won the Tour Down Under, was amazed when, riding up tough climbs like Alpe d’Huez and Mt Ventoux at a fast pace, Hockings was sticking to his wheel the entire way. No easy feat given it took him only around 53 minutes to ride up Alpe d’Huez, which is a time that as a female would see you cracking the Strava top 10 for the climb.
“Lisen is an amazing athlete,” Jonker told Ella CyclingTips. “It wasn’t hard for me to do some calculations and conclude that she is a world class climber after a week of riding together.”
He encouraged her to step up her racing, and just kept nudging her in that direction when she got back to Australia.
“At that stage I had only done one C grade and one B grade race in the VRS and certainly didn’t think I’d be good enough so I ignored him,” said Hockings.
She kept racing and delivering the results at state and local races. We even got to see her hill climbing prowess at CyclingTips’ inaugural Giro della Donna last year, where she was the first woman across the line.
She then stepped it up a level in January, taking part in Australia’s National Championships.
“After Road Nationals, where I did surprisingly OK, [Jonker] got back in contact and then after the Oceanias race he insisted and CC’ed me in an email to Donna,” said Hockings. “I certainly had no idea things would escalate like they have but I’m very grateful to them both.”
The Donna that Hockings refers to was none other than Donna Rae-Szalinski, the then sports director at the High5 Dream Team.
It’s hard not to be impressed with her rapid path to NRS level, but it becomes an even more formidable achievement when you realise that she had to fit in her training around working full time as a doctor in the high pressure area of the intensive care unit. However, it’s something Hockings takes in her stride.
“I think everyone is juggling a vast number of things trying to survive in life – not just the people who get out there and race bikes. All the girls in the peloton are either working or studying or looking after families. There are mothers, doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, audiologists, lawyers, journalists and a huge number of other professionals who are competing in the women’s NRS peloton,” said Hockings.
“I’m lucky that I have a job that I love and am passionate about and also the opportunity to ride my bike,” she added. “I certainly don’t have any answers to work-life balance and, just like everyone else, I make decisions and sacrifices about what to prioritise.”
How the season played out
Hockings really wasn’t sure how she would compare when she got her entry to the NRS with a guest ride for the Mersey Valley Tour, particularly with so little experience racing.
“I’m used to riding in some fast and exciting bunch rides where you have to just hang on for as long as possible. Racing is different to that and often much more tactical. From a self-doubt perspective you never know if you’re going to be good enough to stay with them in a race and I had no idea what level I would be at,” said Hockings.
“My big aim in the first race (and in all of them really) was to try not to be dropped from the bunch,” she added. “I just decided to throw caution to the wind and not die wondering. I figured that I didn’t have anything to lose by having a go and luckily it worked out ok.”
That performance which included a stage win, meant that instead of searching for a ride, she now had choices as to which team she would ride with. She decided on Holden for their professionalism, mix of riders and the fact that they were willing to give her the opportunity to take on the rest of the races in the season.
And as soon as she hit the Holden Women’s racing team, they fully backed her to take on the overall, and she started repaying them with podiums straight away.
“I’m really looking forward to being able to ride for my teammates in the future because most of the rides I’ve done with them so far have involved me being told to get off the front,” said Hockings. “I’ve got some serious favours to repay.”
The victories and high finishes in the NRS kept coming, which meant that she went into the final races of the season, The National Capital Tour in Canberra with a 13 point lead. Though, a series win was by no means a given as experienced and tenacious competitors were nipping at her heels, including previous series winner Ruth Corset (Rush Women’s Team) as well as High5 Dream Team’s Lucy Kennedy and Rebecca Wiasak.
“The tour in Canberra was always going to be a challenge for me with the two flat stages on the final day and the hilly second stage really only having the steep three kilometre climb right at the end,” said Hockings. “I’d much prefer longer climbs!”
Hockings managed to stay near the top end of the field throughout the stages, even when battling through a damaged derailleur that made shifting gears difficult, so maintained her overall lead right to the end.
She finished the series with a tally of one Tour win, two stage victories and seven podium places, completing her rapid shift from rookie racer to national series winner.
“It was definitely an accelerated process, although if you get to know Lisen there’s little wonder why this is the case. Sure there’s probably some genetic gifts there however you only have to look at what she has achieved with her previous sporting and medical career to know that Lisen is a hard worker who holds herself to the highest performance standards,” said Holden’s Knuppel.
“Off the bike it’s hard not to like her,” Knuppel added.”She’s humble, generous and just wants to let her legs do the talking.”
A fact that is evident by her response to our final question, which was do you have a cycling tip to share?
“I’m hardly in a position to be giving cycling advice! I’m still learning every day,” said Hockings. “What I know is that I ride because I want to, and I want to because I enjoy it.”
*Holden is an Ella CyclingTips sponsor
If you are in Victoria and would like to join Ella CyclingTips and the Holden Women’s Cycling Team for a ride on October 23 check out the details of our spectacular 90 kilometre surfcoast loop on the Ella Facebook page.