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Yep, I was finally let into Australia, and got to see what all the fuss was about Down Under in the summer. For years I have been hearing from certain Australian friends how ‘awesome’ and ‘heaps good’ Australia is, and now, I realise for the first time, they weren’t lying.
For non-Aussies, it’s hard to imagine spending the Christmas-New Year period doing full-gas efforts, motor pacing, and relaxing down at the beach eating watermelons and working on those crisp tan lines, but this year that’s exactly what I found myself doing in order to prepare for the Australian racing. Of course, as a professional no one wants to be hit by the sag wagon and just be there making up the numbers! Even if we say it’s not a focus race or a goal on our social media outlets!
So with this in mind, it was decided that I would join the Bay Crits, which usually brings in the new year with fast, lung-busting racing. This year, however, it was apparently a bit of a non-event compared to other years as many of my fellow professional riders opted out. The 2016 season didn’t finish until October 15 at the world championships in Doha, which was a month later than normal and I think a lot of the pros had a bit of CBF for the Bay Crits this year. I think it is usually (or could be?) a great series, but this year the timing was seemingly off.
I’m one for the underdog story, however, so I loved seeing a team that wasn’t necessarily the favourite come out on top. It was great to see riders like Valentina Scandolara and Chloe Hosking join forces with Ale Cycling to try to beat Orica-Scott. Big ups to Scandolara for the win this year, beating a fast and fit Orica-Scott squad at what is essentially their home series.
Scandolara is one of those girls in the women’s peloton whom everyone loves (she even has an Australian-based fan club who show up in “Vale” t-shirts!). She has time for everyone and she is so passionate, and who doesn’t love seeing someone like that do well?
For the Aussies, that period about Bay Crits and Nationals was an interesting game of chess with frankly too many saying they ‘weren’t really going for it’ and that they were more focused on the European spring. An interesting game given that some of the girls who were saying that were training the house down … with me! It’s a national jersey, people, and no matter what they say EVERYONE wants it.
So, moving on to Buninyong, the national championships road race. This year Orica rocked up with nine riders on the start list. Yeah, I’ll say that again: NINE riders. Even if they ended up starting with ‘just’ seven riders in the end, there are no other major teams present with multiple riders, which leaves the race up to them to dictate.
This alone meant that everyone predicted a potentially boring Orica-Scott show, and that is exactly what they got. A two-up sprint between two Orica-Scott riders. Whoopee!
(SIDEBAR – The Orica team “issue” for nationals is one that the whole women’s peloton talks about every year and this year was no different. I kinda get it’s not nice to be alone against a whole team — it could appear a bit like bullying and the journalists love it because it creates some controversy.
This year there were a few tweets about it from a number of riders (and even from supporters) but ultimately the girls on Orica can’t help that they have six or seven teammates and I see their side of it, too. I don’t think it’s going to change any time soon and perhaps the best thing to do is get over it and move on? Just sayin’…)
That said, the Nationals road race was actually a lot more exciting than expected! The TV coverage for the race just didn’t do it justice. Apparently when the initial break went containing Shara Gillow, Ellen Skerritt and Jenelle Crooks, all the non-Orica pros got together and ordered all the other riders not to chase and put their faith in Shara Gillow. Ultimately this had no effect on the race as Amanda Spratt and Kat Garfoot simply rode away from everyone on the fifth and sixth laps and gave them all a lesson in confidence and form.
The ‘highlights’ that aired on TV started after Spratt and Garfoot were already away together. A solo girl was chasing and a group of about five were chasing her. It is a shame that the most interesting parts of the race weren’t considered ‘highlights’ and that the aggressiveness of the race wasn’t really shown to the public.
This unfortunate situation is something that happens all too often in women’s sport. It is a vicious cycle, where there are not as many sponsors and money in the sport which results in less media coverage, but less media coverage means there is less interest from sponsors. And so it goes on and on.
There are some people that say we should be happy with the coverage we do get, because it is improving. And yes, we go crazy when one of the races is broadcast live. But in my opinion, we shouldn’t have to settle and be pleased when we do get some coverage. This should be the norm! I could harp on this for a while, and the Australian experience is not unique. We see this on the global stage, too.
To wrap up the “Nats” (Yeah I’m getting on board with that), the one thing that really surprised me was the fact that the course has been the same for so long. Perhaps it‘s time to consider a new course? I’m not even saying a new location, just a new course. We race a different worlds course each year, so maybe Cycling Australia should give the opportunity to a different style riders to obtain the green and gold jersey for once?
The Santos Women’s TDU that followed Nats was my real introduction to Australian racing, and it did not disappoint. Now this is a great race to start the season as the number of international teams racing and the level was a lot higher than previous years. It certainly had me pumped up for the European season to start.
For most of the pros, the TDU offers a great week of training with their team as the focus isn’t too much on results. I mean there is still six weeks till the Classics! (Oh god just six weeks!)
I had a great time at the TDU catching up with everyone and enjoying a few extra coffee rides and enjoying the atmosphere that surrounds the week in Adelaide. I’m not going to go into the details of what happened, as you can catch up on all the race coverage here on Ella. What I did want to talk about, however, were the unique things that come with Australian racing:
1. The weather: The only way to describe how it feels to race in temperatures above 40 degrees is to imagine you are doing a trainer session in a dry sauna with a hair dryer blowing on your face. Yes, it is quite unpleasant.
2. The feeding: due to point 1, this meant getting a bidon was high on everyone’s agenda when approaching the feed zone. But what everyone kept forgetting (maybe due to dehydration!) was the fact that we are in Australia! Which means they drive on the left hand side of the road, and thus feeding is also on the left.
It might sound small, but the amount of girls who either missed a bidon or couldn’t coordinate themselves well enough to master actually holding onto that bidon with their left hand was phenomenal. And going back to the cars ended up being the only way. This made the hour-long criterium in 41 degrees really fun!
3. Panty hose: I once saw a team who used lettuce under the helmets in order to help the riders ‘cool down’. I myself never did it, because I just didn’t know how I could explain it if a fellow competitor saw a lettuce leaf start to fall out of my helmet! Luckily in Australia, they use panty hose filled with ice instead, whether hung around your neck or stuffed down your sports bra, these things are great! Especially due to the epic fail of point 2! And if you kept the panty hose post-race, then sister, you were set for the nightlife!
4. Wildlife: Having the TDU organise for us to go to a wildlife park where we got to feed the kangaroos, and see the koalas. Although, I still have not seen a drop bear??! ;-)
Cadel’s Race came straight after TDU and for me it was full of surprises. It felt like a hot Spring Classic — the course was hard, windy and with short steep climbs at the end but all in 30 degree temperatures. What surprised me though was the results.
Katrin Garfoot had been going so well over summer yet after she attacked with about 20km to go, she went backward like she had come to a standstill. We were all surprised, but I did hear that she perhaps had had a heart issue and her heartrate was 220bpm+. Hopefully she is feeling better if that’s true.
The group of five that got away and were sprinting for the win hadn’t really been showing awesome form in TDU. But that’s bike racing; the strongest person isn’t always the person that wins the race. It’s the smartest, and Annemiek Van Vleuten is definitely a smart bike racer!
Speaking of Orica-Scott riders, it seems like they are going to be needing to hire some fresh meat. Rachel Neylan has been injured over summer and no one knows how long she will be out for. And now Loren Rowney has just announced her retirement! That takes them down to nine riders. And two of the younger girls in the team are trackies, which means at the moment they have seven riders for the Spring Classics and you’ve got six girls race at a time. I feel like there is going be a very lucky rider out there that gets a contract … maybe a Kiwi?
With the Tour of Qatar cancelled there is now a bit of a break from racing until the Spring Classics. It’s sad to leave Australia, but hopefully having some more races over this period will bring a good year ahead.
I’m really excited for the Classics this year. It’s going to be hard to beat that super power team of Boels-Dolmans but there has been a big shake-up in the transfers this season with teams such as Sunweb and Cyclance taking on big contenders. WM3, Wiggle and Cipollini also have multiple options.
Team dynamics are always interesting to watch and I’m intrigued to see how Boels will go having such a stacked roster again after the year they had last year. It should be really exciting to watch as we kick things off at Het Nieuwsblad on February 25!
On a last note, sexism in the women’s peloton is a hot topic at the moment. Australian ex pro Bridie O’Donnell recently wrote a sadly all-too-true piece, which highlights some of the experiences from the inside.
Personally, I have witnessed a male staffer taking advantage of his position, paying a rider serious amounts of money and putting that rider in a very uncomfortable position with thinly veiled threats to advance their “friendship”.
It’s important to recognise this situation early and nip it in the bud- with a sacking of the predator. I worry for the many young girls out there who just want to ride and experience the world of pro cycling without this threat. Bike riding is hard enough, without worrying about your well-being off the bike or having to trade sexual favors for support. Sorry to end this column on a downer. But it’s important to acknowledge it.
Catch y’all soon!