The SHEcret Pro: Off-season guilt, saying goodbye and what’s happening to our bodies?

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Hey peeps!
It is that time of the year when us pure roadies are definitely feeling those off-season ‘gains’.

It’s crazy how much fitness you can lose in just four weeks off the bike, and how much weight you can gain. I think I speak for the majority of us when I say that we all look forward to the off season, but then just two weeks in to holiday-ing, indulging in those ‘naughty foods’ and going out like a normal person, the guilt starts setting in.

Some of us start cross training at this point, and Twitter feeds fill up with us cyclists all making the same mistake: attempting to run.
It gets me every year. So much time has passed since my last run that somehow I forget how bad I really am, and I convince myself that going for a run is a good idea. However, every year the same thing happens: immediate DOMS followed by me walking with a hobble for the next week.

Folks may think that because we are elite athletes, we are fit and can do any sport, but watch a cyclist trying to run —or even walk for that matter — and you will realise that with the exception of those former triathletes, cyclists just ride. We have it engrained in us that when we aren’t training, we are recovering. It’s come to the point now that when my family goes for a walk after dinner, they don’t even ask me anymore.
It is scary to think about how much we must push our body throughout the year though. During my off season is the only time when I am told “I look healthy”, and I immediately take it as “I look fat”. I realise that it sounds, and is, kind of f***ed up. Looking healthy should be taken as a compliment, yet as an elite athlete we don’t want to look healthy, we want to look ‘lean’.

The problem with being super lean as a female elite athlete means that most of us don’t actually get our period anymore. In fact, I don’t know when I last had my period. And probably for most of the female peloton, they won’t know either. It’s just part of being an endurance athlete, and we all talk about it —how awesome it is, how we don’t have to worry about it ever suddenly being “that time of the month” at a race — but deep down we all know it can’t really be good for us. We all presume it will all return to normal upon retiring, but the truth is, a lot of ex-professional athletes struggle to get pregnant after retirement. And if you think about it, it’s not a surprise.

We push our body to the limit, put it under intense stress with training and racing, have extremely low fat percentage, and tend to weigh well below the normal weight range for our height. And we do this to our bodies year after year after year.  To be honest, I think it should be something team doctors should talk to us about more, but so many female teams don’t even really have a team doctor, and so we are left to talk about it amongst ourselves or consult Dr. Google.

Yep, that’s what we talk about in the pro peloton: what’s happening to our bodies, who’s dating whom, who’s got a contract where next year and what Netflix TV series we “totally should watch”. We’d like to solve all the problems in the world, but really, we’re just too damn tired, sore and hungry.
In my last column, I was talking about the rumours surrounding athlete transfers, however, this year even sponsors are changing teams. I’m sure y’all have read that Waow Deals has jumped ship from the Belgian Lares-Waow Deals team to Marianne Vos’ WM3 Pro Cycling. While sponsoring a stronger, more visible team gives a company more exposure, it’s a true struggle for smaller teams to stay afloat. Fortunately, Lares-Waow Deals have found another sponsor and will continue in 2018.

Womens cycling is like a big family, and no one likes seeing anyone from that family leave. Which makes the news of Lensworld-Kuota having to fold very sad. A lot of riders are now without a team, and struggling to find a new home when most rosters have already been filled. Still, there are a lot of teams that have yet to announced their full-line up for 2018 like Ale Cipollini, Cervelo-Bigla and WM3 pro cycling. Maybe this is due to two-year contracts, but it could also be because some of the riders in these teams are retiring.

We found out just last week that Australian Carlee Taylor is retiring, and rumour has it that Daiva Tuslaite is also retiring from Ale Cipollini. Saying goodbye to riders in the peloton is always hard, but I’m personally pretty gutted about this one, Carlee always made me laugh on the start line, on social media and whenever our paths crossed. But cycling is too hard a sport (and career) to keep doing it if your body and heart are telling you it’s time. And I wish all the girls retiring this year the best of luck going forward. We live in a small little bubble, that is our whole world, and I can only imagine how scary and daunting it must feel when it the time comes to leave the world of professional sports and have to go into the ‘real’ world.
There will be some new faces in the peloton next year also. Whoever wins the Zwift scholarship will at least have last year’s winner, Leah Thorvilson, as a friend in the team. Yes, even though I might of slammed her early this year, I’m actually glad she got resigned, as being thrown into the pro peloton and learning everything in one year is just impossible. Some of us girls have been doing these same races for six or more years already, we know when it’s important to move up, who is strong in the peloton, and we have developed the skills to be able to move to the front of the peloton when we need to. I’m sure Leah will be a lot stronger next year, and having her to help next years Zwift winner is a good idea by Canyon-Sram.

Another rider joining the peloton or making a comeback rather, is Australian Macey Stewart. She used to ride on Orica-AIS and wrote a sad column here on Ella about being completely thwarted with the sport. Now, a couple years older and more resilient, she will be returning to the pro peloton for Wiggle High5 next year.
Recently, the ASO revealed its 2018 courses for the Tour de France and La Course. And seriously, ASO, what the hell?!
When La course was first introduced in 2014, all the talk was about growing La Course into a multi-day event. But every year, we just keep getting disappointed. It feels like the ASO is just putting on a race to make us shut up. But what do we need to do to grow it?
When it was held on the Champs-Élysées, our race was said to be super exciting. And I remember that first year — it was so fast, full of attacks, and the nerves were like I was lining up for a world championship. Actually, I think I was even more nervous than I have been at world championships because we all wanted the race to be awesome and to do our best to showcase women’s cycling.
Fast forward four years, and we raced up the Col d’Izoard, with Annemiek Van Vleuten taking the honours with a solo victory, racing up the final 5km of the climb in a time that was only bested by two male riders in the TDF peloton who raced up it a few hours later. She may be my competitor, but that was bloody impressive! Women can race bikes, we can race them fast, and — believe it or not ASO —WE CAN ACTUALLY RACE THEM FOR LONGER THAN A DAY! Sorry, it’s just hard to talk about this subject without getting fired up! But it’t time for them to step up to the plate and for all us riders and fans to speak up.

Moving on to the 2018 season that’s already looming over us. Last year, a lot of us traveled to the Land Down Under for some early season racing, and it’s going to be interesting to see who’s in form so early. Van Vleuten showed good form during Australia’s Summer of Cycling this year and we all know that she continued on to have her best season yet. The Aussies will surely be fit as the Australian National Championships and Cadel Evans Road Race in January will determine the selection for Commonwealth Games later in the year. Something tells me that early season racing is going to be massive next year, especially now that there’s also a womens Sun Tour!

On that note, guess I had better head out training.

Till next time,

– The SHEcret Pro

To allow her to write freely about the experience of being a female professional, the identity of our insider from the women’s ranks will be kept completely anonymous. Additionally, we may drop in the odd red herring to ensure it’s not possible to guess the rider’s identity.

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