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It’s only 17 days into the new year and it’s already been a big one for Australian women’s cycling. First, we had Australia’s FedUni Road National Championships – where the nation’s up and coming riders showed they were a force to be reckoned with – then a hard-fought Santos Women’s Tour Down Under, where the international competition stepped up a level.
And this is just the beginning. There are two international UCI classified races still to come, a stark contrast to just four years ago when there was not one international women’s race in Australia.
But it’s not just the presence of world class races to excite Aussie race fans. The performances of our Australian riders, too, are on the ascent.
Australia, as a nation, finished the year ranked fourth on the UCI ranking and had gone as high as third during the season. Its only UCI listed team, Mitchelton-Scott, was ranked third in the world, and at Road World, the national team came away with two medals.
We talked to UCI Women’s Commission President, Tracey Gaudry, on the sidelines of the Santos Women’s Tour about the resurgence in Australian women’s cycling.
Gaudry was once at the forefront as athlete herself, when Australia was a powerhouse of women’s cycling in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. She holds a swag of national titles and international victories, and since retiring has enjoyed a successful career on the administration side of sports. Today she is the president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation, a member of the UCI Management Committee, President of the UCI Women’s Commission, not to mention one of the female athletes
Ella CyclingTips: What I wanted to ask you about was the continued step up in the level of racing we are seeing here, and among the teams that are present as well.
Gaudry: As the president of the UCI Women’s Commission and also the president of Oceania cycling, a big part of the work we’ve been doing in this region over the last five years is raising the profile of women’s cycling, providing a pathway from domestic racing through to the top level of international racing. The Santos Women’s Tour Down Under has gone in four years from a state-level event not recognised at all by the Santos Tour Down Under, to one recognised and acknowledged, to an event that achieved UCI status two years ago. And now it’s achieved another step up in UCI status to what is called a 2.1 event. It’s the level only one step below the Women’s WorldTour. We’ve now got international UCI women’s teams clamouring for the opportunity to come and race in Australia. Plus it’s the first country in the world where every UCI road event has a men’s event and a women’s event running concurrently. So Australia is at the forefront of women’s cycling.
Ella CyclingTips: Are we on the way to Women’s WorldTour level racing soon?
Gaudry: When we look at the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under going from .2 to .1, that’s already a significant step. The element that I find really valuable from the Tour Down Under organisers is their willingness to invest and develop their expertise, focus on the women and basically over-invest before taking another status upgrade. So by going to 2.1 this year, the organisers are focused on exceeding the requirements of that level so that there is nothing but satisfaction importantly from the teams and athletes, because if you don’t have the athletes, you don’t have an event.
We’re working very closely with the Tour Down Under team and events South Australia to ensure that no stone is left unturned and that if and when the event applies for WorldTour status, it has already effectively met those requirements. And I have no doubt that if the South Australian Government has the intention to achieve that status, it could do so over the next two to three years.
Ella CyclingTips: What was your reaction to having two riders that had come from the domestic scene up on the podium at Australian Road Nats, showing that the local riders can mix it with some of the best in the world.
Gaudry: The Australian Road Cycling Championships last weekend was just an excellent display of pathway progress at its best. We have club riders … racing in the national road series, on the podium alongside racers who are competing in the Women’s WorldTour. What we need to continue in Australia – club level, state level, national level and around the world – is maintaining very strong support for women’s cycling. From club races with women involved to a strong national road series so that domestic teams have a series over the season to compete at for the rider’s to hone their craft and importantly opportunities like the Santos Women’s Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race for women. This allows Australian riders, domestic riders, to compete with international riders to get that taste of experience. So the podium, which had a combination of national and international riders was a great sign of what’s to come for Australia and we need to keep that progress going.
Ella CyclingTips: Is there any concern in your mind that the lack of a national European development team at this stage might undermine that progress?
Gaudry: In the last 15 years of my time in administration, an important part of enabling national level talent to progress to international talent was to have managed opportunities to compete in the international peloton. The Australian women’s development team, or whatever it is called from year to year, has … competed for weeks overseas in an environment where it’s a home away from home within the support structure of the Australian system. It provides those Australian riders who have great talent a protected environment to experience the cut and thrust of international racing.
It’s very important that we keep programs like that running because it’s a big step to go from racing in the National Road Series straight to riding in a professional team internationally. You know the lifestyle factor alone is difficult, let alone living for eight or nine months on the road racing 100 to 120 days and maintaining that. Just like the racing pathway of having events, the organisational pathway is very important to maintain.
I feel very strongly about the maintenance of development teams particularly for nations which are outside of Europe because the epicentre of professional road racing is still in Europe – let’s be honest about that. There are three UCI women’s events here in Australia so that’s three opportunities, plus the continental championships, for Australian women to race against women around the world. But to extend that we want to take our women overseas with the support structure of the Australian system to get even more experience as a way to stepping up to professional teams. Now, some Australian riders go straight from the Australian racing to professional teams and I applaud that – and I was one of those back in the day – but we also have a pathway system that has worked very well in the past and I’d love to see that continue.
We will be doing a live podcast recording in Adelaide, where we will be further discussing the issues surrounding the development of Australian Women’s Cycling. If you are in Adelaide come and join us at 6 p.m., January 17, at Chateau Apollo, 74 Frome St, and look for the podcast on the site later this week.