Brodie Chapman’s journey from unknown rider to Herald Sun Tour champ

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Before I go any further I’ve got a confession to make. There is no journalistic balance and distance in this story and no calm collected unbiased assessments. I’m writing this piece about a woman we at the CyclingTips office just spin our chairs around to chat to. She sits alongside us, working for our umbrella company, BikeExchange.

So while much of the cycling world was saying ‘who’s that?’ about our speedy colleague, as she was riding in the tough top selection of seven at Australia’s FedUni Road National Championships, excited messages were flying around between the CyclingTips team at the race. Yes we were willing her on … ‘grab that wheel, go Brodie go’.

And then when she took off out the front of the first stage of the first UCI ranked Herald Sun Tour, work at the office came to a standstill as everyone was watching the livestream. While I was the one that was actually doing my job by devoting my full attention to the on the road action as I sat in a media car behind the race covering it for Ella CyclingTips, I’d never felt less professional. The normal focussed pre-finish routine of preparing tweets and starting to write up the article on the race, while also following the last of the action, was shot.

All I could manage to concentrate on was listening anxiously to the crackling of race radio to see if a well-liked colleague could pull off a potentially life changing win.

So read on to find out more about the winner of the 2.2 ranked Herald Sun Tour and biggest revelation of the Australian summer of racing, from a completely biased and partial source. 

What a difference a month can make. At the start of January most of the European-based professionals riding the Australian Road National Championships didn’t even know Brodie Chapman’s name. In fact there were a lot among the domestic crowd who were struggling too, even the knowledgable and close to the race scene commentator.

There was good reason for that. Brodie had only once ventured into a UCI ranked road race. She hadn’t been a regular Australian National Road Series podium placer, like the other local riders who were making their mark on the racing. In fact she hadn’t even been a regular rider in it – injury had seen to that.

But now she was back and determined to give road cycling a “good crack” after a tough year where two crashes had kept her off the bike for months.

The 26-year-old vegan started the year with no rides lined up for the Australian summer of racing beyond the Road Nats, no coach and no team locked in for the domestic season. She finished it standing on the top step of the podium at a UCI ranked race, the Women’s Herald Sun Tour. Her company on the steps of the general classification podium was world time trial champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) and Australia’s top-ranked rider Chloe Hosking (Ale-Cipollini).

A raw talent was given an opportunity, and the result was a potentially life changing win.

An unconventional beginning

It may seem like Brodie has come out of nowhere, but the full-time digital content editor has actually been racing bikes for years, is sponsored by Shimano and her name has buzzed around the local racing scene for quite a while. Casually rocking up to a club criterium in baggy shorts and walking away with the A grade win, or being the first woman to cross the line at the 228 kilometre Grafton to Inverell is a good way to get people talking.

She started racing regularly on the road in 2015, but that wasn’t the start of her competitive cycling. Her entry was via the dirt. Brodie’s dad got her a BMX at the age of 12, and it was the drive to get another one that led her to start working at a bike shop as a 17-year-old. The people she met at that job ultimately led the Queensland raised girl to a downhill mountain bike race.

“Suddenly the elite women started and there’s this little blonde girl that comes down and I was like ‘what, she just rode down that?’. And then two other chicks came bombing through and that was it,” said Brodie. “All I could think was ‘I am 100 percent lining up at the next race. I’m a little blonde girl so I can do that!'”

So she borrowed a bike and was racing the very next one.

“I got down the hill. Felt like I was going super fast, even though I came last, and I just loved it.”

From then she’d caught the racing bug and the step to a little four-cross, enduro and cross country mountain biking wasn’t too big.

Plus, given she rode her bike to get around so much, it made sense to get a road bike as well. From then bikes continued to be a big part of her life, from racing on the mountain bike, to tearing around the streets of Germany on a fixie while she was over there studying and working in bike shops or as a bike courier.

Fiercely clinging to that wheel

It may have taken her a while to get to racing regularly on the road, but she had long embraced the spirit of trying to go faster on the road.

“The very first road ride I went on, my colleague made me go on a bunch ride and I found it the hardest thing,” said Brodie.”I got dropped on this climb and I just got so demoralised. I worked so hard to get back on that after that I was determined that I was not ever going to get dropped again. So then I just started riding my road bike heaps so I didn’t get dropped.”

Now she has a reputation for how fiercely she will fight to hold that wheel.

“Probably because of how it started, my training philosophy has always been to say ‘get dropped till you don’t’. Go on rides that are super hard and it’s like having a carrot in front of you. I’m really motivated by other people around me.”

Or the wheel ahead of her.

Finding some good wheels at the Giro Della Donna weekend. Brodie (centre-front) going for a roll with Marianne Vos.

That could clearly be seen at the Australian Road National Championships this year as she kept fighting to get back to the wheels of the top contenders in front. It was a fight that saw her coming into the line with an elite selection of World Championship silver medallist Katrin Garfoot, two-time national champion Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), pro teammates at FDJ Shara Gillow and Lauren Kitchen plus two of Australia’s top NRS riders of 2017, Shannon Malseed (Team Tibco-SVB) and Grace Brown (Holden Team Gusto).

Even with a sixth-place finish in the firepower-packed bunch, such is her drive that she couldn’t help walking away with all the scenarios of what she could have done to get a better result going through her head.

“I was so close to the podium it was bittersweet,” said Brodie. She added that with the benefit of hindsight and excitement at the result from those around her, it hadn’t been too hard to see it in a different light.

Especially given the fact that the year running up to this summer of racing was less than ideal. So far from ideal, in fact, that it’s a wonder that she was even racing Nationals, let alone doing so well.

Brodie really meant it when she said: “I’ve had so many opportunities taken away through injury and life so when I do get a chance I want to give it my best.”

Her riding progression has been a case of being knocked down, getting up, getting knocked down again and finding the strength to just get right back up again.

If we go back to early 2017 she was coming back into form after a heavily injury-interrupted first year in the NRS with Holden Women’s Racing.

Following the opportunities that were presenting themselves at the time, the Shimano sponsored athlete entered into the Shimano Enduro Tasmania at Derby, which was part of the World Series.

But she didn’t even make it to the start line. Walking away from a practice round accident with a torn ACL, two fractures and knee surgery ahead wasn’t what she’d planned for. But, no stranger to recovery, she got on with rehab, riding one-legged when that’s all she could do and enlisting able friends to push her up hills when all she could only roll on the flat.

Finally she’d worked her way back onto the bike fully and got the clearance to really get riding again in August. Then straight away as she was commuting to work a car turned into her.

“I was devastated. I was just so deflated,” said Brodie. “I couldn’t believe that it had just happened to me after everything and I was really upset that it meant I couldn’t ride anymore again.”

“It takes a lot of mental energy and self talk to get through injury. You see yourself losing fitness, your body changing, your friends racing and all the opportunities you think you have missed. I thought I’d let down sponsors and all this stuff was going through my head at the time that I’m lying on the road. It was hard not to start to catastrophize everything,”

Fortunately she didn’t rupture her knee, but she did suffer damage. Brodie now had a broken collarbone to recover from. Once she was able to get back on the bike, it seems the motivation to regain fitness was easy. She could ride her bike again and that’s exactly what she wanted to do, a lot, whether it was slogging up a hill chasing the bunch or hitting the dirt jumps and showing up the teenage boys.

Whatever it was that she did, be it training, racing or just enjoying the sheer enjoyment of riding it’s clear that it got her in the form of her life.

A national team spot and a dream beginning

Things changed for Brodie after her sixth place at Nationals. While she may have been momentarily disappointed that she couldn’t leverage the opportunity to do better, others were just incredibly impressed. As she sat working for BikeExchange in the media centre at the Santos Tour Down Under, her phone kept ringing and she had to step discreetly out the door – a room full of curious journalists isn’t the best place for a private conversation.

It turns out those conversations were about opportunities to ride at the women’s Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the women’s Herald Sun Tour.

“Given how hard I’ve tried to get myself to bike races … when someone does want to sponsor me or when a team does reach out and supports you it’s like ‘oh man, I appreciate it so much,'” said Brodie.

She speaks warmly of the support that she’s received from so many, including Shimano, the CBR women’s cycling team, mentors, Holden Women’s Cycling and most recently the KordaMentha-Australia team.

Brodie raced the 1.1 ranked Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race with Holden Team Gusto, finishing 15th among the select lead group. But her biggest opportunity was that spot with the KordaMentha-Australia team – a national team packed with seasoned pros – at the two-day Women’s Herald Sun Tour.

One of her mentors, Peta Mullens, was in fact so keen that Brodie got the opportunity to ride with the squad, that if it came down to it she was willing to give up her spot so her friend and regular mountain bike competitor could have the opportunity.

“It’s great that they have taken the risk and put in really raw talent like Brodie in on the back of an awesome result at Nationals,” Mullens told Ella CyclingTips. “I feel like she’s learnt a lot from us over the last week and it was awesome to see that she could get into the race on Tuesday, confident that she had the backing of the team if it came down to the breakaway.”

Having a chance to go for a huge result certainly wasn’t what Brodie was anticipating when she found out that she had secured a spot in the team with Katrin Garfoot, Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM), Rachel Neylan (MoviStar), Mullens (Hagens Berman-Supermint) and Lauretta Hanson (UHC Pro Cycling).

“I’m a little bit nervous about being on a team with all these other seasoned pros,” said Brodie in the week before the race. “It’s a little bit confronting but I hope that it’s just a huge, great learning experience for me. I mean that’s all I can ask for.”

And while that may have been all that she asked for, she got a lot more.

Now somehow we don’t think our Women’s Herald Sun Tour winning office buddy Brodie – who wants to ‘go race bikes overseas’ – will be sitting alongside us at a desk for much longer.

“There’s this really great opportunity where if I just make the right decisions then I could potentially race as a pro one day and that would be amazing,” said Brodie. “I never went through a system or grew up anticipating that I would ever be close to being a professional athlete.”

“But the closer it gets the more I think, well, I’ll just keep doing what I can, yet keep enjoying it.”

Update: Brodie did in fact end up heading overseas to race bikes, signing on with Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank and launching herself into some of the biggest races on the calendar in Europe and the United States. She is missed in the office, but is still giving her former colleagues plenty to cheer about as we watch on as her impressive journey continues to unfold.

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