Howe in the QOM jersey at the 2022 Santos Festival of Cycling. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

From boat to bike: Georgie Howe’s rapid rise to the pro ranks

She tried her luck in a few European races and immediately kept up with the WorldTour pros. A new chapter starts now for the former rower.

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Kristen Faulkner, Eva van Agt, Veronica Ewers, Amber Kraak, Maví García, Alison Jackson. None of these riders started their professional sports career in cycling but with the growing professionalization of the sport all have decided to make cycling their living. They can leave well-paid jobs behind and live off their passion.

The next rider to join that list is now-former-rower Georgie Howe. And the 28-year-old Australian is moving fast.

“My first ever race at the elite level was the Australian nationals this January,” Howe tells CyclingTips from her temporary home in Girona. “It was trial by fire. My bike was about one or even two sizes too big but I loved every minute of it. Then I did the Tour Down Under with the Knights of Suburbia team.

“These two races were great with some big WorldTour names lining up. I could see first-hand how the pros raced. It was a great learning experience and after that race I was hooked. Everything was so new. I even came away with a polka-dot jersey.”

Howe (left) in the break in the 2022 Australian Nationals road race. (Photo by Con Chronis/Getty Images)

Howe comes to cycling having been a rower for 13 years.

“All my friends were into rowing and at school we had a rowing program,” she explains. “The team element of the sport was addictive. If you don’t show up your crew doesn’t row. It’s as simple as that. It’s about a lot of discipline and we had some good leadership at the program at my high school.

“For teenagers you need a fun atmosphere where training and racing are fun and then results will come.”

And the results did come.

Howe went from the junior to the senior program and then to representing Australia at the elite world championships in the women’s eight. She even gained a scholarship to study at Princeton, USA where she majored in the classics and minored in medieval history. Gradually, though, rowing burnt her out and while she was back in Melbourne working a job at EY, a new passion started.

“The universe was kind to me and I had some good people in my corner,” she says. Her energy is infectious. She talks about her newfound love for cycling with great passion.

As with many things in life, a career in cycling happened for Howe while she was making other plans. Howe seems both amazed and grateful at the turn her life has taken in the past six months.

“Cycling is often part of a rower’s training regime,” she explains. “In my case I only had a WattBike when I studied at Princeton. During our European training camps with Rowing Australia in Varese, Italy I didn’t have time for riding but all in all I was familiar with the sport. After I quit rowing, it was an old bike at home that started this all.”

During the now-infamously-long COVID lockdowns in Melbourne, in 2020 and 2021, Howe found herself with no place to go because the gyms were closed. 

“After 13 years of rowing I was doing some boxing and weightlifting but when the gyms closed I invested in a Kickr bike. I am one of the COVID cyclists,” she says with a laugh. “Sports kept me and keep me sane. That old bike I had went on the Kickr and I subscribed to Zwift. That’s where this all started, in my living room.” 

When Australia gradually reopened, and racing on real and not virtual roads started happening again, Howe enrolled in her first road race: the Australian championships. Then, after a successful Tour Down Under and after winning the Oceania time trial title, Howe decided to travel across the world to try her luck in the European racing scene. She started well.

“I landed in Belgium on a Wednesday mid-June and raced a kermesse on Friday at 7pm,” she says. “I suffered from a real big jetlag.”

She mustn’t have suffered too much though – she got in the winning break at her first try. 

“The day after, on the Saturday, I realized I needed a Belgian club team to be able to race UCI races so I approached Andy Redant to ask for a guest ride,” Howe says. “He was not really that eager before the race but when I ended up in a winning break again with Julie de Wilde and Sanne Cant and the Keukens Redant soigneurs gave me some feeds, I thought ‘Yes, I have a team.’”

Howe joined the small Belgian UCI team to race two stage races at the end of June: the Lotto Belgium Tour and the Baloise Belgium Tour. She finished ninth in the Lotto Belgium Tour prologue immediately and beat some well-established WorldTour pros. It was in her first European road race on day two of that Lotto Belgium Tour that she showed the huge potential she has. 

“That first stage was a completely flat affair at the Belgian coast,” she says. “It was honestly the biggest culture shock. I approach bike racing no different than rowing in the sense that I want to know the course. There is a difference between two kilometres or 130 so I Google Street View-ed my way through the preparation. 

“The speed was the biggest shock to me. It was the most hectic thing I did to date. As the race went along, I gained more confidence. People from Australia always tell you to focus on position, position, position but in the Australian peloton we don’t have these big groups. You can just find your way around. In Belgium not so much.

“There are also corners and small roads everywhere. There was also a lot of physical contact like taps on your bum. In that race I became more confident in fighting for position at high speeds. That ninth place in a sprint was a surprise.”

The final stage on the Muur van Geraardsbergen was a challenging one but Howe would not be deterred for her next race which came the week after. The line-up for the Baloise Belgium Tour – the last big test race for the Giro d’Italia Donne and the Tour de France Femmes – was a great one. No fewer than four WorldTour teams lined up with the likes of Ellen van Dijk, Lorena Wiebes, Liane Lippert, Alison Jackson, and Audrey Cordon-Ragot on the startlist. Howe finished fourth in the general classification.

“It was a bit surreal to be honest,” she says. “I came to Belgium to get into the European peloton, to get experience and soak it all up. I didn’t have any ambitions for a general classification. The only goal was to learn how to position and maybe opportunities would come. When I saw some real hitters on that startlist, I was excited to see how they move around the peloton and then test myself in time trials against someone like Ellen van Dijk. It was pretty cool.” 

“Pretty cool” is a bit of an understatement. Coming fourth in a well-established race as a complete newbie is a phenomenal result and shows Howe has the potential to go far. She approaches the sport as she did her education at Princeton.

“Coming up to speed with all the new things is the hardest thing,” she says. “I need to be a student in everything I do and that’s how I approach this as well. I am behind the eight ball on everything. I have a lot to learn and I recognize this. The biggest challenge is giving myself time and cutting myself some slack. I will screw up sometimes and that’s OK. I try to create a safe place for myself where that development is possible.” 

Finding a team based on her results was the next mission for Howe. With the help of her manager, former Olympian and world champion Annette Edmondson, Howe has secured a pro contract for 2023. The details of that deal are expected to be released soon.

So next year is sorted, but Howe wasn’t done yet for 2022. She wanted to build on the newly acquired experience but also focus on her time trialing talent. Howe hoped to be selected for the Australian team for the Road World Championships in Wollongong.

“That’s why I located myself in Girona where they have a lab for tests,” she says. “I won the Oceania time trial and that gives Australia an extra spot for the [Worlds] time trial. It’s a personal spot in my name but even then, [AusCycling] had to award it to me which sadly they didn’t*. Obviously, I am very disappointed with that decision in this instance given my positive trajectory to this point. However, I have to respect their decision and am hungry to put my name in for selection in future years.”

Howe decided to fly back home to Melbourne with 2023 on her mind. Her handful of European races – and top-10 places – are only just the beginning. Unlike rowing where there is one pinnacle of the sport every four years at the Olympics, cycling has a smorgasbord of events to look forward to.

“It’s a bit of a whirlwind right now,” she says. “Cycling has always been founded in fun for me. This journey is different than rowing. Back then as a kid you always take the next step automatically. I stumbled upon my love for cycling and bumped into my coach on a ride in Melbourne. We literally knocked into each other on Beach Road. He asked if I had a coach and I said no.

“The universe has been very kind to me in this but I always followed my gut. That’s how this will be a sustainable career. Sport is not always glamorous and fun but when you get home and manage to pick out the good bits, it’s a good way forward.”

It’s clear that Howe is in it for the long run. She might be 28 but finds herself at the same point in her career as an 18-year-old entering the elite peloton. And as she makes her step up, Howe applauds how fast women’s racing is developing.

“The new WWT structure is 100% changing things for riders from out of the European cycling zone,” she says. “There is untapped talent everywhere. In 2017 they started a women’s league in Australian football. We are only five years on and many women join AFL from other sports. Now women’s AFL is highly competitive. The same goes for soccer in Australia and look at the English women’s soccer at Wembley. Women’s sport is at an incredibly exciting point in history and so is cycling. 

“Girls in Australia will look at Amanda [Spratt], Nicole [Frain], Ruby [Roseman-Gannon] or Grace [Brown]. They will see the Tour de France Femmes and know it’s a realistic goal. They know that when they are 12, they can start dreaming of the TDF. ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ is a quote used a lot but it’s true. They can dream a realistic dream now.”

Only a few years ago riders from outside of Europe had to make conscious decisions about whether pursuing a career in Europe was financially viable. They were living off their parents or partners, working a job on the side or even full-time, or trying to get by on a few hundred dollars a month. In a short amount of time over 200 women now earn a decent living in the sport and that will only grow.

“Salaries will increase exponentially as a true reflection of the attention the sport is bringing,” Howe says. “The viewing figures of the Tour de France Femmes exceeded everyone’s expectations. If you give women the stage and place to perform, they will step up to the mark. They will inspire a new generation or even the current one, like me.

“I was burnt out from rowing and looked at cycling to pursue excellence in sports. I wanted a team sport again. My NRS [National Road Series] team at home pride themselves in bringing athletes from others sports like triathlon, runners, rowers, CrossFit, or lacrosse. That amalgamation is a great melting pot that brings a whole different life experience and perspective to the team that makes us succeed in the end. I think this goes for the whole sport of cycling.”

The fact so many new athletes can make the jump across to cycling and be fairly successful so soon doesn’t mean the level of cycling is low. On the contrary, Howe claims.

“I have a great physiology and no one disputes that,” she says. “I have years of intense physiological workouts as a background. I was doing 14 sessions a week in high school, and after that 20 hours a week when rowing. I did that for 13 years. To step up in cycling you need a serious sports background. It’s not only physiological but also the mindset. It’s a difficult sport psychologically. 

“The biggest challenge for the newcomers is the bike handling. Mine is obviously nowhere near someone who grew up in this sport but there is a whole new world to discover for me out there.

“The TDFF looked both savage and delicious. I can’t wait to be there. Or ride Roubaix. It would be amazing to race that. It would be so hectic and there is much left to chance but it’s proper hard racing steeped in history.

“I can’t express in words how excited I am about this new future.”

*In a recent press conference about Australia’s World Championships team, AusCycling’s executive general manager of performance, Jesse Korf, was asked about why Howe wasn’t selected to race the Worlds time trial when she had a spot set aside specifically for her, as per UCI rules. Korf replied:

“As you know, the Oceania champion can be considered for an additional spot. And when we look at selections and the conversations that we had within the selection panel, with Rory [Sutherland, AusCycling’s road coordinator], with the athletes, we have quite high performance standards because we want to represent the green and gold to the best of our ability.

Both Georgie and Josie [Talbot] are tracking incredibly well, and so there have been considerations around where those opportunities might lie and what the amount of riders in consideration are and how many time trial spots are available. And so Josie Talbot has indeed been selected as Oceania [road race] champion. And we’ve had copious conversation with Georgie and are very excited about her step up and working with her ongoingly to support her into the future.

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