I was lucky enough to catch up with dual Australian road champion Gracie Elvin via email. Gracie is currently racing the European season and is a member of Orica-AIS. I enjoyed watching her win her second national road title in January last year. Enjoy.
Q: How did you get started in cycling?
A: I always rode my bike a lot when I was younger around my suburb, to school and even to visit my horse who was kept nearby. I loved the MTB days that my high school had, and when my dad set up and old road bike for me when I was 12 I was hooked straight away. I went to a junior skills course and did lots of the local bunch rides and club races until I was ready to race interstate.
Q: In 2014 I watched you win the National road race in Victoria and stand proudly on the podium, how did it feel to win that race and the other national title in 2013?
A: Both my national title wins mean a lot to me. The first time I was just so shocked that I had done it! It wasn’t really the plan for me to win that year, even though it was possible. I was grinning for days after. The next year (2014) the win meant a lot more to me. It felt like I had really proven myself and shown that I am one of Australia’s best.
I know that some of you are probably not into learning about history, but it was my favourite subject at school so you’ll have to indulge me.
Recently my boss John (Ashfield Cycles) mentioned to me that the first ever women’s bike race in Australia actually took place in Ashfield (in Sydney’s inner west). I must admit that I was a bit dubious at the time so I decided to delve into it a bit more and headed to the Ashfield Library where I found a local publication with a whole chapter dedicated to it. So I won’t bore you with the whole tale, but here’s a few highlights.
In February 1888 (that’s 127 years ago) a women’s cycling race was organised at the now defunct Ashfield Recreation Grounds. Ads were placed in The Sydney Morning Herald which listed a two-mile champion race; one, two and three mile handicaps; a half-mile handicap race; and a half-hour tournament all for ‘ladies’, run over three days.
It was great to see some ABC coverage for a women’s cycling training/selection camp last week in Canberra. It’s interesting to note that after reading this story you would assume that Cycling Australia is behind this great initiative, but I believe it’s actually Rochelle Gilmore who made a commitment to take six female cyclists to Europe this year. Rochelle who owns and manages Wiggle Honda in the UK committed to this idea after Cycling Australia suspended its funding of the women’s elite program in Europe. Well done Rochelle.
Here’s the story as it ran on the ABC online:
A group of Australia’s most promising female cyclists have been put to the test in Canberra this week for the opportunity to join the Australian cycling team on tour in Europe.
The riders will remain under the close watch of selectors at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) where they are in the final days of the gruelling knock-out style selection camp, that will conclude on Sunday.
Eight hopeful cyclists have made it through to the final days of the camp, from an initial group of 18, with further cuts to be made in the coming days.
If you take up riding in your 30s or 40s as many of us do, one area you need to focus on if you want to advance, is to learn some bike skills. As children most of us rode a bike, but the majority of us were not formally taught, so we didn’t have the chance to learn any bike skills and this particularly applies to women.
In my experience in meeting many female cyclists, women tend to approach cycling quite differently to men. Although many of us rode bikes as kids we usually did a few laps around the neighbourhood and didn’t jump off gutters, perform wheel stands or other daredevil acts like our male counterparts.
The good news is that it’s easy to improve your bike skills. Here’s a few tips on how to improve your skills in areas like cornering, pedalling, safe braking, descending, climbing, riding in a bunch and more.
If you think the Gong Ride or Around the Bay is a serious challenge, then think again. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a team of women who are training for a huge race/relay called Race Across America that takes place each year in June. Last year I wrote about two American women tackling it and this time it’s a team of four Australian women calling themselves the Veloroos – Natasha Horne, Sarah Matthews, Julie-Anne Hazlett and Nicole Stanners.
Race Across America known as RAAM is a race but instead of being in stages it is one continual ride similar to a time trial. Once the clock starts it does not stop until the finish line. RAAM is about 30% longer than the Tour de France and is not limited to professional cyclists. While solo racers must qualify to compete, anyone may organise a team and race.
Racers must traverse 3000 miles (4,828 km) across 12 states and climb over 170,000 vertical feet (51,816 metres). Team racers have a maximum of nine days and most finish in about seven and a half days. Teams will ride 350-500 miles a day, racing non-stop. Solo racers have a maximum of 12 days to complete the race, with the fastest finishing in just over eight days. Solo racers will ride 250-350 miles a day, balancing speed and the need for sleep.
It sounds idyllic, riding your bike in the city of lights, but for eight Aussie women it’s more like lots of hard work for the next couple of days, as they take on the world’s best in the 2015 UCI Track Cycling World Championships.
There are three female sprinters and five female endurance riders representing Australia so I thought it would be nice to profile them here, because although Anna Meares in a household name the other seven aren’t quite so well known, at least not beyond the cycling community.
The three sprinters are Anna Meares, Stephanie Morton and Kaarle McCulloch and the five endurance riders are Ashlee Ankudinoff, Amy Cure, Melissa Hoskins, Annette Edmondson and Rebecca Wiasak.
Members of the team in action in the TDU women’s series
A couple of weeks ago word got out via a few media outlets that Cycling Australia has suspended its European based women’s development program with budgetary pressures cited as the reason for the decision. Within a week, an announcement came out that a new Australian women’s team will grace the domestic circuit with the creation of the High5 Dream Team. It seemed like a lucky coincidence at the time but it now seems that two are actually inter-related.
The High5 Dream Team is the brainchild of Australian cyclist Rochelle Gilmore as a way to offer more professional support, guidance and direction for talented Australian female cyclists. Last year Rochelle met with the high performance coach of Cycling Australia and discovered that the high performance program would be ‘paused’ due to financial pressures on the organisation.
Rochelle got on the phone to some of the riders that would be affected and was appalled to learn that many of them would actually be forced to leave the sport because there was no where to go for them. Spurred on by a desire to help these women stay with cycling, in two months she pulled together the NRS team.
The women in action at Sunday night’s crit
I’ve just returned from the annual migration of Sydney cyclists to South Australia to witness the increasingly popular Tour Down Under. This year, as well as watching the male professionals at their best, we were also treated to a four day women’s series. It’s not that there hasn’t been women’s racing incorporated in previous years but it was always just an aside. This year the organisers stepped it up a notch, promoted it well and attracted a world-class field.
The four race series included two crits and two road races, raced alternatively over four days from Saturday, 17 to Tuesday, 20 January 2015.
I missed the first race because I was busy volunteering at a charity event but watched the other three keenly including photographing the action.
The race series forms part of the National Road Series (NRS) which will continue into 2015 with the added attraction of a number of high profile riders who race mostly in Europe but are in Australia for summer. Wiggle Down Under (usually known as Wiggle Honda for European races) fielded a team including Aussie stars Nettie Edmondson and Chloe Hosking, Orica-AIS was well represented, as well as Tiffany Cromwell racing for the local Roxsolt team.
The latest decision by our own illustrious governing body, Cycling Australia gives me a sense of a few tiny baby steps forward, followed by a leap back.
I read stories earlier this week of Cycling Australia’s decision to suspend the women’s road development program in Europe indefinitely. From all reports it was a financial decision but it seems pretty short-sighted to me.
The always eloquent Bridie O’Donnell has written a blog post that summarises the whole issue very well so I won’t paraphrase it here. Read it in full for the inside story.
The women of KPCC
Joining a cycling club is a great way to meet other cyclists and to step up from being a ‘Sunday’ recreational cyclist to that next level. Traditionally they have been primarily focused on racing rather than just riding but they are beginning to reinvent themselves as the popularity of cycling grows to accommodate riders who don’t necessarily want to race, and to welcome women who have not always been attracted to clubs.
When you join a cycling club in Australia you are actually signing up as a member of Cycling Australia which gives you a number of other benefits including public liability and personal accident insurance. On the Cycling Australia website under membership you can search cycling clubs in your area within a 5 km, 10 km, 25 km or 100 km radius, giving you a good shortlist depending on how far afield you are willing to go.
Once you have a shortlist you need to decide what your priorities are to find out what each club can offer you. You could consider criteria like location, whether skills training is offered, what training rides are available, the number of female members and the support given to female riders, racing opportunities for women, and of course what social activities are included.