Amanda Spratt racing La Course in 2014
It’s that time of year when professional cyclists announce their team transfers for the following year. We can all read plenty about the high profile male riders but there’s not so much written about the women. So here’s a list of some of the higher profile Australian female pro road cyclists and their plans for 2015. Please note that this is not a complete list of every Australian female rider who is registered as a professional, so please don’t been offended if you’re not on my list.
Tiffany just won the Australian female road cyclist of the year award for 2014 and came fifth in the World Champs road race. She will stick with the same team next year but it’s undergone a makeover and will re-emerge as Velocio-SRAM. For the past three years it’s been known as Specialized-lululemon.
Nettie is making a shift in 2015 and is joining the Wiggle Honda team which is owned and run by fellow Aussie cyclist Rochelle Gilmore.
I was recently approached by a Sydney-based yoga/cycling enthusiast who has developed his own yoga classes just for cyclists called Pedal Stroke Yoga. As a fan of yoga I was intrigued by Angelo’s upcoming workshops so asked him a few questions about what’s behind it.
How can yoga benefit cyclists?
I believe that Yoga is the yin to the cycling yang. Both of these complimentary halves work together to create a ‘high performance’ version of you as a cyclist and also as a human being. My Pedal Stroke Yoga workshops are designed to put back what your cycling takes out. When you are in a Pedal Stroke Yoga class you are essentially performing a full service and maintenance on your body and mind, the same way you do on your bicycle. Your body will outlast that expensive carbon frame bike you own, so why not take the same care with your body that you do with your bike. That way when you do get back on your bike to race, or go on a ride, your body will perform to its maximum potential and maybe even beyond.
Last year I wrote a post about riding while pregnant and I thought I should follow that up with one about returning to riding after giving birth. The most important thing to note is that every women is different and so everyone needs to make their own decisions about how much to cycle during pregnancy and after having a baby.
For the record, this is not a topic that I’m an expert on, because I have not completed any formal training in healthcare or fitness, and I’ve never been pregnant, but I’ve done some research and asked a number of women who have experienced it firsthand for their input.
When to start again?
Some of the women said they were back riding as early as two weeks but it also depended on the type of delivery. Alison Frendin in her article about returning to riding after baby points out that every woman is different – “natural, C-section, episiotomy or tearing? –Obviously if you had a rough time you aren’t going to be ready at six weeks. Still, stitches should be completely gone and C-section mums must wait double the six week period after having this “major surgery”! Even then, lifting or pulling heavy objects and doing any impact exercises is going to put a strain on your abdomen.”
If you want to read Alison’s entire article you’ll find it here.
One of my personal mandates for this blog is to promote women’s cycling at all levels so this week it’s the top ends turn. Recently I caught up with Megan O’Neill Johnston who the Assistant Manager and Head Soigneur for the Canberra-based Suzuki Brumby’s women’s cycling team who had some very interesting insights into how a cycling team runs…..
Q: How long has the team been going?
Suzuki Brumby’s is a Canberra based team that started in 2008 and originally fielded both a men’s and women’s National Road Series (NRS) team, however in 2014 we are an all-female affair.
Q: How many members do you currently have?
We currently have 9 cyclists in the team; 7 who are based in Canberra, 1 in Victoria and 1 in NSW. We are all really close, not only as team mates, but as friends and I think this contributes significantly to the success and character of the team. There is a lot of comradeship and support for each other which I think is imperative in such a mentally tough sport.
In May 2010, when Lynda Behan suggested that she and a friend get on their bikes and start a regular ride together, she had no idea that four years later she’d have 35 women who wanted to tag along, and Women of Oatley (WoO) would be born.
I met Lynda at a women’s cycling discussion a couple of months ago and I was impressed by her passion and enthusiasm for encouraging other women to start riding.
Back in 2010 it was her husband that encouraged her to start riding, because he rode with a local recreational riding group and thought Lynda should join him. Lynda took it one step further and invited her friend to join her on a ride around a local park and then gradually, two by two, other women began to join them.
Oatley is a southern suburb of Sydney and Lynda and others are very fortunate to have a local park/reserve with a great cycle track but they’ve since ventured much further than their local area.
If you’ve ever been to watch a track cycling event you’ve probably watched a very unusual race called the Keirin. I’ve always enjoyed it and for a number of years I’ve been aware that it’s a big sport in Japan where it was developed. Men’s Keirin racing is very popular but women are also involved and it’s growing. Here’s a few insights based on some research I undertook:
Keirin is a track cycling race where between six to nine riders race over about 2 km around a velodrome. It is a relatively new Olympic event, first raced by the men in 2000 and the women in 2012. Keirin has been a big part of Japanese culture since it was introduced in 1948 as an initiative to rebuild after the war. The race starts with a pace setter (typically a motorised “derny”) who starts slowly but gradually increases the speed until peeling off with about 600 or 700 metres left to race. Usually the riders are travelling at about 50 km/hour by this point and have hopefully manoeuvered into their favoured position. Once the “derny” is gone the race is in full flight and the riders fight to take line honours.
The women follow international competition rules in Japan to keep things safer: while the men are renowned for shoulder barging and head butting through their racing, Girl’s Keirin is a bit more ladylike. The women use colourful disc wheels and tri-spokes provided by the JKA –the same colour wheels as the lane colour they draw.
A couple of weeks ago I was doing some research for an article I’m writing about cycling clubs that support women for Bicycling Australia magazine, and I came across a Brisbane cycling club that’s attracting lots of women to its ranks, and working hard to support them.
Kangaroo Point Cycling Club (KPCC) which might sound like it has a semi-rural bush setting is in fact based in Brisbane’s inner suburbs and has been around since 1905. It currently has over 200 members and about a quarter of them are women.
I had a chat via email with Club Co-Captain Alix Everton about the great work she and other women (and men) are doing at KPCC.
Q: Do you run any female only rides or other activities for female riders?
Yes, we have our very popular Women Only Weekdays – rides run by women, for women, with ‘no boys allowed’. These rides are always kept at a social pace where nobody gets left behind, so that all experience and ability levels are catered for. Since we started running these rides nearly a year ago, we have developed a consistent core group of ladies who turn up, and have new women coming along to try it out nearly every week. This ride helps our club to reduce barriers to female participation by providing a welcoming, non-threatening, non-competitive cycling environment.
Cyclocross is a relatively new event on the Australian cycling calendar but it’s actually been around in other countries for many years.
Some describe it as a combination of mountain biking, road cycling and criterium racing into one challenging event. Most races last for 30 minutes to an hour on a closed, twisty circuit of 2.5 to 3.5 km. The course surfaces consist of pavement, grass, dirt and sand peppered with obstacles, such as steps and barriers. Participants must conquer these by rapidly dismounting and carrying their bikes while running, then remounting on the fly. Aerobic endurance, bike handling skills and even tyre pressure are key factors in achieving victory. The messy conditions brought on by variable winter weather often make for a slippery mudfest, as documented in countless images like this one.
Special bicycles used for cross racing draw on characteristics of other cycling sports. Like road bikes, cross bikes are lightweight with drop handlebars and skinny tyres. But, as with mountain bikes, the tires are knobby for traction to grind up hills, the frames are stronger, and cantilever brakes are standard issue. (The UCI recently sanctioned disc brakes.) The bottom bracket, fork and seat stay clearance are more generous to contend with muck and debris on the course. Not everyone who participates in the sport has a dedicated cross bike, but those who get into the sport, will usually buy a dedicated bike.
Last week Cycling Australia (CA) released the results of a some research they conducted last year with female cyclists in Australia. They surveyed two groups – Cycling Australia members, and non-members who were active riders. The results were not really surprising for me, because as one of the 2,400 respondents I think I have a reasonable handle on the women’s road cycling scene in Australia. However I think the research is great for bike industry and anyone working with female road cyclists, plus it provides a benchmark for future research.
You can read the full report from Cycling Australia here. It’s not overly long but if you want a quick summary, here’s my take:
The top three challenges to riding for the majority of respondents is feeling unsafe on the road, work commitments and lack of time.
Unsurprisingly the issue of safety was high on the agenda and a deterrent for women not riding as often as they would, if they felt safer. 55 per cent of respondents said they don’t have access to safe on-road facilities. Many also said that if they had access to safer bike lanes and off-road pathways they would ride more often.
I read a great article in The Guardian online today about an Italian female cyclist named Alfonsina Strada who rode the 3,613 km Giro d’Italia way back in 1924. She’s the only woman who’s ever ridden one of the grand tours alongside the men. Here’s my abridged version of her story.
Alfonsina was born in northern Italy in the late 1800s and won her first bike race at the age of 13, winning a live pig. When she was 24 she married Luigi Strada, who give her a new racing bike as a wedding present. The couple moved to Milan, where Alfonsina rode on the velodrome and Luigi acted as her trainer.
Her ride in the Giro d’Italia came about through a disagreement between the organiser, Emilio Colombo and the top riders of the day. The riders refused to take part so Colombo offered places to whoever wanted to ride. Gazzetta dello Sport promised to pay their bills, their hotels and their food. It offered places for 90 riders and promised 600 chickens, 750 kg of other meat, 4,800 bananas and 720 eggs. But there would be no managers, no masseurs, no mechanics and no team cars.
Alfonsina entered as “Strada, Alfonsin.” The absence of a final “o” or “a” to her first name hid whether she was a man or a woman. She was accepted as number 72 and, assuming her to be a man, journalists began writing of Alfonsino. The truth emerged the day before the start and by then it was too late.