When I started this blog four and a half years ago my very first pro cyclist interview was with Australian Bridie O’Donnell. Bridie’s recently hit the headlines by breaking the hour record on the track in Adelaide so I thought it was timely to catch up with her.
Q: Firstly, huge congratulations on breaking the hour record on the track recently. Was it the hardest physical challenge you’ve ever taken on?
A: Thank you very much! The physical challenge of the Hour itself was not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the 6 months preparing for it was. I had to learn a lot of new things like how to ride a track bike, how to ride the bends, improve my power, lose weight etc etc
I know I said last year was going to be an awesome year for professional women’s road cycling and 2016 is shaping up to be even better. Here’s a few races that you should definitely follow this year. Unfortunately we won’t see too many of them on TV in Australia but you can keep up with them, and other races via social media and various internet sites. Cycling Tips Ella has great coverage of women’s racing as well as Prowomenscycling.com.
6 May to 8 May – Tour of Chongming Island, China
This event is the first multi-day event of the Women’s World Tour. It consists of a two day stage race, and a stand alone race that in previous years has served as a Women’s World Cup round. The terrain is pretty flat, making this a race for a team that works together to protect their sprinter.
My new Diverge
I’ve recently bought myself a new road bike with disc brakes. It won’t be replacing my beloved carbon road bikes (yes I have two of them) which have caliper brakes but it will suit another purpose – commuting to work, short trips here and there, and maybe even some off-road riding. I chose to buy the Specialized Diverge because it has the ‘go anywhere’ capability and while I’ve only ridden it once I’m already in love.
The hydraulic disc brakes are probably the biggest difference this bike has with my others so I thought it was worth a blog post to outline what the future might hold for disc brakes on road bikes. The disc brakes have a really firm feeling about them. By way of comparison my five year old road bike has Ultegra brakes, and my year old road bike has Dura Ace brakes, and the Dura Ace ones are significantly better than the old Ultegra brakes. The disc brakes feel just that bit more responsive and solid that the Dura Ace.
In my experience female riders are a little more risk averse than their male counterparts, particularly on long descents, so I think disc brakes on road bikes are going to suit a lot of female road riders.
I was really interested to read over the weekend about a new women’s international cycling initiative called Strongher. I must admit that when I first saw the name I thought it was some sort of weird European spelling for the word ‘Stronger’, but on my second attempt I realised it was the combination of ‘Strong’ and ‘Her’ which is quite clever.
The founders of the movement, aiming to “give women a stage to show themselves”, are a large bunch of female professional cyclists. It was launched in London over the weekend by professional cyclists Marianne Vos, Hannah Barnes, Lauren Kitchen, Manon Carpenter, Marijn de Vries, Lucinda Brand, Juliet Elliott and Rebecca Charlton.
They describe it as a unique international movement with the impressive title of “Strongher, The Stage for Women Who Ride” with the goals of the continued development of women’s cycling, giving women a stage to show themselves and getting more women on bikes.
My partner and I have just finished our third trip to the Tour de France so I thought I would share a few tips for following the mighty race. I know it’s not strictly a women’s cycling topic but I know many female (and male) cyclists who would like to undertake a similar trip.
Choose your transport wisely
Lots of people follow the Tour in campervans but it can also be tackled by car and either camping of staying in hotels. We hired a campervan so I can’t really tell you about the other options and in my opinion a camper is the ideal way to see it. You can park at the side of the road in just about any location making it completely flexible.
If you go with the camper option make sure you book early. A lot of companies are booked out in October the year before because that’s when the full route for the following year is announced. Also make sure you check inclusions on the hire like bed linen/towels, kitchen equipment and outdoor furniture. A lot of hire companies charge extra for just about everything.
A lot of others wrote about La Course by Le Tour de France before the race took place on Sunday. Many wrote about its significance for women’s cycling and I definitely agree with them. I had the pleasure of watching La Course on French TV in the middle of a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in a bar appropriately named Cafe de Paris in the French Alps.
I was keen to watch it to see the women’s pro peloton race in front of such a huge audience but also for the pure enjoyment of seeing them race. Unfortunately for the riders it rained throughout the race which meant there were quite a few crashes and plenty of abandonments. I found it exciting to watch and really admire the women who made it to the finish line. It was predicted to conclude in a bunch sprint but a dutch rider, Anna Van Der Breggen from the Rabo team broke away right near the end and survived to cross the line first.
La Course is in its second year and as a standalone event it’s not really a big deal. Just one 89 km race around the city of Paris. The reason it’s so important is what it represents. It’s organised by the Tour de France to show their support of women’s racing which to me is really symbolic.
I’ve had a few women comment about their fear that cycling could make their thighs bigger so I thought I’d do a bit of research and clear this one up. In short, cycling will not make your thighs larger. In fact in my own case I’ve slimmed down in my thigh and bottom area since I took up cycling, even though I actually weigh more than I previously did.
Here’s a few reasons why your legs are not going to expand:
Muscle is leaner than fat
Muscle weighs a lot more than fat. Cycling will change the shape of your legs, but unless you’re doing a lot of squats, and maintaining the same levels of fat (by eating a lot), you’re not likely to get “bigger”.
I know this will probably not be a popular post with traditionalists, but I’m of the view that podium girls at men’s professional cycling races belong in another era and need to go. For me this topic is very top-of-mind because my partner Phillip and I are currently following the Tour de France in a campervan and I write this from the foothills of the great Pyrenees.
The use of pretty women on podiums is demeaning to all women. It says that women are there just to look good in photographs, and to compliment the athleticism of men. I know that women line up for the privilege of standing beside a man on the podium. Apparently 500 apply every year. Most are models who see it as an opportunity to get a break and perhaps to travel around France for three weeks. I’m not trying to say that these women are worthless, but they are putting themselves forward as trophies not human beings.
When Peter Sagan pinched one of them on the derriere a few years ago I actually thought it was pretty funny. To me he was pointing out how stupid the role of podium girl actually is to many people. Instead it was interpreted as rudeness and he was forced to apologise to her. Maybe we take it all a bit too seriously.
I caught up with Aussie pro cyclist Loren Rowney a couple of weeks ago via email. Loren is a member of the Velocio-SRAM women’s team. Some of you may know it by its former name Specialized-lululemon. Over to Loren.
Q: How did you get started in cycling?
When I was 13, I went to watch my brother race a local club race on the Easter weekend. I spotted a girl from my neighborhood, whom I was competitive with, racing the men. And thought to myself, “hey, if she can race a bunch of men, so can I”. I wanted to beat her. The funny thing is I am still best friends with that girl today.
Q: You’re probably sick of being asking about your famous crash so I won’t dwell on the details, but can you tell me how you recovered both physically and mentally from such a high profile incident? How hard was it to get back on the bike?
The first two weeks were really painful and frustrating because I didn’t have any answers as to why or who even, caused this crash. I’m a hyperactive person, so being confined to a small apartment wasn’t fun. It was the spring too, and I had big ambitions for all the races I was now going to miss. I’ll admit, I got depressed and it was very challenging mentally to come back. I’m still struggling a bit now.
Marianne Vos on the 2014 Giro Rosa podium
I know I’ve whinged about this before but it’s very disappointing that the only Grand Tour of the women’s pro cycling calendar, the Giro Rosa is run at the same time as the Tour de France. It actually starts with a prologue on Friday, 3 July, the day before the TdF begins but it’s not surprising that it receives very little media attention.
As a fan of women’s pro cycling it’s pretty disappointing to line it up against the biggest race on the men’s calendar.
Marianne Vos (Rabo-Liv Women) won last year’s edition in commanding style, winning four of the race’s ten stages and holding the race lead from the second day. Her teammates Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Anna van der Breggen joined her on the podium.