This week Women Who Cycle caught up with Aussie pro cyclist Grace Brown who is currently racing in Europe with Team BikeExchange. A couple of weeks ago she had a breakthrough result winning the Oxyclean Classic Brugge-De Panne, and before that she’d been no stranger to the podium.
I first became aware of Grace when I was watching the Tour Down Under in 2019 and she won the stage that finished in Stirling. When I made my way to the stage to watch the podium presentation I found a great vantage point and asked the woman beside me if I could share the area. She said to me “As long as I can still see the presentation, be my guest”. She turned out to be Grace’s mum who was beaming with pride. We had a brief chat about Grace’s achievement. I’ve had many encounters like this with the parents of riders on the sidelines. It’s wonderful to see them supporting their adult children.
So my contact with Grace was a bit overdue. Over to Grace to tell her story…….
Q: How did you get into cycling?
I grew up as a middle-distance runner, competing on the track and in cross country events. Unfortunately, I was quite prone to injury and suffered a number of stress fractures. Eventually, I was driven to quit running and I looked for another sport that could fill the void. Cycling was it! I purchased my first road bike at 23 years and dived straight into it!
Q: What’s been your proudest moment so far?
This is hard because some of my biggest results I haven’t been able to share with my family. I have some amazing memories of coming across the line and sharing joy and excitement with my husband and family. But I think I am most proud of my 2nd place at Bastogne-Liege last year. It wasn’t a win, but it was a breakout ride for me. It felt like an out-of-body experience.
Q: Where are you based in Europe? Do you enjoy living there? What are the challenges?
When I’m not racing I live in Northern Italy near Lago Maggiore. I love the terrain and views for training, and I enjoy the Italian way of life. I know a bit of the Italian language as well, so it’s nice to practice that when I can. The biggest challenge for me is being separated from my husband who has to remain in Australia for his work. I miss him a lot and sometimes it can feel very lonely.
Q: What are your goals for the rest of 2021?
The Belgian cobble Classics have been my first big goal of the year. So far I’m really happy with my performance here this year. I would love to get a result in the Ronde van Vlaanderen this weekend though! (Grace came third – an admirable result) After that my focus will be hopefully towards the Olympics and then the World Championships here in the Flanders region in September.
Q: What advice would you give to young women in Australia who are coming up through the ranks in women’s cycling?
Covid is making it very difficult for anyone trying to step up to European level racing now, but in general, my advice is to take some leaps of faith. Put yourself in situations that make you feel uncomfortable and know that you’ll be better for it. Others probably look at my rise in the sport and think it came easy, but I struggled a lot. The main thing that helped me was that I was prepared to fail. And that applies to all levels, from a local bunch ride to club crits, to NRS or UCI races. Have a go!
Q: What do you think we can all do to encourage more women to cycle for exercise, recreation, transport, and fun?
I think a big barrier to women cycling is their feeling of safety. Better cycling infrastructure in our cities is a huge part of the solution and then building a community that is a safe environment to try and fail in. There’s a lot of elements to cycling and I think we need to eliminate some of the ‘perfect’ image and just encourage people to jump on any old bike, no matter what gear they have.
Q: Do you resent your male counterparts for their high profiles and higher salaries?
No, I don’t resent them for where they are, but I do want to continue fighting for equality. Until I started cycling professionally I hadn’t come face to face with such blatant differences in the value of men against women. It’s been quite shocking to me, but I also understand the context. The male peloton has a long history and many supporters. Women’s professional cycling is very young in comparison, so we can’t expect it to be on the same level straight out of the blocks. We have some good momentum now in the sport and growing support from fans is bringing more and more money to women’s cycling from sponsors who see the value. Salaries are slowly starting to increase as a result of this, but there’s still a long way to go!