It’s been a while …

Denali National Park

It’s been a while between posts. Instagram followers might have seen a few posts from  Alaska in July/August 2016 as I moseyed around solo. I had plans to write about that trip on return.

Unfortunately the trip home from Fairbanks was more meandering than planned, via an accident at LAX and a broken patella. I’d been keen to observe America up close ahead of their election but that was left field. Even with insurance and exposure to the US health care debate, it’s confronting to have a bean counter in Florida make health decisions.

So the anticipated flight home as a fit tourer became an ambulance trip and nearly four weeks in hospitals, followed by lengthy knee rehab, surgery and more rehab.

That whole story is yet to be written – I still don’t know how it ends – but I’m finally back at the blog keyboard. That’s been spurred by a comment from Patricia Hall (the mum of late bikepacker Mike Hall) on the anniversary of his 2017 death near Canberra, saying she found support in the cycling community’s love for Mike. I filmed part of Melbourne’s tribute ride for Mike last year; the video will be up soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Fast women hit the streets

Loren Rowney and Kimberley Wells chasing Giorgia Bronzini's rainbows at 2015 bay crits

Loren Rowney and Kimberley Wells chasing rainbows at 2015 bay crits

The elite women kicked off 2015 with some hot racing in Victoria’s bay crits and national road titles ahead of the Santos Women’s Tour in Adelaide and the UCI season.

We’ve seen strong solo wins to Gracie Elvin and Peta Mullens at bay crits, a fourth time trial crown to Shara Gillow and the national crit title recaptured by Kimberley Wells. And that was before mountain biker Mullens outsprinted worlds silver medallist Rachel Neylan for the road race stripes. Talk about depth.

It’s a fitting start to the year after a breakthrough 2014, the highlight of which was La Course. We’d been told a women’s race at the Tour de France couldn’t be done but event owner ASO proved that the biggest obstacle was making the decision. While the abridged broadcast of the race on the Champs-Élysées trailed expectations, riders and fans loved it and both Marianne Vos and the new team at UCI chalked up a win.

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Do we vote for stupid?

Cars rule Albury

Cars rule: kerbs bar crossing roads by bike, pram and walking frame, even in the retail area. #Albury

Do we really get the governments we deserve? If true, we’re not looking too bright, based on the latest ideas from politicians about bikes and roads.

Leading from a font of ignorance of late, they’ve promised to get bikes off roads, suggested dangerous riding and confirmed a look at registration, while finding billions of dollars (during a ‘budget emergency’) for roads that will simply fill with cars. We’ve known for a long time that building roads to fix congestion doesn’t address the cause. Even Ford acknowledges this.

So the answer to more cars is simply not to have more roads. When America began moving west, we didn’t add more wagon trains, we built railroads. – Bill Ford, 2011 

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Cruising Melbourne street art


Melbourne has been called the world’s most liveable city for the past four years, based on an annual ranking of services, stability, culture and infrastructure in 140 cities.

Topping the list matters to ‘brand Melbourne’ and local politicians facing State polls next month, but no-one else really cares.

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Summer of the sock

Spotlessly clean (but blindingly bright) kit headed for Lake Mountain last November

This guy was spotlessly clean (but blindingly white), headed for Lake Mountain last summer

September’s busy. Winter hibernation and grand tour sleep deprivation ends with the Vuelta, the northern cx season bursts into life and everyone’s training.

The more committed masters are peaking for Amy’s Gran Fondo in the hope of qualifying for the UCI Amateur Road World Championships. Even with 5000 starters it sells out fast and qualifying times are plummeting.

Huge numbers also spend September training for Around the Bay in a Day (ATB). Slated just after Ride2Work day in October, ATB put 14,000 bums on bikes last year and similar numbers are expected in 2014.

All this training and warm spring weather means legs are shedding warmers like snake skin. And after months lurking in the dank and gritty gloom of booties, socks are finally peeking out like daffodils to brighten the cycling day. Will it be a great summer for socks?

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Amy’s Wall joins the calendar

Liam Hill takes the men's final.

Liam Hill takes the men’s final.

Victoria scored a new event on the weekend with the inaugural Amy’s Wall hill climb in Lorne.

It was a great event – dusk against a glassy Louttit Bay, closed road, lights, timing and a short Strava segment as 5000 cyclists settled down for Amy’s Gran Fondo and National Road Series race Amy’s Otway Classic next day. Entry fees were donated to the Amy Gillett Foundation.

Two-up heats sorted out the finalists as the crowd grew and the light faded. Peta Mullens won the women’s heats with 18.262s but lowered that to 18.103s in the final, ahead of Chloe McConville and Katrya Crema.

Lynton Zawadzki had the fastest men’s heat time (14.781s) but Liam Hill backed up best in the final to stop the clock at 14.460s, ahead of Kelland O’Brien with Zawadzki third.

There’s sure to be lots of action on the climb from now on.

Spring on the East Gippsland Rail Trail

Stony Creek trestle bridge, East Gippsland Rail Rail

Stony Creek trestle bridge on East Gippsland Rail Trail

Victoria’s country rail trails attract a constant stream of visitors enjoying fresh air, gentle grades and wildlife while supporting local economies.

So it’s a surprise that NSW is only just embarking on a campaign to deliver the funding and legislation needed to develop some of its disused rail corridors in similar fashion. There must be some gems in waiting.

One of the more remote Victorian trails is also our third longest at 94 km – the East Gippsland Rail Trail from Bairnsdale to Orbost. I rode half of it in 2007 with friends, taking the Discovery Trail/Mississippi Creek turnoff to Lakes Entrance overnight. So I’ve always wanted to return and ride the eastern section.

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Champs lead NCXS after Melbourne rounds

NCXS DDCX round 2 2014

Reigning national cyclocross champs Lisa Jacobs and Allan Iacuone lead the 2014 series after Melbourne’s opening rounds on 21-22 June.

Round one featured the Victorian championships at Cranwell Park, but the weekend wrapped up with the usual noise and laughs at Darebin Parklands on Sunday, hosted by Dirty Deeds CX.

Sunday’s course had little mud but plenty of slippery grass, climbing and big fields with over 320 riders.

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Go Mel, Go Lisa!

Cyclocross doesn’t get much more exciting than today. Our first national team races at the UCI World Championships in Hoogerheide this weekend and it includes two chicks! Who would have imagined that three years ago?

Local crowd fave Lewis Rattray represented in 2012 in his usual crowd-pleasing style but 2014 sees our first national team.

CX has a long history in Europe and it’s strong in north America but it’s not even four years since the Dirty Deeds CX crew started ‘getting riders muddy and smiling’ in Melbourne in 2010. They followed up bigger and better in 2011, which also brought a winter series to Port Adelaide CC. And then a summer series. Back home we scored a Vic Open.

By 2012 we had regs and a national series raced in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide (with equal prizemoney!) thanks to lots of work by DDCX, PACC and in NSW, Manly Warringah MTB, plus support and goodwill from the state and national bodies. The 2012 Adelaide courses are still my favourites; they made my bike so very happy.

By 2013 we had an official national championship, and now in 2014 we have a national team from three states at the world championships:

* Elite men: Nick Both NSW
* Elite women: Lisa Jacobs and Mel Anset, Vic
* U23 men: Alexander Meyland Vic and Tom Chapman SA
* U19 men: Nick Smith NSW
* Team manager: Greg Meyland

The action starts Saturday morning (Dutch time) with Junior Men, followed in the afternoon by the Elite Women. Local hero Marianne Vos will be lining up against World Cup champ Katie Compton, along with Sanne Cant, Helen Wyman, Nikki Harris, Aussies Jacobs and ‘smiling assassin’ Anset and the rest of the world’s best.

Sunday starts with the U23 Men and ends with Aussie Nick Both taking on the world’s elite men: Sven Nys, Niels Albert, Zdenek Stybar, Jeremy Powers, Lars van der Haar …

Thanks to UCI Channel, we can watch the whole lot live. The streams should start as follows:
* Junior Men Saturday 8.50-10pm
* Elite Women Saturday night (Sunday morning) 12.50am-2am
* U23 Men Sunday 8.50pm-10.50pm
* Elite Men Sunday night (Monday morning) 12.50-2.30am

If you’re not staying up, you’ll find full replays at those links later.

How did we get here?

For those new to the cyclocross party, Lisa Jacobs won the 2012 inaugural national  women’s elite cx series and backed up with the 2013 inaugural women’s elite cx championship. She’s an ex-full time roadie, still with the Victorian Institute of Sport. There’s an insight to her worlds preparation here.

Mel Anset leads Lisa Jacobs in the final national series race in 2012

Mel Anset leads Lisa Jacobs in the final national series race in 2012

Mel Anset took silver in the 2012 national series, winning the final two races in Sydney. She was the clear winner in round five on the Saturday, but had to hold her nerve for an hour error-free as Jacobs worried her wheel all race on the Sunday. There’s a good piece on her road to the worlds here.

That same Sydney weekend (the only cyclocross series with sunscreen?) also produced moments that start to build our local folklore as Tasmanian mountain biker Sid Taberlay – fresh from Cross Vegas – rode the ‘unrideable’ death pit each lap.

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Mountain biker Adrian Jackson won that inaugural elite men’s series from Lewis Rattray.

In 2013, the elite women also raced to the wire, with the title decided only in the final minutes of the final race, as Rowena Fry finished fourth to win the series from Sarah Holmes, with Anset in third.

Paul Van Der Ploeg terrified the barriers to take the 2013 men’s elite series from Adrian Jackson, while Allan Iacuone won the 2013 national cx championship – 19 years after his national road championship. You couldn’t script this stuff.

Over time, we’ve seen the national rounds become more serious and pros and ex-pros like Iacuone and Danny Hennessy lured from retirement for spectator pleasure: Robbie McEwen rode a couple of national races last year and loved it, and track star Anna Meares swapped the boards for Adelaide’s grass and dirt in her post-Olympics down-time. But there’s still lots of laughs and pain to be had at the back of the nationals races, and in club events.

Hope you enjoy cx worlds. Best of luck to all the Aussies, especially Mel and Lisa.

And if you think it looks like fun, think about dusting off a beater or beating a cow bell in a park or a paddock near you this winter.

Women’s TDF within five years: Gilmore

Bay crits 2014 women

Team owner Rochelle Gilmore watches Giorgia Bronzini roll through in Geelong

A women’s Tour de France is a near certainty within five years in some shape or form, according to Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling team owner Rochelle Gilmore.

“I’m nearly 100 per cent sure of that. I don’t know on what level, how many days, what courses, what length of stages – but there’s definitely demand for it,” Gilmore said.

Gilmore was speaking at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic – the bay crits that she won in 2010 and 2011 – in Geelong.

The idea of a women’s TdF drew negativity last year*, but Gilmore’s take on it now that the dust has settled is encouraging.

“I personally think that maybe some comments have been misconstrued but I think that a lot of people involved in cycling – even the ones who say it can’t be done – want it to be done.

“But the reality is that it can’t happen overnight. The men’s Tour de France is obviously built from something; it’s just not like ‘bang’ and it’s there. So I think people being negative is just to say ‘Look, you’ve given us a bit of an impossible task to put a women’s Tour de France on overnight’.

“Within one year it’s not going to happen. But I do believe that there are people around in women’s cycling now that will help make that happen in the future.”

Gilmore’s Wiggle Honda team opened its 2014 account at the bay crits with the team classification, the series with Giorgia Bronzini and the sprint jersey with Peta Mullens. Mullens then backed up with silver in the elite national criterium on Thursday. It’s an impressive start to the year after a strong debut for the team in 2013.

Signing Bronzini looked like a coup for a new team but the pair go back to 2003 as neo pros and share a similar story. Gilmore was a successful junior in BMX to Bronzini’s mountain biking, but both have ridden track and road to success.

Gilmore dipped a toe in the team management water with the Honda Dream Team, then launched the pro team at a time when sponsors were deserting men’s cycling. It wasn’t the easy option, so why?

Gilmore said, “It was a challenge in a world where the economy was struggling and women’s cycling really needed people like me to step in and take some really big risks. I took a really big risk and put my life savings in to building a women’s cycling team and ensuring that the women who joined the team would be looked after well, no matter what happened with sponsorships.

“So I had to get myself into a position over the last 10 years where I could financially back the team myself in case that was to happen. I would never want a situation where people are out of jobs, so it was a really big risk and obviously it took a lot of courage to do it. I’m really glad I did.

“Things went quite smoothly for me. I think the year was probably less challenging than I thought it would be; or more challenging in some areas that I guess I overlooked. The psychology side of it, when you’re managing 16 athletes from nine different countries and 10 to 15 staff members, is not an easy task. A big part of this business is people management so that was a bit of an eye opener for me but it’s a part of the job I really like.

“Now the team is well established and running quite well, almost by itself. I’m just the problem solver. So I’m looking for new challenges already, in life and business and career wise.”

In setting up the team, Gilmore was determined to take a different approach to what she’d experienced as a pro rider. “There’s two sides of it. One is the sponsorship – bringing the money in to the sport and ensuring return on investment. I’ve used a completely different approach to what women’s cycling team managers have done in the past, in ensuring that our sponsors get return on investment and getting hard facts to prove it.

“In terms of giving the athletes what they haven’t had in teams before, the fact that I’m still involved in the sport on a physical level and an athlete myself means I understand the needs of an athlete and that small things make a really big difference.”

In Geelong, for example, she hired adjoining townhouses so riders could socialise in living areas rather than being isolated in hotel rooms.

“Also, involving the athletes in the running and business of the team is something that other managers would never ever consider doing but it’s worked really well with our team to make the athletes accountable for decisions that are made.

“I’ve heard from other team managers that I’m crazy in the way that I work in that the athletes have so much input to decision making but I think that in a lot of businesses now they’re shareholders in the business. To have your employees work hard for what you want they need to be involved in the profits as well. I involve my athletes in the business and I think everyone then feels a part of it and has a feeling of ownership in the team. And that’s working really well.”

Like many others, Gilmore is confident about the future of women’s pro cycling following the changes delivered already by new UCI president Brian Cookson.

“I mean, this could have been done 10 years ago but it’s so satisfying that somebody has really bitten the bullet and said, ‘Look I’m going to be the guy that really pays some attention to women’s cycling’. I’m really appreciative of what he’s already done and I think there’s more that can be done and will be done in the next five to 10 years.”

Top of her wishlist for the near term is TV coverage. “The first thing that I wanted to see happening is happening and that’s the UCI funding TV coverage. So they’ve put their hand in their own pockets and said ‘We want women’s cycling on TV and we’re going to fund it’. So there’s no discussion any more about that; there will be women’s cycling on TV – 52 hours of coverage will be funded by the UCI next year.

“That’s going to be an exploding market for a lot of people. It makes a really big difference to the sport because obviously then sponsors can get direct returns on their investments, and guaranteed returns.

“And the second big thing is obviously for organisers of big men’s races to put on women’s races. So the more of those organisations that can be influenced by the UCI to put on women’s races, the better.”

Gilmore used the camera well as a pro so perhaps it was no surprise to see Wiggle Honda making the most of its media opportunities to deliver for sponsors in Geelong – better than some of the men in fact. The kit graphics are strong, riders perfectly turned out on the podium, and they filled the lens behind Bronzini in interviews (bonus points to Chloe Hosking’s Roxsolt teammates after stage two for this too). They turned heads in Geelong just crossing the road to the podium in formation.

That’s the sort of professionalism that warms a sponsor’s heart – and prompts men in the crowd to share their observations unprompted; thanks guys ;-).

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Gilmore said 2013 exceeded her expectations on every level, on and off the bike. “It was hugely successful for many reasons. Obviously I have some really good assets in my athletes.

“They had been briefed really well before they joined the team about my ambitions for the team which revolves a lot around the professionalism of women’s cycling and the promotion of women’s cycling. So they’re two things that I’m very passionate about that and that I’m wanting to do properly and the athletes that I’ve chosen to join the team complement my ambition in women’s cycling.

“To come here in 2014 and win the first race on the second of January is really special. I think it sets the season up. Obviously we’ve got a really tough task ahead to exceed what we did in 2013; we won so many races. If we could even match that it would be a fabulous year.”

It’s going to be worth watching.

2014 bay crits

The Wiggle Honda team at Portarlington

* UCI rules limit women’s road races to a maximum of eight days and 130 km stages, but can be over-ridden. Or changed. Under Brian Cookson, the UCI has shed the requirement that most riders on women’s teams be under 28, which arose by grouping them with men’s Continental squads.

A women’s Tour, the La Grande Boucle Féminin, ran from 1984 to 2009 (most years, later truncated) – concurrent with the men’s tour in the early years but without the media coverage and therefore sponsor interest.

Marianne Vos, Emma Pooley, Kathryn Bertine and Chrissie Wellington last year set up a petition seeking a women’s Tour de France in 2014. The petition, now with 96,944 signatures, seeks the same distance and dates as the main (trademarked) event but the manifesto recognises a potential pilot or inaugural tour of three to 10 days.

I’m not sure we need three weeks of ˜200 km stages for women. But we need to make a start.