Bronzini kick starts 2014

Bay crits 2014 women series podium

The GC champagne, with UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry (hiding right).

The excitement about women’s cycling was palpable at the finale of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic – the bay crits – in Williamstown on Sunday.

It crystallised on the podium. First up, doing the honours was Commonwealth Games gold medallist and UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry.

Bay crits 2014 series podium

Bay crits 2014 series podium

She was handing the silverware to dual road world champion Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling, while South Australians Nettie Edmondson (Orica-AIS) and Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized Securitor) rounded out the series podium. Bronzini’s teammate and national mountain bike champ Peta Mullens was sprint queen, and the women’s field was a record.

For both Bronzini and Wiggle Honda owner Rochelle Gilmore, there was added symmetry. Gilmore won the bay crits as rider in 2010 and 2011 so you could expect some pressure for a team win to kick-start 2014. She exceeded expectations.

And for Bronzini, her first appearance at the bay crits marked a happy return to Geelong where she sprinted to perfection in 2010 to take her first road world race title ahead of Marianne Vos. She did the same in 2011.

The bay crits have seen world class riders before – Robbie McEwen, Mark Renshaw, Kathy Watt, Kate Bates and Gilmore – but never a dual road race world champion like Bronzini with 70 road wins and another rainbow in the points race.

So she was the focus of surprisingly little media coverage in the first couple of days, perhaps reflecting awareness and coverage of a minority sport and women’s sport in general, plus the filtering of Euro-centric cycling through an English-speaking media. It’s hard to follow such riders if you don’t know they exist.

Happily, by the time Bronzini cracked the champagne in Williamstown the crowd seemed to appreciate her quality as a rider.

bay crits 2014 women

Bronzini in action in Geelong

Tracey Gaudry noted this year’s women’s field was the most international, as well as the biggest. “It just shows how strong women’s cycling is, it shows how important Australia is as a destination for women’s cycling and it shows the calibre of racing and competition that we’ve got.

“The Mitchelton bay series is the kick-start to the summer season for racing here in Australia and the good thing about it is it provides a stepping stone for up and coming riders and it keeps the experienced elite riders honest. It shows us in the early part of the year who’s actually taking the year seriously and it sets up our riders for competition for when they go overseas.

“And Giorgia is just a great example of an elite female athlete – a great personality, a wonderful level of commitment and a team that’s going from strength to strength,” Gaudry said.

Gilmore knows such early form in Geelong may cost Bronzini later in the season, but the Italian has been perfecting athletic performance for a long time.

She said, “My father brought me to a race for young girls and kids and he asked me if I want to try – for play, with the other kids – and I said yeah. I was a gymnast which was really disciplined. So I would like to change and go back to be a kid, no (laugh) – to try it for play. So I tried a bike and I was good from the start.”

She certainly was, taking junior national titles on road, track and mountain bike. “I won every single discipline in the bike, because (smiles) I like bikes.

“After (that) I must choose a max of two of them because the season is long and it is impossible to do everything as a professional. So I chose to stay on the track and the road, because I was competitive with my power and they are compatible. I need to do track for some sprints on the road and I need to do road for some efforts for sprint on the track.”

bay crits 2014 women

A massage for bay crits winner Giorgia Bronzini

With such broad skills and strength, you’d think cyclocross a possibility. So are we likely to see Bronzini in the mud?

“No, because I don’t like so much to run (laugh), so when I come off the bike it is really a problem for me. But maybe when I stop riding [as a pro] I might like to try triathlon cos I like being in sport, I like swimming, I like riding a bike. So maybe the run will be a problem, but just for fun maybe I’ll try it.”

Having juggled road and track she favours neither and values the variety, as well as the chance to tune her speed on the track during the road season.

Bronzini’s sprint has helped her own the points race – she topped the UCI world ranking three years running – but she notes changes in the past year.

“Before, girls were taking points in the sprint. Right now there’s more girls trying to take a lap, because more of the girls that do team pursuit and individual pursuit have come to the points race. So the race can be faster than before and you have no time for recovery, and the sprints are not really sprints, but just heightened speed. The average speeds are really high. For us at the worlds and world cup it’s around 48 km/h.”

Bronzini is optimistic about women’s pro cycling following the changes at UCI in 2013, noting the women’s peloton working together on important issues, and the increased professionalism of teams.

And it’s professionalism that was at the heart of her advice to aspiring pros. “To the younger girls I would say have a passion, but there’s no rush to become champ. My best results were aged 28. So try to be professional and follow the right course towards that.”

Tomorrow, a chat with Wiggle Honda’s Rochelle Gilmore.

Bay crits final today

bay crits 2014

Geelong backdrop for day 2 of the 2014 Bay Crits, Eastern Gardens

The 2014 bay crits finish in Williamstown today, and there’ll be no better place to be.

Rochelle Gilmore’s Wiggle Honda team goes in to the fourth and final race after capturing the elite sprint jersey with Peta Mullens at a windy Portarlington course yesterday, while retaining the teams classification, and GC jersey with new headline rider Giorgia Bronzini.

The racing has been hard fought but Wiggle have been there when it counted while providing a masterclass in sponsorship finesse to outclass the men. The crowd comments suggest it’s been appreciated.

We have something special coming on Bronzini and Wiggle Honda, so stay tuned.

The elite men also provided great entertainment at the tough Portarlington circuit yesterday, with Luke Durbridge demonstrating why he’s called Turbo Durbo as he launched off the front with Pat Shaw. Durbridge took the win but Zak Dempster snatched the yellow from Matt Goss with a brave fourth. Orica GreenEdge leads the men’s teams.

Day 2, Geelong:

Day 3, Portarlington:

Summer cycling smorgasboard

What a summer of cycling: cx world cups on UCI Channel, #svenness and #likeavos as programming, mountains for climbing and triple world champ Giorgia Bronzini at the Mitchelton Bay Crits.

Just a few quick pix from day one of the bay crits in Geelong yesterday, with three more days ahead:

Good uses for drones

St Kilda Cycling Club’s (SKCC) Sunday morning crits in Port Melbourne are a great spot late December – huge fields, good coffee and a few pros warming up their off-season legs ahead of the Tour Down Under, minutes from the CBD.

The past couple of years have seen Sky, Lotto and Orica GreenEdge kits on the start line as well as young guns like Pat Lane (who last year starred in an elite men’s break with Greg Henderson as they nearly lapped the field in sweltering heat).

SKCC stepped it up again this year. The Logie-Smith Lanyon Super Crit last Sunday featured Aussie favourite Baden Cooke in his last pro race as well as big (equal) prizemoney for the men’s and women’s elite races. Nice! (The total prize pool for the elite women was $10,500; lower than the men’s due to the shorter duration and fewer intermediate sprints – all good.)

The elite women’s race went to Chloe Hosking and the men’s to young star Caleb Ewan. Details all over the web or the event site above.

But pix or it didn’t happen … Have a look at this video by Tom Reynolds. Good uses for drones. Who knew? 

SKCC crits are run most Sundays all summer so have a look at the website for details.

2013 was looking so good

Until Thursday night (5 December), it felt like 2013 was a good year for women’s cycling.

We finally had a seat at the adults’ table of the sport’s governing body, Aussie pros were being recognised and efforts to improve participation locally like Breeze Rides were hitting the road.

There was lots to celebrate:

* change at the top, the International Cycling Union (UCI). Former pro Tracey Gaudry is well known in Australia as CEO of the Amy Gillett Foundation. In December 2012 she was elected President of the Oceania Cycling Confederation, a position that carries a seat on the UCI Management Committee. That committee now has a woman. And it’s only taken 112 years.

Change followed. Brian Cookson became UCI President in September and Gaudry became one of three vice presidents soon after. In November, Cookson announced that UCI would have at least one woman on each of its 18 Commissions.

Change starts with the decision to change. And it can be rapid, if we so choose.

Those commissions now include American Helen Wyman (cx), Dutch star Marianne Vos (road), Canadian Tanya Dubnicoff (track), Kiwi Sarah Walker (BMX), American Georgia Gould (mtb) and Swiss Karin Moor (trials). The Women’s Commission includes Australian team owner Kristy Scrymgeour, Karen Bliss and Katie Compton from the US and Brit Emma Pooley. The Athletes Commission includes our very own Anna Meares, plus Vos and Gould, while Gaudry appears on others.

Within a couple of months, UCI had also dropped the age limit (of 28) for women in teams and added sprinting, climbing and youth jerseys to the women’s world cup events. For a quick wrap-up, see the UCI interview with Tracey Gaudry. That’s a pretty impressive start.

* Recognition. In November, Caroline Buchanan scooped the pool at the Cycling Australia annual awards, following her dual world championships in BMX and Four Cross. She was fifth in downhill at MTB and trials worlds as well.

Two world titles in the same year was a first for any Australian cyclist, but with great results from many riders this year, I wondered how the largely male following of Australian elite cycling would vote.

On awards night, Buchanan took out all four awards for which she was eligible – elite female mountain bike, BMX cyclist of the year, the pinnacle Sir Hubert ‘Oppy’ Opperman Medal and the SBS People’s Choice Award – the fan vote! I was so pleased. Days later she was named joint Australian Institute of Sport 2013 athlete of the year, with rower Kim Crow.

* Promotion. We also saw track star Anna Meares launched as the face of South Australia’s Motor Accident Commission ‘be safe be seen’ campaign in November. Then she set another world record last weekend. As she does so often.

* Media. We’ve also seen world-trackie-now-commentator Kate Bates and other women join the talk fest on the SBS Cycling Central couch. The Bike Lane even put women on screen; have a look at Chloe McConville at the colourful table here.

* Local racing. Melbourne cycling clubs have been working hard on increasing their appeal to women and fields have grown.

The Tour of Bright featured three grades this year while numbers were up at crits and cyclocross. I have a soft spot for cross in particular; it’s fun, low cost and local, but even better, it’s inclusive. In Melbourne there’s skills sessions for women (and men) and nationally the people behind cross decided on equal prizemoney from year dot. Nice bunch of riders too.

All together, it looked like progress for women’s cycling, in spite of (or perhaps catalysed by) some well publicised sexist incidents over the past two years. Let’s have a look at some of those.

One of the biggest involved former UCI President Pat McQuaid, who told a press conference on the morning of the 2011 women’s world championship road race that he opposed the idea of a minimum wage for female pros. He wasn’t opposing a high wage; just any minimum wage at all. There was no plan for change, just reasons it couldn’t be done.

The podium presentation for the rainbow striped jersey that afternoon was particularly cringe-worthy as the world’s top women cyclists were presented with flowers by the ubiquitous ‘podium girls’. For a women’s podium. How totally McQuaid.

At the post-race presser, the cycling media asked the pros to comment and they naturally weren’t too impressed with the head of their world sporting body.

McQuaid got some support on cycling forums, which like the sport, are mostly male. The women were even accused of making a poor case, as if Vos and Bronzini should race for the rainbow stripes with a 30-page wage dossier in their jersey pocket. It was a useful window to the depth of disdain for women, and the reason Buchanan’s fan vote win just two years later was so heartening.

Eleven months later, UK cycling clothing brand Limitless Performance released a video it hoped would go viral. It did. It featured women styled as poor cyclists with ill-fitting helmets and clad in body paint for gratuitous objectification. We’ll come back to the body paint.

Cycling Tips did a story on it and LP was blasted on social media for dissing women, perpetuating stereotypes and disrespect.

This year we saw Peter Sagan pinching the bum of a podium ‘hostess’ at the Tour of Flanders, simultaneously disrespecting both the woman and race winner Fabian Cancellara. It was stupid given the attitudes to women that many are trying to change, but he apologised and everyone moved on. The public is very forgiving of a well crafted apology.

At the Giro in May, Bradley Wiggins had his problems descending in foul weather, but it’s his post-race presser that gets him a jersey here: “I descended like a bit of a girl really after the crash… Not to disrespect girls, I have one at home.” While the remark offered an unguarded window into his view of women’s descending skills, it’s especially remarkable given that his foundation supports Rochelle Gilmore’s Wiggle Honda pro team.

So the message from clothing brands to Tour winners has been that women can’t ride and it’s OK to insult them. All these incidents generated criticism in the cycling world, which would seem to make sexism a high risk strategy in a small market like Melbourne.

So how in hell did Total Rush’s re-launch on 5 December happen?

Total Rush is an established top-end bike shop in Melbourne. Selling Specialized, it owns hot pink as a corporate colour on local roads, sponsors both men’s and women’s race teams and runs a monthly shop ride for women.

Around 130 people were invited to celebrate a recent refurbishment last Thursday night. Inexplicably, the entertainment included body-painting two topless models in hot pink ‘kit’ and posting the photos on social media. The fallout was predictable, not for the breasts as some observers assumed but for the insensitivity of a titillating voyeuristic stunt that diminished rather than elevated women’s cycling.

One of Total Rush’s sponsored riders is the eloquent Bridie O’Donnell, who said she told the owner beforehand that the idea was ‘sexist and unimaginative’. Clearly that advice was ignored.

Cycling Tips reported the furore, Kate Bates nailed it as “#badcall but #notbadguys” and O’Donnell offered a useful video blog which indicates she was heckled for her association. While it’s encouraging that so many men criticised the decision, it’s not cool to abuse a rider.

It’s also hard to believe it was done solely for the publicity, as the Cycling Tips headline suggests. If so, it would have been recognised as a high risk strategy and an apology drafted in advance. Possibly even a promotion as appeasement.

But it took until Saturday (7th) for Total Rush to offer a statement. And far from contrition for linking decorative topless women with cycling, the statement seemed to proffer fundraising on the night and Mercedes Benz’s use of the same stunt as mitigation. Yet the Benz stunt lacks cycling’s context of sexist confetti.

The move was termed ‘retail suicide’ and a boycott was urged, but I suspect they’ll survive. Little good comes of business failures.

Total Rush’s friends closed ranks quickly, negative comments were deleted from its social media pages and it moved on at light speed. Indeed, with the Total Rush women’s team in the Tour of Bright being captioned a ‘spunky crew’, perhaps it’s not an error at all but a brand value.

Which brings us, a week later, to an apology by Mike Sinyard of Specialized. And today, an apology by Simon Coffin of Total Rush. Good moves, both.

But if a shop like Total Rush can get it so wrong after McQuaid, Limitless Performance, Sagan and Wiggins, just how deep runs the antipathy to women in cycling? Why are so many men not listening? And how much more of this rubbish do we have to put up with?

Or maybe we just smile sweetly for the camera and stick with 2013 as a good year, because the pink incident generated more criticism than support. Maybe that’s what change looks like too.

Part 4 – Adelaide in sight

From Ceduna to Adelaide you have two choices – the Eyre Highway through industrial Port Augusta, or the quieter Eyre Peninsula and ferry to Wallaroo.

We took the later and enjoyed the farmland, coastal towns, seafood and light traffic. The wind, not so much.

First stop was Streaky Bay, and from there we headed to Elliston via Murphy’s Haystacks.

Murphy's haystacks

Turning inland we left behind the coastal dunes for sheep country – rocky paddocks, dry stone walls, emus, roos and clever spiders. 🙂

Early morning on the Eyre peninsula

Early morning on the Eyre peninsula

In the 92 km to Lock pub for lunch, we met eight cars. Heaven. It was a comfortable 168 km day to Cleve, thanks to mild temperature and absolutely no wind; what a difference.

The following morning was tougher – only 58 km but hot with ugly cross winds. We had a quick lunch in Cowell then headed for the ferry at Lucky Bay.

Wind at the ferry

Wind at the ferry

The ferry was relaxing and we rolled into a cabin at the foreshore caravan park, happy that we were close to Adelaide.

WallarooThe next day dawned wet after a wild night so we delayed a start but it didn’t help much. After 65 km with strong wind, little shoulder, 110 km/h traffic, persistent drizzle and a close call with trucks we decided to call it a day at Port Wakefield. We warmed up and killed time watching rain stream down the windows at a BP servo. All glamour.

There was no accommodation in Port Wakefield due to a huge funeral but we asked the lovely ladies at a community craft shop if we could shelter from the wind at the sports ground. One suggested the rear of a church instead and unlocked the toilet for us. Only in the country. Thank you ladies!

Dinner at Port Wakefield Hotel was excellent, but it was one of the two windiest nights we had. We got little sleep and I was astonished the tent survived.

We rode towards Adelaide on Port Wakefield Road (increasingly industrial and I don’t like the rumble strips) and took some quick photos in the CBD, so it was fantastic to achieve this goal. We had planned a rest day in Adelaide but having lost time to the weather we pushed on to the excellent campground at Belair National Park.

IMAG1582

Nullarbor ahead

Perth PSPI’m not sure when the idea of riding the Nullarbor germinated but it’s been floating around for a few years. It wasn’t a goal in itself; just curiosity about what’s there.

I decided in Canada in 2010 that bike touring is a perfect way to travel – fast enough to cover useful distance but slow enough to see the critters, ponder the late afternoon shadows and understand the terrain. You can’t miss hills if you ride them.

It’s a human scale; you’re part of the landscape rather than observing it like a specimen behind glass.

On a bike you’re open to the elements, but also open to approach. After riding home from Perth in August/September with Canadian friend Jan, I’m coming to suspect it’s an effect amplified for women. Perhaps we’re not very scary or people are politely checking we’re OK.

The kids who approach aren’t keeping an eye out for us, of course. They just want to talk about their bike, what you’re doing, where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Bikes connect – surely a powerful thing.

In any event, I apparently did mention the idea of riding the Nullarbor to Jan on that trip to the Canadian Arctic in 2010. I hadn’t got much further.

Hyden-Norseman Rd pandaI didn’t expect to find a ride buddy of similar speed and interests and I’d hesitated about a solo crossing. Eventually resigned to the idea however, I figured … let’s make it 2013.

Amongst the New Year email catch-ups I ran it past Jan in a throwaway line asking if she’d like to come. I didn’t expect for a moment she would, so I was amazed and delighted that she said yes.

It was the impetus I needed to start planning in detail – itinerary, timing, daily distances, food and water.

We quietly decided the goal would be Melbourne but we could bail at Adelaide if wind, rain, health or mechanicals intervened. We knew we could cover 100 km a day on dirt but the wind would be a bigger factor fully loaded on this route than in Canada.

We could spare five weeks plus some travelling time. The plan was Perth to Wave Rock through the Western Australian wheat belt and on to Norseman via 260 km of dirt. Then a couple of rest days visiting Kalgoorlie and Lake Ballard, before the trip east to Ceduna. There, we’d leave the Eyre Highway for the quieter Eyre Peninsula and a ferry across Spencer Gulf before turning south to Adelaide. And from Adelaide we’d head home via the Coorong and Great Ocean Road.

And that’s how it turned out.

The ride report is split into roughly weekly chunks …

Part 1, Perth to Norseman: 680km, 4080 m vertical gain, 8 riding days, 3 rest days

Part 2, Norseman to Border Village: 728 km, 1961 m, 7 riding days, 1 rest day

Part 3, Border Village to Ceduna: 484 km, 1187 m, 4 riding days

Part 4, Ceduna to Adelaide: 628 km, 1774 m, 6 riding days

Part 5, Adelaide-Apollo Bay:  804 km, 3431 m, 7 riding days

In total we covered nearly 3400 km over 32 riding days (36 total), averaging a bit over 100 km a day.

I’m forever grateful to have shared it with Jan. Her acute observations meant I saw the country through Canadian eyes as well as Australian, which was all the more interesting. Her sense of humour never faltered so it was great fun as well.

A trip within reach of anyone with reasonable fitness, some preparation, and a bike …

Green and gold for Jacobs and Iacuone

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Australia crowned its first national cyclocross champions yesterday in the Melbourne sunshine – what a great moment. A total 140 riders competed in elite, masters and junior men’s categories, providing some excellent racing for spectators who found their way to … Continue reading