When I first started racing in Europe with HTC-Highroad one of my teammates, Kim Anderson, would always joke that when the team director referred to her as ‘experienced’ what he really meant was old. When Voxwomen asked me to blog for them they said they’d love to have someone of my experience writing for them, I won’t read between the lines. What I leant from Kim is that with experience comes a wealth of knowledge. Since I’m currently unable to share the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years with my teammates I decided I would share eleven lessons I’ve learned over eleven seasons in the pro peloton (with everyone):
- When you can, save energy.
“Move up Chloe!” This is what I heard every lap when I was racing criteriums in Australia as a youngster. I had it drilled into me from a young age that the front was where you wanted to be. But what I’ve come to learn is there is a time and place. This was a valuable lesson I learned from Jolien D’hoore when I was racing on Wiggle-Honda in 2015.
During one stage of the Ladies Tour of Qatar we were riding into a block head wind. The race was going in the same direction for another ten or so kilometres but I kept fighting for position at the front. Meanwhile, Jolien was spinning her legs at the back, conserving energy and watching the constant fight for position unfold in front of her. When the change of direction finally did come the peloton was met with a huge gust of wind. Jolien was there, fresh and ready, as the peloton splintered to pieces.
It’s about prioritising when you work hard and when you can save energy.
- Always know where your team leader is.
Another rider I have ridden with who was excellent at prioritising her effort was Judith Arndt. Judith was either at the back or at the front of the peloton.
Going into the final stage of the Tour of New Zealand in 2011 Judith was in the yellow jersey. Overexcited to be defending the tour lead Ally Stacher and I jumped on the front as the peloton entered a gravel section and increased the pace. We’d watched so many stages of the Tour de France where the teammate’s of the race leader sit — kilometre after kilometre — on the front, dragging the peloton towards the finish line. We wanted our moment.
Next minute an irate Ina Yoko Teutenberg came charging up from behind to give us a scolding. “What are you doing? Get off the front! Don’t you know where Judith is?”
Judith was at the back and our injection of pace had caused her to be caught behind splits in the peloton. We slunk back through the peloton like a dog with it’s tail between it’s legs. Sorry Judith.
- Don’t make excuses.
After a few years of racing in the pro peloton I decided I was ready to tackle the infamous Ronde van Drenthe, the only problem was I didn’t make the team selection. When I asked my team director, then Ronny Lauke, why I hadn’t made the selection he listed a number of poor race results and simply said I wasn’t ready. I tried to rebut his statements with explanations to which he replied, “don’t make excuses.” As a 19-year-old this was a tough pill to swallow, but as a 29-year-old these are words I live by.
- Be prepared.
I’ve always thought road cycling was a strange sport; you sign for a team, they pay you a salary and then you disappear off to your part of the world. You’re expected to rock up ready to race, week in, week out. It takes a lot of self-discipline, motivation, and determination to keep yourself accountable. If you do all these things and are prepared you can create your own opportunities. In 2019 I hadn’t been named in the Australian women’s road team for the Yorkshire World Championships. I kept training and working hard towards races in the back end of the season regardless and when two athletes had to pull out due to illness I let the national coach know I was ready and prepared. And I got the call up.
- Put in the hard work.
After a stage of the Lotto Thüringen Ladies Tour in 2011 I lay, unmoving and exhausted, on the grass in front of the team camper. I’d been dropped and rolled over the line well behind the rest of my teammates. Ina walked out of the camper, already changed and ready to leave, and looked down at me. She had no sympathy for me, all she said was “go home and train harder”.
I finished the German stage race (just) and went back to my base in Girona, Spain. I did exactly what Ina had told me to do; I focussed and prioritised my cycling.
A few months later I finished sixth at the World Championships in Denmark. Together, drunk in a dive bar in Copenhagen after the race, Ina said to me, “See! Look how good you can be when you train!”
- Make the most of bad situations.
After a freak night club accident in 2015, I snuck back into Canberra under the cover of darkness to begin the long process of rehabbing cut tendons in my hand. It was July and my season was over. I used the time to refresh my love and drive for cycling and to refine my work ethic. I also ‘met’ my now husband. Seeing the silver lining in every situation is vitally important, particularly in elite sport which can be such a rollercoaster of experiences and emotions.
- Always make sure you are safely through security and at the correct gate before you
allow yourself time to relax and enjoy a yogurt.
In my family I have a bad reputation when it comes to airports and catching flights. I personally feel like this is unjustified as I’ve only missed a few flights in my more than a decade of very regular travel. One particular flight I missed occurred when I decided I had time to enjoy my morning yoghurt before going through security. Turns out I did not. The lesson is fairly self explanatory.
- A text message on your Dad’s birthday is not sufficient.
Another self-explanatory lesson. I haven’t tested this theory – I’m a fast learner – but I assume this rule also extends to most, if not all, of your immediate family. Pick up the phone regardless of time zone differences, race schedule or travel. Or be prepared for the repercussions (see lesson 3).
- When it comes to riding in the wind, ‘don’t be nice’.
This is another lesson learned at the Ladies Tour of Qatar. On a particularly windy stage in 2012 the peloton hadn’t been long out of neutral and the echelon had already formed. The new team on the block, Orica-AIS, was well represented under the guidance of their Dutch road captain, Loes Gunnewijk.
As the echelon continued to roll, increasing its gap, riders were still fighting to make it into the rotation which offered respite from the wind and a brief opportunity to catch your breath. As I filtered backwards having just rolled off the front I looked over my shoulder for an opening, an opportunity to flick back in before I ended up in the dreaded position of last wheel. A rider behind me hesitated and I jumped at the opportunity, flicking my bike back into the echelon I was protected but the rider behind me was totally exposed to the wind. From behind I heard Loes yell, “Spratty! Don’t be nice!”
To this day, whenever there are crosswinds Amanda Spratt is always at the front and will not surrender. When it comes to riding in the wind, you have to be ruthless. You cannot give up that position in front of you.
- Don’t look at Annemiek’s Strava and think, ‘I could do that’.
In 2017 I went to Tenerife, Spain for the first time for an altitude camp at El Teide. I knew that Annemiek van Vleuten had been there for a number of altitude camps so I thought I’d borrow some of her Strava routes. I picked a six hour route of hers and cut out the descent down the mountain and the final ascent home figuring this would save me at least two hours. I was incorrect. My abridged version still took me almost six hours. I will never again Strava stalk Annemiek.
- Savour every race, it could be your last (for while).
This year, I lined up for Omloop het Nieuwsblad motivated and excited to be there. It had been a last minute addition to my Rally Cycling teams racing calendar after a race in Spain we had been registered to race was cancelled. I wrote in my diary before the race that I would race all the way to the finish line. I wanted to make the most of my opportunity. I’m so glad I did because, little did I know, myself and the entire peloton would soon be sidelined, confined to Zwift racing and chasing power targets for the foreseeable future.