Local cycling offers limited pathways for the development of talented female riders. If you miss a Institute of Sport position, you have to hope for a slot on the Rochelle Gilmore-assisted High5 Australian National Development squad that spends half its season in Europe. Failing that, you have to get creative as a privateer.
The driving force behind the squad is Kelvin Rundle, the team owner and manager who spoke to Cycling Central about how the team came into being.
“It was all Chloe Hosking’s fault,” says Rundle,” she suggested it. From there it was about getting as much experience as possible at NRS races. Driving the sag wagon or the chief commissaire and some of the NRS team managers helped me with some mentoring.”
Rundle is a very driven character and never stops holding organisers, commissaires and administrators to account in his pursuit of the best outcome for his riders.
“It’s probably a little bit corny but the motivation comes from my mum. She always taught me that people should be treated fairly and equally. I thought the women were getting a pretty rough deal and it was something I could fix. I could have stood on the sidelines and told everyone it was broken, but for me, it was easier to get in and fix it.”
The team was initially just set up for the summer criterium races, with seasoned professionals like Chloe Hosking, Lauren Kitchen, Kimberley Wells, Carlee Taylor, Tiffany Cromwell and more all having pulled on the multi-coloured Roxsolt kit at some stage.
“It was great to do what we were doing, giving the Australian professionals a chance to race in a team in front of home crowds, but equally there were a bunch of up and coming riders that didn’t have the opportunity to sign with a team. I thought it would be really interesting to see how far we could progress the team outside the programs run by Cycling Australia and New Zealand.”
The team’s 2016 journey to Europe saw them compete in two UCI tours, the Tour de Feminin and the BeNe Ladies Tour. It was an eye opener for the riders and staff, but exactly as intended - a learning experience for a young roster, with guest rider Peta Mullens posting the best results.
“181 riders signed on for the start of the first stage at the Tour de Feminin. Racing on very narrow roads on an undulating course, it was a very sharp learning curve. I think for the riders, it was a good experience to show them where they would need to be to race for a UCI team, but also what that experience would look like, so they could decide whether racing in Europe was for them.”
It’s a hard slog to get to a point where you can say you are a professional as a female cyclist, even those who are regulars on the World Tour can struggle to make ends meet.
“We’ve seen many riders in Australia race one or two seasons in the National Road Series (NRS), then pack themselves off to Europe and find the experience was not what they were expecting. In many ways, they weren’t prepared for how hard it is for a rider to sign with a smaller UCI team and what that actually means.
“Having a support network, preparing for races, looking after yourself and living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. The idea was for us to bridge that gap.”
We have such a high dropout rate amongst female cyclists, a lot of that comes in the transition from junior to elite. I think part of that is around the mental resilience of being prepared for what the European racing experience is like.”
The program for 2017 will see #RoxsoltAttaquer contest an ambitious schedule, with proposed racing on three continents for the team.
“For this year we’re looking to do a racing block in the US in June, we’ve already got some invites and then we’ll look for another block in July in Europe and hopefully get some Asian race invites. Looking at the NRS calendar, we will do most of the season, but some of the races just aren’t economical to do. A lot of the team is based in New Zealand and when we look at the racing and paying for flights, it is actually cheaper for us to take the team to race in the US than do some of the NRS events.”
With the emphasis being placed on change and development with #RoxsoltAttaquer, it was nice to see that they hadn’t forgotten their roots of hosting riders during the summer. Valentina Scandolara, the Italian rider formerly with Orica-AIS is guesting with the squad this summer and appears to be having a blast, no doubt a good omen for the team going forward.