• Ruth Corset pictured ahead of the 2010 World Championships (AAP)Source: AAP
Ruth Corset, one of the top Australian cyclists of her generation, decided to finally hang up her cleats, calling time on her storied journey in cycling earlier this year. A career in two parts, Corset quit after not being selected for the road in London but made her comeback as a force on the domestic scene.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

4 Aug 2017 - 2:16 PM 

Road cycling isn’t the type of sport that is conducive to family relationships and Corset, the mother of two, was forced into making some really tough choices about where her priorities lay during pivotal moments in her career. Speaking to Cycling Central after calling time on cycling, Corset recalled the pain of leaving loved ones to pursue a cycling dream.

“The first time I went overseas to race… it was like my heart was being ripped out from my chest,” said Corset."

“It’s so hard being away from your husband, but being away from your kids is a whole different level. That’s why when I went away to race I wanted to commit a hundred per cent to it and give everything I had. To make it worthwhile, being away from my family.”

That drive to excel was the catalyst for a superb, but all too brief career racing at the top level in Europe. Beginning as a runner, specialising in cross-country and road running, Corset soon made the shift to triathlons where she made her name as an elite athlete. It was also through triathlon that Corset met her husband, Jason, who has been the rock during Corset’s career, coaching her and of course caring for the family in Townsville when Ruth raced.

“We got married and had my two girls, the first when I was 24, I know, quite young!” Corset joked. “In the end it was too hard to keep up three disciplines, working full-time as a massage therapist and being with my kids. So instead I decided to focus on cycling with the encouragement of Jason, who’s also a cyclist.”

Starting out riding Men’s B-Grade in Townsville, it was a short step to winning races against the women down south and getting rapidly thrown into harder and harder challenges. Her racing overseas initially saw her spend four years riding with the American setup Jazz Apple (that became TIBCO Racing) with Corset rapidly gaining the experience needed to race at the top level to complement her athletic ability.

As Cadel Evans won Australia’s first road world championship at Mendrisio in 2009, it was Corset leading the charge for the Australian women on the mountainous course, finishing 12th despite a number of mechanicals during the race. Her 2010 season was even better than 2009, which Corset counts as some of her favourite moments within the sport.

“My most memorable race was winning the Road Nationals in 2010 and having my family up there on the podium with me. Also racing the Commonwealth Games over in India and helping Australia take gold and bronze.”

If 2010 was the high point, then 2011 represented a crash back down for the pint-sized climber.

“The following year, 2011, was when things started to go badly. I had a few crashes over in Europe… that set me back. It was hard being away from the family for long periods as well. I’d be overseas for eight weeks at a time, which I remember being really hard.”

The realities of the sport are that it is also incredibly hard to make any sort of living out of it, putting strain on financial and family relationships, as Corset touched upon.

“You definitely can’t have a career as a female cyclist. If you want to race at that elite level you need to be supported by family. Females unfortunately can’t just have cycling as a career, you need something else to fall back on.”

With pressures on Corset mounting up, there was still time for one last big goal to be achieved.

“My last goal, coming into the season, was to make the Olympic Games before I retired. I didn’t want to race for too much longer. My girls were growing up and I wanted to be at home here for them. So myself and Jason, decided that I’d have one real big push for the 2012 Olympics.

“Things didn’t go well for 2011 and there’s a lot of politics in the selection process. I found out that I wasn’t going to be selected for Worlds in 2011, they were looking for riders for a flat course, though it didn’t turn out to be too flat really. The selection process for the Olympics then was that you had to ride the World Championships the previous year, so I was out.”

Just like that, one of Australia’s best athletes found herself on the outside looking in, which was when she made the abrupt call to quit the sport entirely.

“I decided that was it. It was a very sudden decision. It was really tough, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be away from my family if I didn’t have to be. If I wasn’t going to make that goal of the Olympics, it wasn’t worth it.”

It was a rough time personally for Corset as well, going from that mindset of constant training and activity, targeted towards key goals and performance standards, to nothing.

“I was in a big, black hole once I got home. I struggled to get out of bed… didn’t even touch the bike. I didn’t retire under my own terms, which made it really hard.”

Thankfully the malaise wasn’t to last and it provided a springboard for the second coming of Ruth Corset in cycling. Not the international star, but the domestic champion, giving back to the sport as a mentor to the rest of the peloton whilst personally getting back to actually having fun with her racing.

“I gradually got back into enjoying cycling with Dave Inglis and Penser Racing, teaching the girls tactics and being more of a mentor and having fun in the team environment. Giving something back to the sport. I continued racing the NRS (National Road Series) for four years, Holden and Total Rush for the last few years and I’ve enjoyed being around new teams, racing with them and helping them out. It was a lot of fun.”

In her normal understated manner, she overlooks mentioning her three successive National Road Series overall wins that she took along the way. Always on the front of the peloton in the hills and the sprints, it is hard to think of a rider that was a better epitome of the importance of discipline and consistency, a role model that has seen a much stronger local racing scene improve in recent years.

But for the now 40-year-old Corset, the end had to come somewhere.

“I had a recent break from NRS tours I started riding more with my girls, helping to train them for races coming up. I loved that, watching them progress each week and they loved me riding with them as well. That made me wonder, ‘why continue racing?’ I’ve accomplished all my goals and I’m loving riding with my girls. It was such a good feeling once I told everyone, everyone’s been so supportive and I’m just so happy now. It’s my time… and this time it was on my terms.”

It’s difficult to say whether cycling will miss Ruth Corset more or vice versa, but typical of her personality, the diminutively-framed Queenslander is throwing herself enthusiastically into the next stage of her life.

“I’ve had to cut down the portions of how much I eat, because I used to eat a lot with training all the time. I’ve actually started cross-fit, which I’m really enjoying, there’s a cross-fit centre just a few minutes away from us and I’m hoping that stops me getting fat! Also riding with my girls… they are already starting to push me up the hills.”

Unfortunately, cross-fit is apparently just as bad as cycling for injuries and Ruth is currently laid up with injury. Corset won’t be entirely lost from the sport, she takes great joy and pride I following her daughters in their athletic competitions and they are already showing that they will carry the Corset name into cycling, maybe in the not too distant future.