• Katrin Garfoot finishes second in the world championships road race (Getty Images)
For Katrin Garfoot, cycling represented a sort of equation - where effort put in was reflected in what she got out of the sport. However, the numbers didn't always add up.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

14 Sep - 10:42 AM  UPDATED 14 Sep - 10:52 AM

A late-blooming athlete, Katrin Garfoot cut a swathe through the women's professional cycling ranks before retiring in the afterglow of her gold medal in the time trial at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

The German-born naturalised Australian created a fearsome reputation for herself both on and off the bike, with her relentless and driven nature giving her an unparalleled commitment to succeed in some of the biggest races in the world. 

Garfoot spoke to Cycling Central about her time in cycling and what caused her to call it quits at the age of 36. 

"After the Comm Games I was sick for a few weeks and couldn't ride so I lost a lot of fitness," Garfoot said. "To think of training up again, maybe for the World Championships, I was thinking 'what for... why am I doing this?'

"If I kept going I would have wanted more money for it. I'm 36, I don't have superannuation and I have to figure out a way to look after myself when I'm old. I could have stayed at home, just focused on the time-trial and made it to Tokyo (the 2020 Olympics) maybe. There were so many sacrifices that would have to be made along the way, I would be at home, but not living a normal life."

Missing out on the rest of life was also a key factor in Garfoot taking a decision at the end of 2017 that she wouldn't re-sign with Mitchelton-Scott for 2018. Instead, the three-time national time-trial champion based herself at home on the Gold Coast for months in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.

"I decided in 2017 that I didn't want to race in Europe anymore," Garfoot said. "I'm away from my husband for most of the year and the pay wasn't very good for women and if I go to a normal job I'd probably get better money."

When it was put to her if she could fulfill that competitive drive in other industries, rather than in the arena of professional sport, the straight talking Garfoot was certain.

"Why not? Why wouldn't you be able to find a job where you can improve yourself? That was my goal all along, to see how far I could make it, it wasn't my goal to compare myself to others as such. If I can find a job where I can improve myself and develop myself, that also feeds into that competitive nature."

In fact, maybe because of that driven streak, the practical 36-year-old sees herself as starting behind her peers as she starts out on the next chapter of her life.

"I finished cycling and what do you get out of it? Nothing," Garfoot said. "You come away with nothing and that takes a while to sink in. Just because you had a career - and I had achievements in my career - it didn't mean people look at you differently or you do anything differently or you can start at a different level.

"I've learned lot of lessons and I can translate those lessons into the business world but people might not see that the same way as I do and I have to start from the ground somewhere."

This doesn't mean that her career in cycling was a negative experience for Garfoot, who was a leading light for Australia at a number of key international events and was a consistent presence at the head of results sheets. But with a commitment to a career in elite sports, there is an opportunity cost to being so focused on one avenue in life to the exclusion of others.

"Internally, I did get satisfaction from those results," Garfoot said. "Retrospectively, I'm wondering if I would have done better to stick to a career path in my life. Then I might be in a position with more life development at my age now, I'm 36.

"Yes, I had results and I didn't earn that badly, but compared to what I could have done... I'm aware that pay increases are occurring for women in cycling at the moment and I hope that people don't look back on those years as wasted time."

In answer to the query of whether pay and entitlements for women had improved during her time in the sport, Garfoot was terse.

"There is a shift going on. But it needs to develop more."

It was a whirlwind career in cycling for Garfoot. From a late start into the sport at age 29, Garfoot rocketed through the domestic racing scene, winning the National Road Series overall in 2013 with Jayco-Apollo-VIS and getting the opportunity to race in Europe with the Australian development team. 

That led to a career racing in Europe with Australian squad Mitchelton-Scott, where Garfoot built a fearsome reputation for her time-trial prowess and strength on the climbs. 

"In the early period the only goal was to improve myself, to see how far I would go really," she said. "My whole career I had certain goals... micro goals, maybe a race or two."

The initial venture into Europe was promising with strong showings in Gracia Orlova and Emakumeen Bira before her appearance at the Commonwealth Games in London really cemented her reputation as one of Australia's best.

"My first stint in Europe, when I was selected to go to the Commonwealth Games, I thought that I could give it a real good crack," Garfoot said. "That was what happened - I got third - and I think that's what made everyone realise that there's a good potential there."

"I crashed a lot, I learned a lot in the first year. It was freezing. It's definitely hard going over that first year, you're away from your family... I have family in Europe, but not near where we were. You feel lonely, you have to train and it's not easy."

"I had some wins as well, I went well in some of the races we did, crashed out of other or didn't make the finish. Because of the wins I had that gave me the motivation to continue."

Three and a half years of Garfoot's career was spent with the Australian-registered Mitchelton-Scott, one of the core contingent of Aussies, a consistent group that grew from a team that was solely constructed around Swedish star Emma Johansson into one of the dominant squads in the Womens WorldTour. 

"It was a good team," Garfoot said. "We all developed through the team at the time, learning constantly which was a good thing.

"It was definitely special to be part of the growth of riders in the team, to see them improve over that time. It's good to see it all come together. There was a lot of sacrifice made along the way and I don't believe the team would be the same as a few years back."

Mitchelton-Scott dominate Giro Rosa
Six wins from ten stages of the Giro Rosa didn't overstate the Australian team's dominance at the premier women's event.

"Obviously when you join a team, there's a hierarchy and some teams have a different hierarchy to others and sometimes it's not clear what that hierarchy is. It's quite hard to break into the ranks... I think because I was quite a good time-triallist I had my own spot on the team but it is quite hard in a team structure to not get lost."

Garfoot earned a leadership spot and paid the team back for that faith, taking wins at the Santos Tour Down Under, Tour of Qatar and Emakumeen Bira, along with a swag of national championship victories - three time trial titles and one road race title.

The crowning achievement for Garfoot remains her double medal performance at the world championships in Bergen, where she finished on the podium in both the time trial and the road race, an Australian fea matched only by Anna Wilson in 1999. Garfoot counts that performance as among her fondest memories of her career.

"You can't look past the big moments like the double medal at the world championships," she said. "That was my biggest result I would say. There were lots of little moments that were good lessons and memories. When I scroll back through pictures of the last years, it has been a nice journey."

In the middle of those wins and top performances, there was one goal that loomed above all others, the 2016 Rio Olympics time trial. In a preview of what would come in 2018, Garfoot shied away from racing in the lead-up to fully focus herself on being at her best in Brazil. Unfortunately, an ill-timed virus sapped Garfoot's energy, and she could only manage ninth after going in with lofty expectations.

Despite putting the effort in, it was far from the result that Garfoot expected and demanded from her time within cycling.

"It took me a year to get over that and focus on training properly again," Garfoot said. "It took me a while to understand why I would put so  much time and training going for one event when something that was out of my control could just derail it all.

"In the end, I realised that was part of the whole journey, the moments lived and the lessons learnt. I think the whole journey itself is more than half of what makes a medal so special. If someone gives you a medal for no reason, what's it worth?"

Garfoot isn't planning on fading away into obscurity now that she's done with her cycling career, she's taken opportunities to get involved with the Australian Olympic Committee's mentorship program and has made proposals to government figures about the future direction of sport within Australia.

"I don't know what to envision for my future yet," she said. 'I'm trying different things and trialling a few ideas. There's a lot of little things that can be improved in this country, or any country for that matter, but I live in this country.

"I'm trying to do a few things here or there, although it's quite hard to get into those positions to make a difference. I'd like to make my way into those positions over time."

Of particular interest to the Queenslander is the release of the Sport Australia '2030' plan, which places a higher priority on recreational sport in everyday Australian life, rather than the current focus on Olympic funding.

"I do like it," Garfoot said. "After I quit cycling, I wasn't motivated to go out training, obviously why would I? But I realise that it's really hard for people to fit sport into a busy day. I struggle with it and I'm sure a lot of other people struggle with it.

"The National Sport Plan is focusing on recreational sport and how to get sport back into ordinary life. Obviously, that's talk and not action yet, but talk is the start."

Garfoot's own proposals within the area are shaped around communication between different levels and different sports within Australia, an ambitious project that she talked about with the Federal Minister for Sport.

"It was a solution that could pull sport together at all levels in Australia," she said, "one of the missions of the National Sport Plan. It's quite a big project and would take a few years and a few different stages to implement it."

With her career in cycling at a close, Garfoot had some final words for the industry and for young athletes looking to break into the women's scene specifically.

"I think cycling has a lot of benefits for society in a lot of different ways," she said. "Any young girls coming through, I would tell them the truth about what their career would like, because what people see is not the reality.

"What people put up on social media into the world, that's the good, you don't see the bad parts, the downsides or what happens once you finish your career. It's a hard path to choose and you have to be sure you want to do it."