• De Francesco in preparation for an ITU event in Malta (Instagram)Source: Instagram
A journey through elite and international level performance in a number of sports has lead Danielle de Francesco to road cycling and she has impressed since giving a bit more attention to the bike.
SBS Cycling Central

17 Dec 2020 - 2:38 PM 

Danielle de Francesco (Specialized Women's Racing) exploded onto the road cycling scene at the recent National Road Series National Tour, impressing over the first four days of racing, backing up eye-catching performances on the local scene in Queensland. She finished runner-up on two separate stages, behind Sarah Gigante in the time trial and then second on the criterium after a successful breakaway with Nicole Frain.

While her name might have been a bit of an unknown within cycling circles, the 28-year-old is an elite athlete many times over in other sports, competing in world championships in open-water swimming before transitioning to triathlon where she currently is a professional. She's a working dietician as well, a recent graduate from university with her own office as part of Pogo Physio on the Gold Coast.

De Francesco explained her varied career path as an athlete in an interview with SBS Cycling Central.

"When I was a little girl, I always did Little Athletics, tried a bit of everything," said De Francesco. "I went to nationals for cross country and then nationals for triathlon. I got into triathlons when I was about 14 and won the schools championships. I went to nationals in swimming a few times when I was younger.

"I was at the pool and the head coach said I should give swimming a crack and I did for a while, went to four open water championships for 5 and 10 kilometres open water. That was under Denis Cotterell, probably one of the toughest coaches in the world, very old-school. He’s definitely got some athletes towards that highest level though, Grant Hackett is probably the best known.

"He made me strong mentally and physically. If you can swim under Cotterell, you can do anything."

A subsequent change back to triathlon after swimming for seven years at elite-level is something that De Francesco said she needed to do as 'there was unfinished business' after her junior career in the sport. She's been competing in international events since and achieving top-10 results in recent events in 2019.

"I still haven’t been able to reach my full potential as a triathlete with some injuries along the way," said De Francesco. "Shin splints, coming from a swimming background, my legs were struggling to keep up with the impact of running, though I’m through it all now."

"In the triathlon world there’s not much on at the moment. Most of our races are overseas, the world cups getting ITU points, all that’s off. My last race was in Mooloolaba in March. So focusing on cycling a bit. I’m still running and swimming, just not as much as before."

It's a long way from the open water world championships or even jumping on a bike for a third of a race but De Franceso made her mark on the NRS with her performances in the opening days of competition.

"We’re actually quite lucky in Queensland, we’ve been able to have quite a few races unlike poor Melbourne," said de Francesco. "I’ve been doing the QRS (Queensland Road Series) races, so that’s been something to train for and keep busy and I got the win for the series as well a real bonus.

"I was quite nervous as I knew it was a bit of a jump-up but everyone around me was saying that I’d be fine. It’s definitely different to the Queensland series, a lot more competition, but it wasn’t as tough as I thought it might be.

"I was able to be up there as well. Definitely not as hard as I thought."

Her second behind Gigante in the time trial particularly impressed, a result that saw her just over half a minute behind the 20-year-old phenom, and ahead of a host of very good time triallists in their own right. The performances and results lay a pathway for De Francesco to have an attack at nationals, with the time trial and road race in her sights.

"Nationals is coming up, February, I’d like to give that a full crack," said De Francesco. "We’ve got a couple of months to train for that and give my all for the time-trial and the road race. We’ll see how I go there and then I’ll make a decision.

"I’m just playing it by ear at the moment and seeing what comes. But maybe down the track I’d like to give cycling a go full-time but I haven’t decided anything yet, so we’ll see."

If De Francesco was to enter cycling with a more full-time approach it looks like she would find herself as one of the better riders on the domestic scene, with the potential of reaching the professional ranks of the WorldTour, with older starters often finding their way into the top-tiers of the sport if they show enough talent. Recent Australian successes like Katrin Garfoot and Lucy Kennedy are good examples of being able to come into the sport late and succeed at the top level.

De Francesco is contracted to race with Specialized Women's Racing in 2021, so local fans will get to see her ability flourish on one of the premier domestic teams and her performance at the Santos Festival of Cycling and nationals will be of particular interest.